The Making a Murderer documentary explores the possibility that Steven Avery may have been framed for the murder of Teresa Halbach — with good reason. Soon after the missing woman’s car was found on the Avery salvage yard (in Manitowoc County), Calumet County investigators were tasked with handling the investigation to avoid any appearance of impropriety. This was due to a civil lawsuit that Avery had recently filed against Manitowoc County for damages related to his 1985 wrongful conviction. Despite the assignment of Calumet investigators, the officers involved in the wrongful conviction case – who had recently been deposed in the lawsuit inserted themselves into the Halbach investigation. Lieutenant Lenk and Sergeant Colborn volunteered to assist and nobody stopped them. Background details about the case can be found here.
Much of the evidence was found under highly suspicious circumstances. Although several police departments participated in the investigation, Manitowoc police officers found most of the key evidence in the case. Many argue that there should be no problem with that – there is no proof that Avery was framed – but there are serious issues surrounding the circumstances of every piece of evidence in this case.
Evidence discovered by Manitowoc police
- Deputy Jason Jost found a piece of bone 8 feet from the burn pit (where’s the photo?) – this prompted the search of the burn pit for possibly more bones/remains.
- Lieutenant Lenk found the RAV 4 key in Avery’s trailer
- Deputy David Siders found the parts of the cell phone in the burn barrel
- Detective David Remiker found the magic bullet in the garage in March ’06, despite extensive searches in November ’05.
In each instance, they would notify the detectives in charge – Fassbender or Weigert and then special agents from the Wisconsin Crime Unit would actually collect the evidence. In each instance there are questions about the reliability of the evidence. The media isn’t discussing the fact that none of the evidence can be trusted. It is bigger than the key and blood vial.
- The burn pit evidence is questionable because no one documented the processing and collection of the bones. John Ertl with the state crime lab was requested to assist with the sifting of the ash but by the time he arrived the scene had already been altered; therefore no photos were taken to document the findings. That is counter to investigative protocols. As well, the forensic anthropologist should have been called to the scene before anything was touched, but that was not the case. Not a single photo of the bones in the burn pit exists. No photos “as found” of the bones from the burn barrel or the quarry exist either. They had a forensic photographer on site, yet important evidence was collected with no documentation.
- The discovery of the RAV4 key was suspicious because it wasn’t found in many prior searches. Lenk and Colborn created a story about shaking the bookcase and the key falling out, but that doesn’t really make sense either as the key was several inches to the left of the rear book case hole.
- Siders claimed to spot the cell phone pieces in the ash, but during the trial it was revealed that the ash had formed almost a film/crust because it had rained quite heavily. The cell phone parts were sitting right on top of the ash film. There should be many close-up images of the evidence found “as-is” at the scene, but it doesn’t appear to be any photos except for the one above.
- The bullet fragment wasn’t “found” until four months later despite prior searches of the garage.
- Avery’s blood in the RAV 4 could have been planted. Lenk was the evidence custodian in 2002 when the attorneys from the innocence group requested evidence from the 1985 case. He signed off on the release and likely was aware of the presence of the blood vial. There is confusion over the possible signs of tampering of the vial as portrayed in the documentary because many have said the hole is supposed to be at the top of the vial and that the previous attorneys opened the styrofoam container while looking through the 1985 evidence in 2002. But nonetheless Lenk had easy access to the blood.
Check point Concerns
The RAV 4 was found by Pam Sturm on 11/5/05 at approximately 10:30 a.m. Lenk initially testified during a hearing in August 2006 that he arrived at the Avery salvage yard at 6:30 -7 p.m. on November 5.
There was a problem though. Agent Fassbender was the first to sign the check point log at 2:25 p.m. Lenk logged out at 10:41 p.m., so he was definitely there, but he never logged in. How is that possible if he arrived at 6:30-7 p.m.? No one could get past the check point without signing in. Colborn signed in at 5:12 p.m. and testified that he could not recall if Lenk was there when he arrived.
Lenk changed his testimony at trial to reflect that he actually arrived at around 2:00 p.m. He knew he needed to provide an explanation for the absence of his name on the log sheet.
There was another problem though. If he got there that early, why did he state that it was almost dark when he approached the vicinity of the RAV4? The investigation was just getting started . . . the car was the focal point . . . what was he doing from 2:00 until dark? The search warrant wasn’t even obtained until 3:30, so he couldn’t have been searching any of the residences or buildings on site. He tried to back away from the “near dark” statement at trial but he wasn’t successful.
Lenk either entered the property via a different path than the check-point (which was on Avery Road) or he was already there and doing who knows what before the check point was established; either way it gives the appearance of deception. Did he have an easy opportunity to plant blood in the RAV 4 before other units arrived at the scene? Why the discrepancy with the time and why was he even there in the first place?! It is impossible to overlook the severe issues with evidence collection, the fact that Manitowoc Police “found” most (all?) of the evidence and Lenk provided inconsistent statements regarding his arrival time at the scene — at a very critical time in the investigation.