Entertainment

Did Durham's Duffer Brothers drop a Mike Peterson reference in 'Stranger Things' series?

David Harbour, left, and Winona Ryder in a scene from Season 1 of “Stranger Things."
David Harbour, left, and Winona Ryder in a scene from Season 1 of “Stranger Things." NETFLIX

An eagle-eyed TV watcher has alerted us to a possible reference to the Michael Peterson murder case in the Netflix series “Stranger Things.”

Let’s unpack why we’re on board with this.

1. Peterson went on trial for the murder of his wife, Kathleen, who bled to death at the bottom of the back staircase in the couple’s Durham house in 2001. She had seven lacerations on the back of her head. Police say Peterson beat her to death. Peterson said when he found her, he assumed she had fallen down the stairs. In 2008, Peterson’s neighbor went public with a theory that Kathleen was attacked by an owl, ran into the home to escape it, and bled to death from her injuries. The case is recounted in the popular documentary series "The Staircase," which is now available on Netflix.

2. “Stranger Things,” another (but fictional) Netflix show, is the creation of The Duffer Brothers — Matt and Ross — who are Durham natives. They are known to drop Durham references in the series, including nods to Jordan Lake, Lake Eno, Cornwallis Road and much more. In an interview with The News & Observer last year, after the release of Season 2, Matt Duffer said the setting of the show (Hawkins) is a combination of a lot of places, including Durham. They even named characters after neighbors, he said.

The Duffer Brothers, born and raised in Durham, drop quite a few Durham-area references in the Emmy-winning hit sci-fi series “Stranger Things” that they write, direct and produce.

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Here's the scene

We get our Peterson Easter egg in the first episode of Season 1. It happens around the 18-minute mark.

Joyce Byers (played by Winona Ryder) shows up at Chief Hopper’s office on a Monday morning to report that her son Will is missing. Hopper (David Harbour) tries to convince her it’s probably nothing and that she shouldn’t worry.

“Joyce, this is Hawkins, OK?” Hopper says. “You want to know the worst thing that’s ever happened here in the four years I’ve been working here? You want to know the worst thing — was when an owl attacked Eleanor Gillespie’s head because it thought that her hair was a nest.”

"The Staircase," a documentary film series covering one of the most notorious trials in Durham history, has gone global on Netflix. The Michael Peterson saga took sixteen years to come to completion.

We asked and ...

You know how they say don't ask if you don't want to know? Well, we reached out to the Duffer Brothers through their assistant and they say the reference was not intentional.

Darn. We were really excited about another Durham reference in "Stranger Things."

Read more of our "Staircase" coverage below.

You've seen 'The Staircase' on Netflix, now hear from the reporters who covered Michael Peterson's murder trial in Durham.

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