Local News

Autopsy Report Reveals Ratliff Was Homicide Victim

Posted April 29, 2003
Updated December 9, 2006

— An autopsy report released Monday says Elizabeth Ratliff, a friend of novelist Mike Peterson who died 18 years ago, was the victim of a homicide and not a stroke as originally thought.

The report says because of the character and number of scalp lacerations, the trauma inflicted on Ratliff is clearly from what is called a "homicidal assault."

Ratliff reportedly died in a fall down a staircase in Germany in 1985. Her body was exhumed

April 14 from her grave in Bay City , Texas after the Durham district attorney said there were similarities between Ratliff and the death of Peterson's wife, Kathleen.

Peterson goes on trial May 5 on charges of killing his wife at their house in Durham in Dec. 2001. Kathleen Peterson was found at the base of a staircase and, like Ratliff, suffered severe brain injuries and head damage.

Ratliff was last seen by Peterson, who later became guardian of Ratliff's two daughters.

In an e-mail sent in February 2003, Peterson, referring to Ratliff's death, said "she died a natural death from a stroke. Nothing Mr. Hardin can say or do will change that."

On Monday, defense attorneys argued with lawyers with WRAL, along with the Durham Herald-Sun and the News & Observer, about whether the autopsy should have been made public.

Defense attorneys said they do not want Ratliff's autopsy results to be admissible in the upcoming trial. They plan to argue more about their reasons in a hearing on Wednesday.

Two hundred people have already received notices to appear for jury duty next Monday.

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