When Kathleen Peterson was found covered in blood at the bottom of her stairs in 2001, police believed she had been beaten to death by her husband Michael Peterson.
But 21 years later, her cause of death is still being debated by thousands of parlor sleuths who are baffled as to how she died.
Did she have a terrible fall? Was she attacked by an intruder?
Or did her husband really kill her?
Mr Peterson was initially convicted of murdering his wife and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, but his conviction was overturned in 2011 and a new trial was ordered.
According to Larry Pollard, the Petersons’ former neighbor and former special prosecutor, Ms Peterson did not die at the hands of Mr Peterson – or any man for that matter.
“In my gut, I didn’t feel like it was murder. I felt like there was something else that happened,” Pollard told reporter Tara Brown.
It may seem far-fetched, but Pollard believes Mrs. Peterson was killed by an owl.
“The wounds I was shown…I really came to the conclusion that it was an attack by a wild bird of prey outside his residence,” the former lawyer said.
‘In my opinion, the bird struck, realized that it had made a mistake and flew away into the night’
Although there were no skull fractures in Ms Peterson’s autopsy report, the mother had eight lacerations on the back of her head, which were so deep they caused her to bleed to death.
In Durham, North Carolina, where the Petersons lived, barred owls are common and known to be aggressive and dangerous, but are they capable of killing?
Pollard is convinced that the owl’s talons match Mrs. Peterson’s head wounds and he believes she was attacked while putting up Christmas decorations late at night.
“In my opinion, the bird hit, realized it was wrong and flew off into the night,” he said.
“And Kathleen, at that time, had been struck and the talons had gone down to the skull bone, but hadn’t split the skull,” he explained.
Pollard speculates that due to the massive amount of blood from the eight cuts on her scalp, Ms Peterson slipped or passed out on the stairs.
But the most compelling finding pointing to Pollard’s theory is what he calls the “smoking feather.”
“They thought I was crazy”
Fragments of microscopic feathers were found wrapped around Ms Peterson’s hair and in her hand by the medical examiner, but were never traced.
When Pollard presented his findings to the police, his theory was dismissed as nonsense.
“I brought this to the authorities’ attention early on, but they didn’t want to hear it,” he said.
“They thought I was crazy.”
However, Mr. Peterson is not so dismissive of the idea.
“It’s much more plausible that the owl did it than me,” he told 60 Minutes.
A new trial was ordered after Mr Peterson’s original conviction was overturned.
In 2017, fearing he wouldn’t get a fair trial, he opted to accept what’s called an Alford plea, which required him to admit his intentional homicide, without having to say he had killed Mrs Peterson.
Now, after more than 20 years of fiercely proclaiming his innocence, the 78-year-old just wants to move on.
“I don’t want to go back. It would be too painful and it wouldn’t get me anywhere,” he said.
Despite the setbacks, Pollard told reporter Tara Brown he wanted justice for Ms Peterson.
“I was doing what I think I swore to do as a lawyer, as a special prosecutor, as a neighbor, as a Christian, and I was on the trail,” Pollard said.
“I was like a bird dog, literally, except I was chasing owls.”