Local News

Mike Peterson Prosecutors Question Neighbor Of Elizabeth Ratliff In Germany

Posted June 20, 2003

— 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 believe a critical part of their case is in Grafenhausen, a small town tucked just outside of Frankfurt.

Peterson is on trial for killing his wife, Kathleen. Prosecutors are trying to find out if Peterson was the last person to see Elizabeth Ratliff alive.

Ratliff, a friend of Peterson's, was found dead at the bottom of the stairs in her Grafenhausen home in 1985. Durham prosecutors claim she was murdered and want to know if Peterson is to blame.

In April, the Durham District Attorney's Office had Ratliff's body exhumed from her Bay City, Texas grave. A new autopsy concluded she died as a result of a homicidal attack -- a death similar to Kathleen Peterson's death. Mike Peterson is charged in her murder.

While in Germany, the Mike Peterson prosecution team will meet with German investigators and search through old police records that may exist.

Prosecutors also had the chance to talk with Karin Hamm, Ratliff's former neighbor.

Hamm still lives in the house across the street from where Ratliff lived. She told several people that on the night Ratliff died, she saw Mike Peterson leaving the house and said he looked like he was in a hurry.

Hamm, who speaks little English, spoke through interpreter Billie Allen.

"Karen told me she doesn't really remember her face, but she remembers Mike Peterson," she said.

Allen said Hamm is worried about saying to much to the media.

"We don't want to do any damage," said Allen on behalf of Hamm.

Allen lives in Ratliff's former home and said both women are overwhelmed by the attention.

"We would never have expected that anything like this would happen," Allen said.

In 1985, local police did not suspect foul play in Ratliff's death, so the case was closed.

Nearly 20 years later, German police and prosecutors are considering the possibility of a murder investigation.

Depending on what Durham prosecutors find, some of the people in Germany may be called to testify in Durham.

Judge Orlando Hudson said he will not decide whether the Ratliff information will be admissible until testimony begins. Defense attorney David Rudolf has fought to keep it out of court.

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