Local News

Officials To Exhume Body Of Mike Peterson's Acquaintance

Posted February 18, 2003
Updated December 9, 2006

— The Durham County District Attorney's Office has the go-ahead to exhume the body of a woman in Texas they believe might be related to the Mike Peterson case.

Peterson is charged with the murder of his wife, Kathleen, at their Durham home on Dec. 9, 2001. Now District Attorney Jim Hardin wants to investigate the death of Elizabeth Ratliff, a woman Peterson knew in 1985 in Germany.

At the time, an autopsy ruled Ratliff died of a brain hemorrage after falling down a flight of stairs. Kathleen Peterson was found at the bottom of a stairway in the couple's Durham home. The State Medical Examiner said she suffered blows to the head.

Dr. Thomas Sporn, a pathologist at Duke, said even a body buried years ago may still hold clues about a death.

"The bones may be in satisfactory condition. A pattern of blunt injury or traumatic injury can be determined," he said.

Ratliff is buried in Bay City, Texas. Her two daughters, who were raised by Peterson after their mother's death, reluctantly agreed to allow the body to be exhumed.

"People in law enforcement and forensic pathology are loathe to disturb the repose of the dead without good reason, but if there are similarities or unanswered question and specific questions that need to be answered, an exhumation is the proper procedure and it's something forensic pathologists do all the time," Sporn said.

Ratliff's daughters said they do not think investigators will find anything, but they want their adopted father's name cleared.

It could be several weeks before a permit is issued to a Texas funeral home to exhume the body. It will then be flown back to North Carolina for an autopsy and then reburied in Texas.
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