Making a Murderer

Netflix: Making a MurdererOn December 18th, Netflix released a documentary, Making a Murderer, and rocked the viewing public with a gross miscarriage of justice. I was hooked. With each episode my husband and I became more and more outraged. For those who haven’t seen the series, Making a Murderer revolves around the case of Steven Avery, who was wrongfully convicted of raping a woman on the shores of Lake Michigan, even though he had 16 alibi witnesses. He served 18 years of a 32-year prison sentence before DNA evidence set him free in 2002.

SPOILER ALERT. The series is still well-worth watching. I’m breezing over the details in order to fit the case into one post.

Thrilled to be vindicated, Steven tried to put his life back together. Divorced from his first wife, he had a girlfriend, Jodi, who he planned to marry. In March, 2004, the Wisconsin Dept. of Justice found the Manitowoc Sheriff’s Dept. had committed no criminal offenses and no ethics violations, which sparked a lawsuit from Steven Avery in the amount of 36 million in compensation. The reasons behind Steven’s decision were valid. The local police force called the Sheriff’s Department with information about a sexual predator, Gregory Allen, who matched the victim’s description, but Sheriff Kocourek and then Deputy DA Denis Vogel had tunnel vision. They even went so far as to have Deputy Sheriff Dvork convince the victim that Steven was responsible, and her testimony sealed his fate.

The lawsuit specifically targeted Manitowoc County Sheriff Kocourek, Chief Deputy Sheriff Kusche, former Deputy DA Denis Vogel, Lt. James Lenk, and Sergeant Andrew Colborn.  Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Lt. James Lenk and Sgt. Andrew Colborn were suspected of becoming aware of evidence during the 1990s, proving Avery did not commit the 1985 rape, and ignored the information while Steven rotted in prison. Less than three weeks after their sworn depositions, a young woman named Theresa Halbach goes missing. Lenk and Colborn thrust themselves into the investigation and focus on Avery. Nov. 1st, the morning after Theresa goes missing, Lenk questions Avery.

Theresa Halbach was seen at the Avery junkyard at 3p.m. on Oct. 31st, the day she disappeared. Steven Avery confirmed. To give you a little context, Steven lived in a mobile home on the property and knew Theresa Halbach from her work with Auto Trader Magazine. It was not uncommon for her to photograph vehicles at the junkyard for classified ads.

The town rallied around the disappearance of this young woman and prompted by the family, formed search parties. Two women volunteered to search the Avery property. Now you have to understand that this junkyard was massive, something like 40 acres of land. Yet, the two women went through the back entrance and within 30 minutes on foot, strode straight to the SUV. Imagine that? Why did they use the back entrance? How could they possibly find the SUV so fast if they had no idea where it was? The SUV had a few branches lying over the top, but certainly wasn’t what I would call hidden. It was almost laughable, especially considering that there was a car crusher on site. And who was called to the scene? Lt. Lenk.

Blood is found in the back of the SUV and around the ignition. The key is missing. To avoid the appearance of impropriety, the case is handed off to Calumet County Sheriff’s Dept., aided by Two Rivers Police Dept., who searches Steven Avery’s trailer six times and doesn’t find even one piece of evidence linking him to the murder. It isn’t until Lenk assists in the search that they car key appears on the floor next to the nightstand. Keep in mind that Lenk and the other named defendants of the lawsuit would be personally liable if the courts found in favor of Steven Avery. They had a lot to lose.

Now, this nightstand had been emptied, moved, turned upside-down, and scoured around multiple times. All of a sudden Lt. Lenk just happens to find the key? Please.

For some reason that I still can’t grasp, someone starts digging in the fire pit and uncovers bone fragments and teeth that belong to Theresa Halbach. The same pit that sits about ten feet from Steven’s bedroom window.

Making a MurdererSteven is arrested for murder.

Manitowok County officers hound Steven’s girlfriend Jodi for information, which she doesn’t possess. At the time of the murder she was in jail for DUI. Still, they won’t leave her alone until she tells them something they can use against Steven. But she explains that she spoke with Steven the night of the murder and he seemed fine. Their phone call was even recorded. If he was in the middle of murdering a woman, he should’ve won an Academy Award for his performance. He wasn’t out of the breath, or anxious, or in a rush to get off the phone.

Jodi is released from jail, but soon gets arrested repeatedly for phony probation violations in an attempt to make her crack. Manitowok County officers tell her if she dumps Steven and has no contact, they’ll leave her alone. A person can only take so much. She agrees.

Isolated and afraid, Steven contemplates suicide. Again he’s in prison for a crime he didn’t commit and now, he’s lost his fiancé. The future looks grim. His poor parents are getting older and older, but refuse to give up.

I don’t have enough room to go into all the outrageous tactics the sheriff’s department uses to convict Steven, so I’ll jump forward to Steven’s nephew, Brendon Dassey. Sixteen-year-old Brendon lived on the Avery property with his mother, Steven’s sister. Brendon has an IQ that’s borderline retarded. To say he’s slow would be an understatement. He’s the perfect patsy to use to convict Steven.

The sheriff’s department drags him out of school and questions him without a lawyer or a parent present. Which, if not downright illegal, is ethically wrong. Especially considering the fact that he’s a special education student.

The night of the murder Steven had a bonfire in the fire pit, which wasn’t uncommon. Brendon got off the school bus around 3p.m., noticed Theresa snapping photographs, and went inside his home. An hour later, his friend called to ask if he wanted to play video games. He left, and then came home for dinner. Around 7 p.m., Steven called to ask if he wanted to sit by the fire. Brendon agrees. They talk and laugh till around 10-11pm. At which time Brendon goes homes. This is his statement that he repeats over and over on tape. The entire time detectives coerce him to “tell the truth.”

Even though he insists his statement is true, they’re not satisfied. Hours and hours they bully this kid until his fragile mind finally breaks. But when asked how Theresa was murdered, he has no idea. So little by little they feed him information. “What happened to her head, Brendon? Something happened to her head.”

He guesses, “Steven cut off her hair?”

“Okay. What else?”

“Umm…I dunno.”

“Yes, you do. How did she die?”

It goes on and on like this until Brendon makes up the following outrageous story:

When Brendon arrives at his uncle’s house, Steven answers the door all sweaty and hot. Steven urges him inside and leads him to his bedroom, where Theresa is lying spread-eagle, her wrists and ankles bound to the bedposts. Steven rapes her, then he forces Brendon to rape her, and then Steven stabs her repeatedly in the chest, but she doesn’t die, so he strangles her with his bare hands. She still doesn’t die. So he slices her throat. She still doesn’t die. So he drags her to the garage and shoots her six times in the face with a rifle. Finally, she dies.

If a woman didn’t lose her life, this story would be comical. The prosecutor, Ken Kratz, who’s an ass, ran with this story and actually kept a straight face as he explained this horrific scenario to the media.

Right off, I said, “Where’s the blood?” If a woman is stabbed repeatedly and had her throat slit, blood would be everywhere. Not only would the mattress be saturated but there’d be castoff spray on the walls and ceiling. No blood was found in the bedroom. None. Not one spot. And yet, Kratz kept telling this gruesome tale. And incidentally, Brendon was also arrested.

During another sweep of the property—I’ve lost count by this point; they’ve searched this property so many times—a bullet magically appears on the garage floor. This garage is crammed full of stuff. And yet, not one spot of blood is found. From six blasts to the head!!! High velocity spatter would be everywhere. Even crime scene clean-up crews couldn’t find every single spot of blood in this place. And they believe Steven, who isn’t all that bright either, managed to scrub this packed garage and all the items inside to a point where Luminol revealed no blood? Investigators were thorough too. They jackhammered the floor under a crack in the cement, the site of where they say Theresa was shot.

Playing devil’s advocate, suppose Steven is a secret genius and was able to clean all the blood from the items inside the garage. How in the world did he manage to contain the blood so not one drop leaked through the crack in the cement? It’s crazy!

Remember, there was blood in the back of the SUV. Also, bone fragments were found in a burn barrel AND an acre or so away in another part of the junkyard.

The following is the scenario as I see it from the prosecution’s point of view…

Theresa comes to take pictures of Steven’s vehicle for sale. He coaxes her into his bedroom and manages to wrestle her onto the bed, where he binds her wrists and ankles. But he doesn’t gag her. In Brendon’s statement, Theresa is screaming bloody murder (pardon the cliché). After Steven rapes her, he calls his borderline-retarded nephew and invites him to the party.  Then he stabs this poor woman repeatedly in the chest, but miraculously she survives. So then he strangles her with his bare hands. And miraculously, she survives. So he slits her throat. And miraculously, she survives. So he drags her out to the garage, levels a rifle at her face and pumps six rounds into her skull. Once she finally dies, he drags her lifeless body to her vehicle, drives God knows where for what mind-boggling reason I have no idea, and then parks the vehicle out front of his house and drags her body into the fire pit, where he sets her on fire.

Once her body is burned beyond recognition, he scatters bone fragments into the fire barrel. Drives an acre or so farther back on his land and scatters a few more bone fragments in case someone misses them in the pit and burn barrel. He manages to wipe down two crime scenes so meticulously that there isn’t a trace of blood, but he doesn’t bother to clean the victim’s vehicle or crush it. Instead, to ensure he’s convicted of this crime, he smears his own blood inside the vehicle.

Does that sound plausible to you?

One last note: at trial the defense showed a vial of Steven’s blood taken from the first wrongful conviction with a puncture hold in the vial’s rubber stopper. Not only was the evidence seal broken, but someone inserted a needle into the vial and withdrew blood. And the jury still found Steven and Brendon guilty! Members of the jury later admitted that they didn’t dare find Steven innocent because they feared for their safety from the Manitowoc County Sheriff Department. Though I can’t blame them, I would too, they sent a man away for life without the possibility of parole and a borderline-retarded child away for 41 years, eligible for parole in 2048.

Did I mention the prosecutor had to resign after this case because he was sexting with rape victims? Yeah. Mr. High and Mighty was harassing victims of sexual assault. But did he stand trial? Nope. He wasn’t even charged. Imagine that.

Did you watch the series? If so, who do you think murdered Theresa Halbach?

About Sue Coletta

Member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers, Sue Coletta is a multi-published author in numerous anthologies, and her forensics articles have appeared in InSinC Quarterly. In addition to her popular crime resource blog, Sue’s a radio show host—check out "Partners In Crime" in the menu bar—the communications manager for the Serial Killer Project and Forensic Science and founder of #ACrimeChat on Twitter.

36 Comments

  1. As we all know the quality of your defense is based on the amount of money you have. Steve was no OJ. He and Brendan got less than required to be really considered as being supported by someone who was a real advocate. If your attorney believes you to be guilty, hang it up.

    • I couldn’t agree more. Matter of fact, I was just coming online to get ID (Investigation Discovery Channel) back. Dish did away with it, probably so we’ll upgrade our plan, and Dateline is doing a special on the Avery case. I’m hooked on this case. I need to know what happens next.

  2. Absolutely disgusting, if something is not done to free those men, find the real murdered and bring justice to this county, I am embarrassed and scared for this country.

  3. Love this post and this comment thread. I was particularly appalled by the behavior of Brendan Dassey’s first lawyer. That smug little bastard should have been disbarred, and someone should have kicked the ass of the investigator he hired. They may as well have been working for the prosecutor’s office, so clearly did they believe in Brendan’s guilt and so hard did they work to coerce a confession from him that coincided with the police and the prosecutor’s theories. Between that lawyer and investigator and their contemptible behavior, that kid never stood a chance.
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  4. One, they obviously coerced Brendan. His original lawyer should be disbarred, then jailed, for incompetence. The theory she had her throat cut, and was raped by both men, while chained to the bed, was incredulous, given the lack of physical evidence. You’re going to tell me she had her throat slashed in that room, and there was no blood found ? Right. No DND found on her. No DNA of hers in that room ? Really ? The key that had no DNA, except Steve’s ? Really, what about her’s ? This whole thing stinks to high heaven. The people responsible have no morals, no conscience, and are the scum of the earth. He had a lawsuit against them, for multi millions, that had no insurance, and would have nearly broke the town, not to mention the personal loss the the officers involved. These same people have access to the premises ? Really ? A vial of his blood, from his wrongful conviction, is found to have been tampered, and a syringe hole is found in that vial. Really ? A spent bullet, found after numerous searches, is discovered by one of the deposed officers, despite the fact he wasn’t even suppose to be allowed on the property, because of obvious conflict of interest ? Same cop shows up the day the car was found, and doesn’t register in the log,,,, and gives conflicting testimony about his timeline ? Unbelievable. I felt, after viewing this, like I needed a shower. The APPELLATE court in WISCONSIN actually refused to allow a new trial, after seeing Brendan’s own lawyer and investigator work ACTIVELY against him. You have got to be kidding me. Someone please expose these croney criminals.

  5. I haven’t watched the series but from the sound of it, all roads point to the sheriff’s dept. as being the culprit. This is a travesty of justice and all involved should be ashamed. I hope that the nephew is freed now as well.
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  6. I’ve never seen the show. So freaking hard to believe that this kind of stuff can happen, worse that it’s coerced and “created” by corrupt law enforcement. I feel so horrible for the victims…ALL of them. Just tragic.

    And scary, too.
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  7. Wow! I’m going to have to catch this series. That poor man and his poor nephew. I thought the prosecutor’s behavior on the Amanda Knox case was bad; this is so much worse!

    • You’re right, Dana. The prosecutor’s behavior in the Knox case was terrible, but in comparison he looks like a saint compared to some of the individuals in this one. Enjoy!

  8. After reading your post and the comments I plan to watch the series this weekend. This sounds like a serious witch hunt. It’s like the folks with the torches and pitchforks are more dangerous than the “suspect” they are after.
    Thanks for sharing—

  9. I’ve not watched the show, but such things fascinate me. I particularly like the audio recordings, and the transcripts. I’ve been trained in some of that, and they are more revealing than re-enactments.

    • Then you’ll love the show. There aren’t any re-enactments. It’s all done through actual recordings, taped phone calls from jail, interviews, and video of the lawyers and the prosecution making their cases, and then at trial. I didn’t even touch on Brendan Dassey’s attorney’s misconduct, which was a huge miscarriage of justice all on its own. He should be disbarred frankly. Even the judge allowed Brendan new representation because of his actions, but by that time the damage was done. Watch it. Guilty or not, you’ll be just as outraged as I am. Not only because two people got convicted on circumstantial evidence that, in my mind, was clearly planted, but because of the way the entire case was handled. I finished the series before Christmas and I needed all this time to cool off. Had I written the post immediately after watching the final episode, my post would’ve been riddled with exclamation points. LOL

  10. I haven’t seen the series, Sue, but have been hearing a bit about it in the past few days. Like someone said, you’d have to be living under a rock or hanging around a wildlfe interpretation center in Oregon not to hear about this documentary. Thanks for putting together this clear and concise summary

    Knowing that these documentaries are meant to be sensational and therefore possibly a bit slanted, I Googled around looking to see if there was another side to this story.

    I found gobs of counter-stuff which all seem to originate from this article from Pajiba.com:

    http://www.pajiba.com/netflix_movies_and_tv/is-steven-avery-guilty-evidence-making-a-murderer-didnt-present.php

    I never heard of this website before, and have no idea how credible it is, but the article seemed lucid and brought up some alleged “facts” that the Netflix doc seems to have left out.

    Hey, I have no doubt some of these agencies are pretty crooked, but it seems to me a pretty big and dangerous job to put together a massive conspiracy. (You know my thoughts on the JFK case 🙂

    It sure seems, though, that a pile of shit went on in this investigation and prosecution. What also stinks is the jury system.

    • I just read the link, and I know exactly what transcript they’re referring to. In the documentary, the detectives tell Brendan to call his mother and confess. Or they’ll do it for him. He was terrified of his mother thinking poorly of him, so he made the call. However, during his next phone call to his mother (a call made without two detectives glaring at him) he told her he lied. Hey, obviously the camera crew wants to sway the audience a certain way, but this entire investigation was a joke! Let’s say he did slice her throat in the garage rather than the bedroom, where’s the blood? Steven Avery is no genius, let me tell you. And if even part of Brendan’s story was true, then why didn’t they submit the mattress or the bedding for DNA testing? If they really believed she was raped on that bed, I would think this evidence would be crucial. It doesn’t make any sense. And it’s disgraceful that anyone, guilty or not, was convicted under these circumstances. The worse part is, in 2011 the courts upheld his conviction and denied his appeal. Oh, and the bit about him threatening a female relative with a weapon. That was his cousin–who is married to an officer in the Sheriff’s Dept. She’s the one who started this entire mess. IMO, she’s no better than the rest of them. And you know me, Garry. I’m the last person to accuse an officer of misconduct, but the evidence in this case was so overwhelming. It still infuriates me. There’s so many excellent officers on the force (not in that county, but other places) that will be judged by these idiot’s misconduct. It’s disgraceful. At the very least, the judge should have allowed the case to be heard far from Wisconsin so that Avery and Dassey could at least have a fair trial. In this case, conspiracy was afoot!

  11. I’ve passed this show up numerous times on Netflix to watch something else… well… I guess not anymore! Thanks for the deets!

  12. Such miscarriages of justice happen all of the time all over the country, but they are especially prevalent in the Midwest. Thanks for sharing this, Sue.
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  13. Like you, we were hooked on this series. We think it was either someone else in the Avery family or an ex-boyfriend. The odds it was Avery I’d place at 40/60 in favor of him being innocent. The nephew? His only mistake was being a scared kid.

    • True. Brendan was railroaded big time. I place a much higher percentage on his innocence, but that’s why it makes a great discussion post. It’s awfully convenient that she was murdered weeks after the depositions, which makes me wonder if Lenk is responsible.

  14. I admit I haven’t seen the show, Sue. But I have been following the press on it, and it’s outrageous! Note, I didn’t say I was shocked though. Sadly, we’ve seen this kind of thing before, and it’s really sad. And unconscionable. Hopefully the more of these things come to light, the more the police will do what they’re supposed to do in the first place, if that makes sense.

    • It certainly is unconscionable. Personally, I wouldn’t even drive through Wisconsin after watching this series. My luck I’d get pulled over for running a stop sign and they’d check my browsing history and arrest me for serial murder.

    • It could help to start breeding more sane academics, too. Police work is pretty futile, when the man-made laws undo, hamstring, and sabotage the ‘good police officers’ time and time again.

      • Perhaps. But I still believe there are more good officers than bad. Maybe not in Manitowoc County, but I have many friends who would never cross the line like the officers in this case. The entire sheriff’s department should be ashamed.

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