Elizabeth Ratliff’s Mysterious Staircase Death in Germany

Durham Prosecutors Try to Link Mike Peterson to Elizabeth Ratliff’s Death

On Day 29 of Michael Peterson’s trial, prosecutors tried to explain why Elizabeth Ratliff’s death was relevant to the death of Kathleen Peterson. Ratliff was Mike Peterson’s friend who died in 1985 in Germany.

Like Kathleen Peterson, Ratliff was found dead at the bottom of a stairwell with deep cuts to the back of her head. Cheryl Appel-Schumacher, Ratliff’s friend, broke down as she described what she saw inside Elizabeth Ratliff’s house.

“There was blood on the walls coming down the side of the staircase and there was blood on the wall opposite the foyer area,” she said.

Appel-Schumacher then explained how Mike Peterson took charge of the scene and consoled grieving friends. “Michael was telling everyone that this accident had happened, and she had fallen down the steps,” she said.

Elizabeth’s death was initially ruled an accident, but when her body was exhumed during the trial for a second autopsy in April 2003, the coroner found sufficient evidence to categorize it as a homicide. Michael wasn’t accused of murdering Elizabeth outright, but the fact her daughters — who he, again, adopted after her death — were the recipients of a hefty life insurance policy was enough to cast doubt in the jurors of his case.

Possible Financial Motive

At the time of her death, Elizabeth Ratliff was not wealthy. Her deceased husband’s Life Insurance Policy was $350K. They both would’ve had military benefits that went with the girls that were not allowed into evidence. Michael Peterson never adopted the girls so he could receive foster benefits for them, and he received hundreds of thousands of dollars from extended family of the girls! This was all discussed by Rosemary and others during the trial. More specifically, Liz would’ve had government benefits as she was a federal employee.

Probate records filed in Texas showed that her estate amounted to $72,000 in personal property — almost all of it in savings bonds — minus about $13,000 in debts. With a little more than $100 in the bank, an 8-year-old BMW and no more than typical belongings to her name.

Germany Investigation

Thomas Seifert, the senior state prosecutor in Darmstadt, said if the autopsy on Elizabeth Ratliff presents enough new findings, the case would be reopened, The News & Observer said.

Durham Prosecutors Question Neighbor of Elizabeth Ratliff in Germany

Prosecutors Freda Black and David Saacks, along with Detective Art Holland, traveled to Germany to investigate the death of Mike Peterson’s friend, Elizabeth Ratliff. Michael Peterson’s Defense Attorney Rudolf also traveled to Germany to gather information police records and examine Elizabeth’s former home.

Prosecutors in the Mike Peterson trial spent the day at a home in Germany trying to unravel the mystery behind the murder of a Peterson family friend.

They believed a critical part of their case was in Grafenhausen, a small town tucked just outside of Frankfurt. Prosecutors were trying to find out if Michael Peterson was the last person to see Elizabeth Ratliff alive. Durham prosecutors claim she was murdered and wanted to know if Peterson was to blame. They met with German investigators and searched through old police records.

Page 4: Exhuming Elizabeth Ratliff’s Body