The Staircase director Jean-Xavier de Lestrade has opened up about the death of Elizabeth Ratliff, insisting that Michael Peterson had nothing to do with it.
Although she died in 1985, the death of Elizabeth Ratliff played a key role in Michael Peterson’s trial after he was accused of murdering his wife Kathleen Peterson on December 9, 2001.
Especially because both Elizabeth Ratliff and Kathleen Peterson were found dead at the bottom of their respective stairs, and Michael Peterson was confirmed to be the last person to see them alive.
I recently had the chance to speak to Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, who directed all 13 episodes of “The Staircase” over a 15-year period, during which time I asked him about the death of Elizabeth Ratliff.
“For sure when we started shooting we knew nothing about her death. It came after 2 or 3 months of shooting when we were sure that the prosecution will try to introduce Elizabeth Ratliff’s death into the case.”
“Of course when you are a filmmaker and something like this happens, as David Rudolf said in the series, ‘You have a much better film now’.”
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“My perspective was to try and stay as an observer in the case with no feeling involved. But in a way quite quickly I felt very sorry for the daughters.”
“Especially when they said that they were going to dig up the body of Elizabeth Ratliff 20 years after she died, what a tragedy for the girls. It was terrible.”
“But on the other hand it was very, very good, and I seemed to shoot and film. So in the way it was a very mixed feeling.”
“We had been very close especially with Margaret and Martha during all of the process of the shooting, during the 15 years, and I really felt really, really sorry for them for sure.
But while Lestrade can understand why the death of Ratliff was introduced into the trial, he insists that Peterson had nothing to do with it.
“Really, to be honest, for Kathleen Peterson I don’t know what happened that night. I am not sure what Michael Peterson did that night.”
“But for Elizabeth Ratliff I went to Germany for many weeks there, and I really tried to know what happened. And, for me, it is quite clear, she really died from brain hemorrhage.She was suffering from Von Willebrand’s disease.”
“The military police did an investigation. The German police did an investigation. Half of her brain had been sent to Washington for an autopsy. To me there is no doubt that Elizabeth Ratliff’s death was an accident.”
“But the impact that the fact her death was introduced in the trial made a huge, huge impact on the jury. Because the witnesses that came from Germany said there was blood and of course the coincidence was so huge.”
“Two women died at the bottom of the stairs. One was the wife. The other the best friend of his wife. There was something very, very special there. To me, I have no doubt.”
“The prosecution knew what they were doing by introducing Elizabeth Ratliff’s death, that it would make a huge impact on the jury. Then when you talk to people everyone says, ‘Wow! Maybe it is an accident. But it is so, so, so strange’.”