Scrutinizing the Bone Evidence – Teresa Halbach Investigation

There’s undoubtedly a lot of questionable evidence in this case – the magic key, the magic bullet and the possibility that Steven Avery’s blood was planted in the RAV 4. Should the bone evidence rise above similar scrutiny or can we consider the possibility that the bone evidence was also fabricated?  The suspicious mishandling of the bones is described in this article.

Summary of discovery and handling of bone evidence

  • Teresa’s ’99 Toyota RAV 4 was found at approximately 10:30 the morning of Saturday 11/5/05 on the Avery salvage yard. Investigators arrived at the scene and remained on site for eight days — searching for Teresa and/or evidence of foul play.
  • Bone fragments were allegedly found in the burn pit behind Avery’s garage on Tuesday 11/8/05.
  • Special Agent Tom Sturdivant requested sifting equipment from the Wisconsin crime lab (John Ertl).
  • No one photographed the bones or the collection process.
  • The (alleged) bones were placed into boxes and removed from the site.
  • Dr. Leslie Eisenberg, a Forensic Anthropologist with the crime lab received a box of bones on Wednesday 11/9/05.
  • Since Dr. Eisenberg often worked at the Dane County morgue, she carried the box to the morgue for examination on 11/10/05. She concluded that the bones were human. Specimens were submitted to the crime lab and the FBI for identification.
  • Special Agent Pevytoe allegedly discovered bones in the Janda burn barrel at the Calumet sheriff’s office on 11/12/05. No photos documented this discovery either.
  • Lab analyst Sherry Culhane issued a report on 12/5/05 stating that a partial profile was obtained from a charred piece of tissue and that seven of sixteen markers matched Teresa’s standard profile. The other markers were not present due to the condition of the sample.
  • On December 5, 2005 Dr. Eisenberg, Special Agent Pevytoe, John Ertl, Detective Wiegert and Special Agent Fassbender gathered at the crime lab (basement?) to sift through more of the ash and debris. They allegedly found metal grommets consistent with what would be common on blue jeans.


Sifting through ash and debris 12/5/05
Sifting through ash and debris 12/5/05


The absence of a chain of custody of the bones is critical because it could very well have rendered it inadmissible. What happened? They brought in the state officials right away to ensure that everything would be properly handled. Who dropped the ball? It is very suspicious given everything else that happened in this case.

Since the scene wasn’t documented, there is no proof that any bones were ever on the Avery property. As well, the Manitowoc County coroner was forbidden from entering the scene and none of the forensic experts were summoned until after the bones had been removed. We are to simply accept the word of the state witnesses who claimed to see the bones.

Interestingly, the descriptions of the bones were inconsistent. Dr. Eisenberg claimed to have pieced together fifty-eight fragments of skull bones from the burn pit. That is consistent with them finding a considerable number of fairly large pieces; yet Agent Pevytoe described seeing very small pieces of bone fragments.

  “Yes, the fragmentation that I was finding from the burn pit was very small. Much of it was — in some cases was the size of half your little fingernail, if you will. Most of the bones were very fragmented there.” (Pevytoe testimony, day 18)

Pevytoe testified that three to four larger bones were found in the Janda burn barrel. If only a few bones were found in the barrel and tiny fragments were found in the burn pit, where did all the larger bones originate? This is a box of bones in evidence. Note that non-human charred bones were also found in each of the locations – burn pit, Janda barrel and quarry. Burnt insulation that appeared to be bone fragments was also found in the burn pit.bones3


Exhibit 391 skull bones
Exhibit 391 skull bones

DNA Testing

Crime lab analyst, Sherry Culhane reported that a partial DNA profile was obtained from a charred piece of tissue (item BZ) alleged to have been found in the burn pit ash. She used the STR Promega 16 amplification kit where fifteen markers are compared, with one gender marker. Culhane testified that since the specimen was degraded (likely due to extreme heat) she only obtained peaks for seven markers of the fifteen plus the gender marker, so less than 50%. The FBI CODIS database does not even record DNA profiles with less than nine identified markers.

The partial profile matched Teresa Halbach’s standard, but since it’s a partial profile it can’t be conclusively reported as matching Teresa’s DNA. What is the degree of certainty? Culhane reported that the probability of a random unrelated person matching the same seven (eight if including the gender loci) markers is 1 in a billion in the Caucasian population.

DNA stat


DNA pic

It’s unclear how she arrived at that statistic. Arizona is the only state that made their DNA database publicly accessible. Interestingly, based on the available DNA information from Arizona, it appears that the partial profile of item BZ would in fact be much more common than 1 in a billion. These are the actual matches based on a total of approximately 65,000 profiles:

  • 122 pairs match at 9 of 13 loci
  • 20 pairs match at 10 of 13 loci
  • 1 pair matches at 11 of 13 loci (full siblings)
  • 1 pair matches at 12 of 13 loci (full siblings)


This means that even with 12 of 13 markers matching there would be an occurrence of 1 in 65,000 — much more common than 1 in a billion. The less markers compared, the more common the occurrence. 122 pairs matched at 9 of 13 markers. Clearly a match of 7 of 15 would be considerably more common than the reported 1 in a billion at trial. The DNA evidence should have been reported more generally as “Teresa Halbach can not be excluded as source.”

FBI DNA Analysis

A section of the charred specimen (BZ) was also sent to the FBI in November, 2005. They conducted a mitochondrial DNA test and reported that Teresa could not be excluded as the source of the charred remains.

In 2006 investigators sent the FBI thirty-one additional samples – bone fragments. The FBI reported that no mitochondrial DNA testing was conducted due to the condition of the fragments but interestingly they also reported that some DNA was obtained and they were returning the processed DNA samples.

DNA fragments FBI

It is puzzling that they obtained DNA yet were unable to perform the mitochondrial testing. Is it possible it excluded Teresa Halbach as the contributor? Contrary to the DNA report, Calumet County Sheriff Jerry Pagel incorrectly informed the media that the FBI confirmed the bones were Teresa’s.

The Calumet County Sheriff says bones found at the family auto salvage yard of a man charged with murder match those of a freelance photographer.Sheriff Jerry Pagel says the FBI confirms that the bones found at Steven Avery’s family salvage yard are those of 25 year old Teresa Halbach. The report from FBI headquarters in Quantico, Virginia says Mitochondrial DNA analysis of evidentiary remains found in a burn pit match the DNA sample of Halbach’s mother.

Prosecutor Ken Kratz referenced this in an email to Sherry Culhane. Apparently the media was never instructed to edit their misleading articles about the FBI “match” so the public believed there was conclusive proof that Teresa’s remains were found on the Avery property.

Kratz Culhane email

Why question this?

Everyone accepts as fact that Teresa’s remains were found in the burn pit. Obviously it appears to be very incriminating, but what is going on with this evidence? Why weren’t protocols followed?  No coroner, forensic anthropologist, arson investigator or photographer was called to the scene when the evidence was discovered. They had all of these high paid experts at their disposal and didn’t call on them until after the evidence had been shoveled up and taken to the sheriff’s office.

The DNA evidence described above is not conclusive. How is it even possible for tissue to survive a fire that disintegrated 60% of the bone mass? The teeth which are commonly used to identify a body because they outlast bone didn’t even survive the fire. Something’s wrong and it becomes difficult to accept this evidence as presented.

Since there’s circumstantial evidence that all of the other evidence was fabricated, is it such a stretch to consider that the bone evidence doesn’t hold up either?  If we can accept that the RAV4 was placed on the property, key planted in his residence, blood planted in vehicle, bullet planted in garage, should we blindly accept 100% that the bones were Teresa’s just because Culhane reported the partial profile as a “match?”  It’s difficult to trust it when proof of the bones on the property doesn’t even exist!

Is it possible that police were unable to find a body but wanted to secure a conviction so they fabricated the bone evidence?

A Similar Case

Around the time of Teresa Halbach’s disappearance, Kristine Rudy of Clark County, Wisconsin also went missing. She was last seen November 12, 2005.  She was twenty-one years old and six months pregnant, married to Shaun Rudy. Search efforts were unsuccessful and in December, 2005 investigators discovered a burn pit — sound familiar?

In December, detectives piecing together a case against Christine’s husband Shaun were led to the suspect’s mother’s home in northwestern Clark County. According to court documents, they found a burn pile they believe Shaun used to destroy evidence of the crime. In that burn pile, they found what a well-respected forensic anthropologist determined were fetal remains.

Court documents show Dr. Leslie Eisenberg of the State Crime Lab in Madison wrote investigators asking them to consider the mechanisms by which the fetal remains, yet very few adult remains, made their way to the burn pile, and says it’s possible the fetus was deliberately removed and burned independently of the majority of the adult remains. (link)

The really interesting thing is that the victim’s body was found a few months later – fetus intact.

But investigators were surprised when what’s believed to be Christine Rudy’s body was found last month in the Chippewa River – the fetus was still intact.

It kind of throws us for a loop. It raised a couple questions, says Clark County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Jim Backus.

The bones found in the burn pile were severely charred, but Dr. Eisenberg has an excellent reputation and it’s seen as somewhat unlikely that her analysis was wrong, Backus says.(audio)

Dr. Eisenberg incorrectly identified bones as human. Though it may be possible to make a mistake like that, it certainly calls her credibility into question. Had they not found the woman, would they have prosecuted Shaun Rudy with the bone evidence?

We must consider the possibility that Dr. Eisenberg may have been mistaken with the Halbach case as well. We know there were charred animal bones mixed in. Is it possible there was nothing but animal bones?

We can also consider that maybe the state revealed just enough to convince the public that Teresa’s remains were found — photographs of random bones in a box and high priced experts sifting through debris. If true, it’s possible Teresa’s body was never found because it wasn’t on the Avery property. Police were searching in the wrong place.




Author: Lynne

I research and write about questionable cases, unfair trials, police misconduct, wrongful convictions and exonerations.

34 thoughts on “Scrutinizing the Bone Evidence – Teresa Halbach Investigation”

  1. Please believe that I, LuQman AbdurRahman, have heard too much about governments getting away with lying forensics and the wrongfully convicted not receiving a fair day in court. Moreover, the innocence does not have the protections of restraints that require Governments to be seriously punished for abusing the rights of the innocent.

  2. For the wrongfully convicted, we as a whole need a small group willing to make a large group look outstanding. Where are the Attorneys who are willing to follow the footsteps of Clarence Darrow who then knew the Criminal Justice System was an unfair system in serious trouble.

  3. Could it be that TH was pregnant? This could serve as motive for a jealous killer. I wonder if there is anything anyone knows close to TH that hadn’t shared this. Complete theory with no fact.

    1. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a case with so little background into the victim’s life. We really don’t know much about her or who she’d associated with. They didn’t even look at her computer usage as far as I know.

  4. Excellent article. You said exactly what I have been thinking from day one. It’s refreshing to see some real homework done in regards to the bones.

  5. It is our duty as American citizens that we put some laws into place to keep this from happening. Shaun Rudy’s life was at stake in this case. How many have spent their lives like this because of inconclusive evidence and fast talking lawyers who goal is to win. When any person is at risk of losing a lifetime of freedom, to live in a 3×5 cell for the remainder of their lives over unclear evidence should not be. We as a people of justice need to keep these kind of things in the forefront of our lawmakers and leaders. No system is perfect and always room for improvement but we are a long way from even being right. This is not right. A concerned citizen. Barbara Abner

  6. Amazing! The truth truly is stranger than fiction. Do these cops have no moral compass. For that matter you would include the so called experts who frame the evidence to fit the requirements of the prosecution. This is evil, hell mend you.

  7. It’s obvious Avery was framed from the start, way to many fishy things happened right before the big shots where to be deposed.

  8. I like how Kratz puts “match” in quotes in his email. In the original email you linked, even puts “science” in quotes.

    1. Good catch. I hadn’t noticed that. I’ll tell you. I don’t trust any of this. I’ve been looking more into the BZ designated specimens and there’s a disconnect there. That is allegedly tissue that Culhane cut from a shin bone but the problem is Eisenberg testified that she packaged and shipped that bone directly to the FBI. So how did Culhane get the sample? There is no documentation or testimony that describes how she obtained it. She simply said she received it in the lab on Nov 11 and that she labeled it BZ.

      So they didn’t both get the SAME specimen. What is going on? Also, the designation the FBI used on the received specimen was also BZ and they make no mention of the tissue being attached to the bone. Someone is lying.

  9. “I think thats all I need. Never thought you would hear that… hey?” Ken Kratz to Sherry Culhane.

    The facts presented in your articles are concise and on point. I Supremely believe a serious con had been performed in this case. Every single step of the entire investigation had been comprimised and muddled to the point of complete obfuscation. This was intentionally done to obliviate any truthful investigative paper trail. The detectives and prosecution worked in tandem to fabricate incriminating evidence where there was none and disseminated a criminal story to the punlic starring Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey as the star suspects. I do hope the global suspect report of Avery issued prior to Nov 3rd, the newly acquired and suppressed cell records, and the duly suspicious death certificate and of course they highly suspect physical evidence play significant roles in Avery scoring an exoneration.

    1. Thank you. I’ve continued looking at this and it is much worse than I could have ever imagined. I’m working on a new article about the DNA. I hope to have it finished in the next couple of days.

  10. Thank You!! This is the piece of the case that has been bugging me the most! I truly do not think that those bones belong to T.H. or any other human to be honest! This family has been known to hunt small animals on the property with a .22. They also hunt larger game like deer. It is natural to assume that they would burn those carcasses in the fire pit along with the rest of the garbage.
    The fact that the county M.E. was barred from the scene when human remains were found is VERY suspicious! Not even the Calument Counties Coroner/ME was invited onto the scene to identify those bones as human remains and to supervise the excavation. What other P.D. uses a shovel to scoop up very delicate evidence from a potential crime scene and scoops it into a box? When does that evidence which supposedly contains human remains, get transported to the police department to be sifted through by detectives without an ME present? Why were there no pictures taken of the bones as they were found in the burn pit? All these questions… I could care less about the blood/bone evidence.. its the bone evidence which speaks volumes to me!

    1. Correct and I’ll go one step further. I don’t even think there were any bones in the pit at all — thus no photo documentation of the scene. They are a bunch of liars in one of the biggest frame jobs of the century. I really wish the attorneys for Avery would stop accepting as fact that TH’s remains were found on the property. There is NO proof of that whatsoever. IF TH was not even found there, how can Avery be convicted on murder? Note that the DNA “evidence” was very sketchy as well. No chain of custody, unreliable results reported.

    1. That is statistical, not based on real people. Also, remember that the results reported – the 7 of 16 should have been thrown out. The mere fact that only 7 markers appeared means the test is unreliable. Read the manufacturer information on the STR test that Culhane ran.

  11. Way too much reasonable doubt. I wouldn’t be surprised if TH’s body is found and identified someday.
    The handling of this case was completely unprofessional and the handling of the bones, the most damming of evidence was not handled properly or documented… with that alone the bone evidence should not have been admitted for evidence, especially knowing the case of Avery vs county/local police…. MOTIVE. And what motive would a recently engaged man who spent 18 years in prison have, a man that was going to be awarded a large sum of money??? LOGIC
    There’s corruption in this case all over. I hope if TH’s body does turn up each and every officer that played a significant role in this case go to jail for life without parole. “If” Avery is guilty the justice system did not do their job well at all, for now I have far too much doubt… let’s see what the future brings.
    As for Brenden, pure coercion in its absolute finest. It was clear he was making up ideas just to appease the “so called” friendly officers who seem to never interview him in the presence of a family member. BULLIES
    They lied and told Brenden they would be there for him, they would make sure he was ok, so they can lie but Brenden can’t? They hung that innocent boy out to dry. SHAMEFUL


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