I’m a true crime fanatic. It’s no secret. So it should come as no surprise to learn that I binge-watched the entire 10 hour Netflix documentary, “Making a Murderer” in one sitting.
I’m not convinced Steven Avery is innocent of the murder of Teresa Halbach, though I’m nowhere near convinced enough of his guilt that I could have voted guilty, had I been on the jury. The documentary raises more questions than answers, so I came here to record my thoughts.
Teresa Halbach was a photographer for Auto Trader Magazine. On the day she vanished (10/31/2005), she had 3 appointments to photograph vehicles for sale. Her third and final appointment took her to Avery Salvage Yard in Manitowoc County, WI, where she was to photograph a minivan that Steven Avery’s sister wanted to sell. This is the last place she was seen. On November 3, 2005, Teresa was reported missing.
At the time of her disappearance, Teresa lived with a roommate named Scott Bloedorn, a mutual friend of Teresa’s and her ex-boyfriend, Ryan Hillegas. Though it took several days for Teresa to be reported missing, nothing indicates Scott or Ryan were ever seriously considered by authorities as suspects in the case.
Once a world-traveler, Teresa settled in 2004 near her family in Wisconsin. She had two sisters and two brothers, and had been raised on a dairy farm. On Halloween night in 2005, just prior to her disappearance, she was planning to attend a party at a local bar dressed as a cowgirl.
Teresa was familiar with Avery Salvage Yard, and with Steven Avery himself, as she had been to the property no less than 15 times in the past to photograph vehicles for publication in the magazine.
In two controversial criminal trials, Steven Avery and his nephew, then 16 year old Brendan Dassey were convicted of her murder.
Teresa’s brother, Michael Halbalch, became the de-facto spokesperson for the Halbach family from the time of Teresa’s disappearance through the criminal trials of Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey.
Steven Avery was born in Manitowoc County, WI in 1962. At age 18, he was convicted of burglary. Shortly thereafter, he was convicted of animal cruelty. He allegedly doused a family cat with gasoline and set it on fire.
Later, he spent six years in prison for assaulting his cousin, who was married to a Manitowoc Sheriff’s deputy. According to Avery, his cousin was spreading false rumors about him and his wife. In response, he ran her off the road with his vehicle and pointed an unloaded firearm at her. He stated he was hoping this would stop his cousin from spreading rumors about him throughout the town. Instead, she immediately reported the incident to her husband, and subsequently, to the Manitowoc Sheriff’s Department.
Steven Avery openly admitted to all the crimes he had been convicted of.
In 1985, a woman named Penny Beerntsen was attacked in a Wisconsin state park, raped and beaten by an unknown assailant. She did not know her attacker, and immediately reported the assault to the Manitowoc Sheriff’s Department. The deputy who took her statement immediately believed Penny’s description of the suspect sounded a lot like Steven Avery. As a result, a composite sketch of Avery – based on his mug shot from years earlier – was drawn and shown to the victim. She positively identified this sketch as that of her attacker. She was then shown a photo array that included the same photo of Steven that the composite sketch was drawn from. Beerntsen positively identified this photo as being of the man who attacked her. Finally, authorities arranged a lineup, and Beerntsen again selected Avery as her assailant.
Doubts began to rise as to whether Steven Avery was actually the man who attacked Mrs. Beerntsen. During this same period of time, a man named Gregory Allen was operating in the area, raping women. Allen looked similar in appearance to Steven Avery, and his MO fit that of Beerntsen’s attack. More than one member of the Sheriff’s department attempted to raise their concerns of Avery’s actual guilt, and Gregory Allen was named more than once. These leads, however, went ignored, and Steven was arrested and charged with rape, possession of a firearm by a felon and attempted murder.
At the time of his arrest, Steven Avery was married and had five children. During his trial, 14 (some sources claim as many as 16) witnesses provided alibi statements claiming he was nowhere near the area where Mrs. Beerntsen was attacked. Nonetheless, he was convicted, and sentenced to 36 years for rape and attempted murder.
18 years later, based on DNA testing, Avery was exonerated and released from prison. Authorities got a cold hit on the DNA, and it was matched to Gregory Allen, who had gone on to commit at least two additional rapes after Steven Avery had been convicted. Additionally, in the years since his conviction, Avery had lost his wife and his children.
After his release, Steven filed a civil suit against Manitowoc County for $36 million. He counted the governor and state legislators among his allies, and for a time become the face of persons wrongfully convicted in the state of Wisconsin.
When Teresa Halbach went missing on 10/31/2005, she was last seen on Steven Avery’s properties, photographing a minivan his sister was planning to sell. Several days after she vanished, her vehicle was found on Avery’s property, his blood inside the car. After at least five searches of his home, investigators found Teresa’s car key, in plain site on the floor in Steven’s bedroom. In Avery’s backyard, in his burn pit, bone fragments of Teresa Halbach’s were found, with additional fragments discovered in a barrel on the property.
Steven was arrested for the murder of Teresa Halbach. As he had in the Beerntsen case, Avery maintained his innocence. He claimed the Manitowoc Sheriff’s Department was framing him in an effort to keep from having to pay out a multi-million dollar settlement in his wrongful conviction case.
Issues of note:
- Teresa’s car was found on Avery’s property, but since the property was a salvage yard, why wouldn’t Steve have utilized his crusher to demolish it, leaving no trace behind?
- Steven’s blood was found in Teresa’s car, but his fingerprints were not. How did his blood get smeared in multiple places throughout the vehicle without him touching anything?
- Teresa’s remains were found in a burn pit in Steven’s back yard, but why wouldn’t Steven have utilized his incinerator to dispose of her?
- Teresa’s car key was found in plain sight on the Steven’s bedroom floor, so why did it take investigators at least five searches of his bedroom to find it?
There are allegations that Manitowoc County Sheriff’s deputies (specifically Lt. James Lenk and Sgt. Andrew Colborn) planted the car at the salvage yard, planted Avery’s blood inside of it, and planted the car key in Avery’s bedroom.
Lt. Lenk did have access to Avery’s blood from the Penny Beerntsen case. When Avery’s defense attorneys requested access to that evidence, they found the box it was housed in had been opened, and the vial of blood inside the box had a small pin-prick, making it possible someone had withdrawn some blood with a syringe.
The prosecutor asked the FBI to perform a test – using a method that had been discounted and out of use for a decade – on the vial of blood in an effort to determine whether or not the blood came from a tube or a bleeding person. The FBI determined the blood did not come from a tube. The test took a few weeks to conduct, which was odd, given Avery’s original DNA testing from the Beerntsen case had taken more than a year.
During the murder investigation, Steven had a girlfriend named Jodi Stachowski, who was serving a seven month sentence in Manitowoc County Jail for a DUI. Investigators attempted to obtain her cooperation in the case against Avery, but were ultimately unsuccessful. She maintained that on the day of Teresa’s murder, she spoke with Steven twice: once at 5:36 PM and again at 8:57 PM. Phone records and jailhouse recordings back this claim up. In both calls, though investigators claim Steven should have been mid-murder, he sounds completely relaxed and normal.
Unable to secure Jodi’s cooperation, investigators moved on to Avery’s nephew, Brendan Dassey.
Steven Avery was convicted of the murder of Teresa Halbach and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole. He maintains his innocence.
Years after the trial, DA Ken Kratz had his law license suspended after pleading No Contest to misconduct, stemming from allegations of sexting a victim of domestic violence. After the first victim came forward, several more followed.
Other than Teresa Halbach herself, Brendan Dassey is the most tragic figure in this case. 16 years old when Halbach disappeared, Brendan was ultimately convicted of her murder. He is currently serving a life sentence, and will not be eligible for parole until 2048.
Dassey’s own words helped to convict him, as he confessed to helping Steven Avery murder rape and murder Teresa Halbach more than once. Many scholars believe Dassey’s confessions were coerced, as he recanted each time.
Brendan had a lower-than-average IQ of 73. Though 16 years old and a sophomore in high school, he was in some special needs classes, and was reported to have a 4th grade reading level. Brendan was a quiet boy, shy, and had never been in any trouble at school, at home, or with the law.
When first interviewed by investigators, Dassey claimed to have seen nothing out of the ordinary on the day Teresa Halbach vanished. He was at his home, right next door to Steven Avery’s trailor, playing video games with a friend. He spoke to his mom by phone at 5 PM that day. His friend left to go Trick-or-Treating, and Brendan fielded a call from this friend’s boss at around 7 PM.
Investigators continued to pursue Brendan is a witness in the case against Steven Avery. After Steven’s girlfriend, Jodi Stachowski refused to cooperate with investigators, law enforcement waited three days before focusing on Brendan instead. Brendan did ultimately confess to raping Teresa and slitting her throat. Many of the details included in his confession were originally introduced by investigators, who may have manipulated Dassey into believing he would be able to go home as soon as he told them what they wanted to hear.
Each time Brendan confessed, he’d recant, claiming he didn’t know why he’d said the things he’d said, only to confess again (with conflicting details) each time he was interviewed by the authorities.
It is from these confessions that the idea emerged that Avery shackled Teresa Halbach to his bed, raped her, had Dassey rape her and slit her throat, and then shot her in the head.
Notably absent at the crime scene was blood.
The prosecution ultimately changed their theory of the crime from murder in Steven’s bedroom to murder in Steven’s garage, where a single shell casing was located under a compressor. Again, however, no blood was ever found.
Dassey’s original court-appointed attorney, Len Kachinsky, was removed from Brendan’s case after it was learned he allowed his client to be interrogated by investigators without counsel present. It later emerged that Kachinsky and his investigator O’Kelley were working with the prosecution in an effort to get Brendan to plead guilty to rape and murder. The guilty plea could then be used to bolster the state’s case against Steven Avery. This, in spite of the fact that Brendan claimed he was innocent.
Also hurting Brendan Dassey’s case was the statement of his cousin, 15 year old Kayla Avery, who had initially told investigators that Brendan had confessed to helping Steven Avery hide Halbach’s body. When she testified at trial, however, Kayla alternately stated she didn’t remember or flat-out made up those allegations, and that they were not true.
Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department
Responsible for the investigation of Steven Avery in the Penny Beerntsen case, the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s office has been accused of railroading Steven Avery, helping him be convicted of a crime he was ultimately exonerated of committing.
Following the disappearance of Teresa Halbach, an unbiased team of investigators from neighboring Calumet County were assigned to take over the case, in an effort to avoid the impression of a conflict of interest. At the time, Steven Avery had a civil suit pending against Manitowoc County, stemming from his wrongful conviction.
It was later determined, however, that Manitowoc County officials – namely Lt. James Lenk and Andrew Colborn – were very closely involved in the investigation from day one. It was Lenk who “discovered” Avery’s blood in Teresa’s car, and Lenk who “found” Teresa’s car key on the floor, in plain sight, in Avery’s bedroom (on their fifth search of the home).
Andrew Colborn called dispatch asking for a license plate number to run. The plate came back to Teresa Halbach, but Colborn’s request came a full three days before her car was found by a volunteer searcher in Avery’s salvage yard. Additionally, in 1995, while Steven Avery was incarcerated for the rape and assault of Penny Beerntsen, Colborn received a phone call from an investigator in Brown County who stated a man in his custody confessed to an “assault in Manitowoc County”, and that a man was currently in jail for that crime. Gregory Allen, whose DNA was ultimately found to be a match in the Penny Beerntsen case, was in Brown County’s custody at that time. Colborn sat on this information for eight years, never filing a report on it until 2003, several days after Steven Avery walked out of jail, having been wrongfully convicted.
It has been speculated that in an effort to keep from having to pay Steven Avery millions of dollars the county did not have to spare in a civil suit, they framed him for the murder of Teresa Halbach.
Theories and Questions
- Steven Avery could be guilty. Teresa Halbach was legitimately last known to be at his place of residence prior to her disappearance. Her car was found in his salvage yard, her car key was found on the floor in his bedroom, his blood was found in her car, and her remains were found in the burn pit in his back yard.
- Teresa’s ex-boyfriend, Ryan Hillegas was never investigated as a potential suspect in Teresa’s death. He admits to hacking into her cell phone records on the computer in her home after her disappearance in an effort to review her call logs. He claims this was to determine what her last cell phone activity could reveal, as he was spearheading the search for her. If he could hack into her phone records online by guessing her password, couldn’t he have done the same where her voicemail is concerned?
- Scott Bloedorn, Teresa’s roommate. Scott was a friend of both Teresa’s and Ryan’s. According to Ryan, Teresa and Scott were platonic friends and roommates. Scott did not immediately report Teresa missing after she vanished on October 31, 2005, and she was not reported missing until November 3, 2005. Why did Scott wait so long to report Teresa missing?
- Other Avery relatives – there are two relatives of Steven Avery’s (Bobby Dassey and Scott Tadych) who live on the property Teresa likely disappeared from, who have no alibi for the time she vanished, except for each other. They claim they passed each other on the highway the afternoon of 10/31/05, as each of them were on their way to bow-hunt. One of these men claims to have seen Teresa walking towards Steven Avery’s trailer the afternoon she went missing, just as he was preparing to leave for his hunting trip.