Did you know ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ was filmed at Michael Peterson’s ‘Staircase’ home?

Faye Dunaway and Robert Duvall.
Faye Dunaway and Robert Duvall.

The site of Kathleen Peterson’s death in 2001 — a nearly 9,500-square-foot mansion on a sprawling 3.4-acre lot in the heart of Durham — has become a point of interest for true-crime fans and viewers of the popular Netflix documentary series “The Staircase.”

Novelist Michael Peterson told police he was sitting by the pool at the house at 1810 Cedar St. on the night of Dec. 9, 2001, and when he went inside around 2:30 a.m., he found his wife at the bottom of a back staircase, where she bled to death.

Michael Peterson went on trial for Kathleen’s murder in 2003 and was convicted in one of North Carolina’s longest trials. He was in prison for eight years before his conviction was overturned because of improprieties at the State Bureau of Investigation. Peterson entered an Alford plea while awaiting a new trial in 2017, allowing him to plead guilty to manslaughter while maintaining his innocence.

"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.

A portion of the over 300 interested buyers and gawkers swarmed the grounds of the Michael Peterson home on Cedar Street, Durham Nov. 21, 2003, for the first day of the furnishings tag sale. Shown is the north side of the home. News & Observer file

Here are some of the random interesting facts we know about the house at 1810 Cedar St..

The house is currently owned by clairvoyant and medium Biond Fury, who paid $1.3 million for it in 2008. The most recent Durham County tax appraisal is $1.9 million.

Fury is the second post-Peterson owner. Fury purchased the home from Jason Balius, the former co-owner of the Mad Hatter Bakeshop in Durham. The house was listed at $1.175 million, but reduced to $975,000 in 2003. Balius paid $640,000 for the house in 2004 and did renovations before placing it back on the market in 2007.

The house was owned by nationally recognized scholar and author Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr., who lived there while teaching at Duke. Gates bought the house in June 1989. Gates is the host of “Finding Your Roots” on PBS.

An exterior shot from “The Handmaid’s Tale” showing the house and pool at 1810 Cedar St. in Durham. MGM/UA Home Entertainment

In the spring before Gates bought the home in June 1989, it was a location for the 1990 movie “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which was filmed in Durham and Raleigh and starred Robert Duvall, Faye Dunaway and Natasha Richardson. The property was used as the Commander’s home and was featured prominently. The exterior shots are very recognizable from “The Staircase,” but also the scenes inside the wood-paneled study inside the home. There is even a scene filmed on the back staircase where Kathleen Peterson died.

A great deal of the first eight episodes of the Netflix documentary series “The Staircase” were set at the Peterson home.

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The home, built in 1940, was designed by Durham architect George Watts Carr Sr., who also designed buildings at N.C. Central University, N.C. State University and UNC-Chapel Hill.

A photo of the entrance to the home at 1810 Cedar St. in Durham from the movie “The Handmaid’s Tale.” The photo shows sandbags and barricades used in the story. MGM/UA Home Entertainment

The front of the house at 1810 Cedar St. is visible from the street, but the entire 3.4-acre property is gated. You can see the back of the property from the Kent Street side, which has barbed wire above the gate and “No Trespassing” signs.

You can see from recent drone video that the house still has the swimming pool where Michael Peterson said he was sitting alone the night Kathleen died.

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