New Murder Theory: Killed By Owl?

Posted by: Loren Coleman on May 27th, 2008

barred owl

Strix varia

A former neighbor of a Durham, North Carolina, man convicted of his wife’s murder claims the death was not caused by a human, but rather by an aggressive owl.

Larry Pollard claims his deceased neighbor Kathleen Peterson was killed by an owl attack in December 2001, not by her husband, novelist Mike Peterson, who is serving a life sentence in prison for the crime, the Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer reported on May 26, 2008.


Kathleen and Mike Peterson, in happier times.

Pollard, who formerly worked as a lawyer, said he has spent years gathering information that indicates Kathleen Peterson’s wounds were caused by an owl, not by assault with a fire poker. He said that despite repeatedly informing the media of his theories, he has not presented his ideas to the Durham district attorney.

“I want it to be the best I have,” Pollard said.


Even novelist Mike Peterson couldn’t have come up with this plot.

Durham District Attorney Jim Hardin, who led the prosecution of Peterson, said he has heard of the owl theory and discussed it with medical examiners. He said they dismissed the idea.

We don’t have to reach into the archives to read about Mothman or Mark A. Hall’s giant owl “Bighoot” (detailed in his Thunderbirds: America’s Living Legends of Giant Birds) to get some confirming insights on this one.

Owls do infrequently attack people.

For example, Hollywood Park in San Antonio, Texas, had a rash of owl attacks in September 2007, with at least four people left bleeding by the encounters. The four victims were all attacked by an owl while walking late at night or in the early morning, either in the 500 block of Rue de Matta Street or at the Voight Center.

The 18-inch-tall owl with a 35 to 40-inch wingspan first attacked at 8:25 p.m. on September 10, 2007, when the owl lacerated a resident’s head in the 500 block of Rue de Matta Street. The male victim reported that the owl struck him twice, and then he sought out cover in a nearby home, where he waited for his wife to pick him up.

The bird, described as a white owl with brown spots, then attacked a female victim at the Voight Center on El Portal Street one night in the same week. The woman, who did not leave her contact information with police, said that she was whacked in the head, then shone her flashlight to see the large owl flying to attack her again, and ducked. On Sept. 18 before 8 a.m., the owl struck a third time, drawing blood on the head of a 13-year-old boy on his way to school on Rue de Matta Street.

In British Columbia, barred owl attacks are a commonplace event. Around Labor Day, in September of 2006, Coquitlam’s Mundy Park joggers were frequently being attacked. Aside from Mundy Park, the region’s barred owl hot spots are the woods around the University of B.C. campus, Stanley Park and Campbell Valley Regional Park in Langley. The B.C. Ministry of Environment’s records show a rash of barred owl attacks on humans in 2001 in Victoria, Nanaimo and Vancouver, all of them in or near parks.

The literature is filled with people being attacked by owls if they are wearing fur (like raccoon or muskrat) on their heads.

The joke in wildlife management is that “owls don’t care if their squirrels are human.”

Even some outrageous theories may hold a kennel of truth. Still, it is merely a theory, without proof to the courts.


Snapshot of a killer?

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

15 Responses to “New Murder Theory: Killed By Owl?”

  1. kittenz responds:

    Lawyers. Sheesh. Unbelievable.

    Even if the poor lady had been attacked by an owl it would not have inflicted a killing wound … and certainly not a wound that just happened by coincidence to resemble fatal wounds inflicted by a fire poker.

    Somewhere, Alfred Hitchcock is rolling over in his grave, wishing he could write the screenplay for the TV movie…

  2. punydevil responds:

    Ms. Peterson was found dead AT THE FOOT OF THE STAIRS IN HER HOME. So the owl came in the house, attacked a person and got out undetected? Explains the phrase, “Pollard, who formerly worked as a lawyer…” I’m guessing he’s no longer practicing law due to some mental disability.

  3. Matt_J responds:

    I live in Durham and was down here for the whole circus surrounding the Peterson trial. This “theory” was put forth the day he was convicted of murdering his wife. The local news reported it and dismissed it.

    Interestingly enough, that same owl must have lived in Germany for a while as a maid or servant of some kind working for Peterson was killed in a similar fashion. I guess the moral to this story is to make sure that savage killing birds aren’t packed away in your belongings when you move from one continent to another.

  4. eireman responds:

    Lots of attacks but no deaths. Sad that he wants to blame an Owl for what seems rather obviously human predation.

  5. punydevil responds:

    Matt, the Germany incident involved the birth mother of Peterson’s two daughters. What a string of bad owl-related luck Mr. P has had. Fortunately, he lived next door to a clear-thinking forensic ornithologist.

  6. Tengu responds:

    Blast! I cant remember the name of the guy.
    GB ornithologist who was observing owls, one went for him and pecked him in the eye, which later had to be removed due to infection.

    He wore a fencing mask after that.

    (He wrote a book called `an eye for a bird` if you can be bothered to look him up)

    In Mors Korhanskis book `Bushcraft` he cautions on using a wounded animal call `You may get attacked by a hawk or owl`

    This is a very far fetched story but I wont say impossible

  7. kittycatbandit responds:

    I’ve worked at a raptor rescue center for a year and a half now, and I feed the owls weekly. I’ve been attacked a couple of times, but seriously…it would take an owl about 30 minutes to kill a human, if not more. Who’s going to sit back for 30 minutes while an owl mauls them? Nobody! What a crock…

  8. Rogutaan responds:

    I dunno the whole story, but if she was found at the foot of the stairs, perhaps an owl may have attacked and she fell down the stairs?

    Still doesn’t explain how the owl got in and out though…

  9. DaFt responds:

    I was just reading about this on the news the other day
    The theory was that the owl attacked her outside, (there was blood on the outside of the door, presumably from her entering the house) and then she presumably passed out and bled to death once inside.
    Pretty neat, but farfetched theory, especially since he lost another wife in Germany with similar wounds. Not to mention that the wounds matched a uniquely shaped poker found in the house.
    I think this one can be logged as mis-placed loyalty by a friend that couldn’t believe he did it.
    article here:

  10. CamperGuy responds:

    Though improbable an owl is the murderer in this case isn’t it possible an owl can indeed kill a human?
    Doesn’t an owl dive at its prey clenching its talons to make “small fists” to stun and crush bone of the prey? I think it possible though unlikely.

  11. Carl Olsen responds:

    I can’t believe an owl could kill a reasonably healthy human. The barred owl (pictured above) is actually fairly small, though one did meet its maker flying into the windshield of my truck (in the middle of the afternoon, by the way) so they may well be aggressive, though definitely not very “wise”.

  12. Alton Higgins responds:

    I remember hearing in one of my wildlife classes (back in the ’70s) that the Great Horned Owl had been known to kill humans. However, I doubt that such behavior can or should be characterized as “aggressive” in nature.

  13. owly responds:

    The most likely culprit would be a territorial great horned owl defending it’s nesting area. Along with goshawks they are most likely to attack humans in defense of their nesting area. They are powerful and have sharp claws and can get someone pretty bloody but killing someone outright is definitely a stretch.
    I could imagine a scenario in which the owl attack stressed the victim to the point where they had a heart attack, stroke, etc. leading to mortality.

  14. Alton Higgins responds:

    What I remember hearing is that claws penetrated the skull. Great Horned Owls have industrial-strength feet and if you’ve ever examined their claws, you can easily imagine such a scenario.

  15. Phil in the Atl responds:

    From Wikipedia re: Great horned owls (Bubo virginianus):

    Individuals range in length from 46 to 68 cm (18 to 27 inches) and have a wingspan of 101 to 153 cm (40 to 60.5 inches). An average Great Horned Owl is 55 cm (22 inches) long, has a wingspan of 124 cm (49 inches) and weighs about 1400 grams (3.1 lbs).

    I believe it very possible (perhaps even likely, absent any knowledge of the husband’s motives or lack thereof) that an owl could have killed her, a 3 pound bird, diving from a treetop – a small bag of sugar weighs 2 lbs., imagine someone tossing one from the rooftop at your cranium.

    I’ve seen these owls and they are huge and can well imagine that a small person could be handily dispatched by a 3 pound owl driving its sharp talons and/or beak into the back of the person’s skull, especially if the victims’ blood was thinned by alcohol and/or blood thinning drugs.

    I once witnessed a hawk dive on a rabbit in a field – when he hit it, there was quite a resounding, audible “THUMP” as if all the creature’s bones had been crushed, the sound of a large weight impacting the ground.

    I don’t understand why everyone seems to summarily dismiss the chance as it seems well within the realm of possibility that such happened. Did the crime scene investigation turn up any stray feathers? Any spots of blood on the ground? Even without such obvious clues, I’d hold it possible.

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