Based on a true story, HBO Max’s crime series ‘The Staircase’ revolves around the death of Kathleen Peterson under mysterious circumstances. After seeing her dead body, the investigators suspect the possibility of murder, which leads DA Jim Hardin and ADA Freda Black to suspect Kathleen’s husband, Michael Peterson, of being the murderer.
In reality, as in the show, the prosecution believed that Kathleen was killed likely with a blow poke, despite Michael’s claim that she died due to an accidental fall down the stairs. If you are intrigued to know what a blow poke really is and whether it is the murder weapon in Kathleen’s case, let us be your ally!
What is a Blow Poke?
Blow poke is a fireplace tool, similar to the standard fire poker. When a typical poker has a hook at the end to stoke the fire, a blow poke has a hollow tube at the end rather than a metal stick. The hollow tube is used to blow air to stoke the flames, like bellows. In Kathleen’s murder case, the prosecution believed that Kathleen was killed by a blunt object, most possibly a blow poke.
The foundation of the prosecution’s theory seemingly was Kathleen’s sister Candace Zamperini’s statement that she had given a blow poke to her sister. Since lacerations were found in Kathleen’s skull during her autopsy, a blunt object like a blow poke became the potential murder weapon. The blow poke in Michael and Kathleen’s house wasn’t found by the police during the initial investigations.
Was a Blow Poke the Murder Weapon in Kathleen Peterson’s Case?
The missing blow poke in the Peterson household was eventually found by Michael’s son Clayton Peterson in the garage of the house. The defense produced the blow poke in the court as evidence. To discredit the prosecution’s theory, defense attorney David Rudolf said that there is no indication in the poke to prove that it was used as a murder weapon. The poke was reportedly filled with cobwebs and bugs, which indicated that it wasn’t apparently used for a while. While examining detective Art Holland, Rudolf expressed that it cannot be the murder weapon.
To Holland, Rudolf asked, “Have you ever given any thought as to what would happen to an item like this if someone hits somebody over the head three, four, five times, hard enough to cause lacerations on the scalp?” The detective answered that it “probably would be mangled up,” which wasn’t the case with the poke. As per reports, the poke wasn’t mangled, and no traces of blood were found in the same. However, Candace later stated that the one produced in the court by Rudolf was not the same one she gifted to Kathleen.
Since the prosecution couldn’t prove that a blow poke was used in killing Kathleen, it wasn’t registered as the murder weapon in her case. “We [the prosecution] have never told you that we are absolutely certain that it was the blow poke that killed Mrs. Peterson. We do believe if it wasn’t the blow poke that Candace had given them that it was something similar to that, and you’ve heard from expert testimony why we believe that,” said then-ADA Freda Black during the trial.
As of now, a murder weapon has never been found in the case of Kathleen Peterson’s death. Still, Michael was found guilty of the murder of Kathleen in 2003. After entering an Alford plea in 2017, he was sentenced to time served, which prevented additional prison time.