There Was No Bonfire on Halloween: Making A Murderer

The state alleged that Steven Avery burned the victim’s body in a huge bonfire behind his trailer and burned her personal effects (cell phone, camera and palm pilot) in a burn barrel in the front area of the home the evening of 10/31/05.

burn pit behind trailer
burn pit behind trailer

 

burn barrel
burn barrel

While reviewing all of the initial statements made by Steven Avery and the others who had been on the property that day, I noticed that not a single person mentioned a bonfire on October 31 – the day Teresa Halbach disappeared. The witness statements evolved considerably over time so that by the time Brendan Dassey was arrested everyone believed there was a bonfire and/or burn barrel fire on Halloween night.

Let’s examine the statements beginning with the early interviews. Steven Avery was interviewed by Detective O’Neill with the Marinette County Sheriff’s Office on November 5 (the day Teresa’s RAV 4 was found) and again on November 6.

Steven Avery’s interview 11/6/05 @ 29:57:

Q: When’s the last time you burned?

A: Two weeks ago.

Q: What did you burn, just regular garbage?

A: Just garbage.

Steve Avery was interviewed again by Special Agent Fassbender on November 9, 2005, which was the day they arrested him on the weapon’s violation.

SA burn barrel statement 11-9-05

Exhibit-51-Avery-burn-barrel-1024x671Blaine Dassey was interviewed on November 7, 2005 — two days after the RAV 4 had been found at which time the burned phone parts and some of the bones had already been found in the burn barrels near Steve Avery’s trailer and the Janda/Dassey residence. Note that Blaine got off the bus with Brendan Dassey at approximately 3:45 p.m. He had plans that evening to go trick-or-treating with a friend and the fact that it was Halloween made it more likely that he would remember a bonfire that evening.

Blaine was first asked about the burn barrels.Blaine burn barrels 1

Then he was specifically asked about a bonfire.

Blaine burn barrels 2

And he further explained later in the interview that there was supposed to be a bonfire that Thursday but it was cancelled. This is important because Brendan Dassey’s statement about the bonfire was consistent with Blaine’s.

Blaine burn barrels 3

Trial testimony revealed that Blaine was interviewed by investigators again on November 11, November 15 and again on unknown dates. Between his initial interview and his trial testimony, Blaine’s statement about the bonfire changed. (Called by the state, day 12 p 52-107)

Blain burn barrel trial1

Later questioning . . .

Blaine trial 2

 

Blaine admitted during defense cross examination that he did not mention anything about any fires in his initial interview with investigators.

Let’s look at Bobby Dassey’s testimony (beginning on p 33)

Bobby testimony about bonfire

 

later . . .

Bobby testimony about bonfire2

Bobby’s testimony was consistent with what Steven told the investigators in his early interviews – there hadn’t been any bonfires since approximately two weeks prior to 10/31/05.

Scott Tadych: There are three documented interviews of Scott Tadych. Scott was dating Barbara Janda at the time of Halbach’s disappearance.

Interview 1November 10, 2005    No mention of a fire

 

tydach fire 1

Interview 2   November 29, 2005  This time he mentions a fire

Tydach fire2

Interview 3 March 30, 2006 This time the fire is described as “big”

Tydach fire 3

 

Finally, at trial Tadych described a fire with flames “as high as the garage” and he testified that it was the fire that stuck out the most about his day. (beginning p. 122)

Taydach fire 4

Taydach fire 5

Notice how Scott’s statements evolved from no mention of a fire to a fire to a big fire with ten feet flames. Were police pressuring him to provide a statement in support of their theory?

Brendan Dassey was interviewed on November 6, 2005. @11:30 he stated “We were gonna have a bonfire on Thursday . . .” He went on to explain that his mother, Barbara Janda cancelled the bonfire. There was no mention of a bonfire October 31, 2005. In fact, Brendan was the first person to mention a bonfire at all. Did investigators use the information to create a story that there was a “bonfire” on Halloween because it would sound incriminating to a jury?

Brendan was interviewed at his school by Detective Wiegert and Special Agent Fassbender on February 27, 2006. At the very beginning of the interview, the investigators told Brendan that there had been a bonfire. They stated it as if it were a fact confirmed by many when the truth is no one mentioned a bonfire in any initial interviews. They didn’t ask him if there was a fire, they TOLD him. That is not a proper way to conduct an interview.

BD confession 1

Note that the information about burning a seat referenced a fire that occurred weeks before October 31 but by February time had passed and it became easy to convince Brendan that the bonfire occurred on Halloween. Police needed this to support their theory — that the body was burned that night because bones were allegedly found in the burn pit behind the garage. I say allegedly because investigators did nothing to document that the bones were ever in the burn pit. See this article for more information about the bones.

It seems that by the time of Brendan’s arrest everyone had accepted as fact that there was a bonfire in the burn pit behind Steven Avery’s garage on October 31, 2005. During the Making a Murderer documentary, a phone conversation has Steven discussing it with Barbara.

“That night he (Brendan) came over, we had the bonfire and he was home by 9:00 because Jodie called me at 9:00 and I was in the house already.”

I believe even Steven became convinced that they were burning things on the 31st because everyone accepted it as fact, but it’s much more likely that the most recent fire occurred weeks earlier as told by Steven, Brendan and Blaine in initial interviews – when their memories would have been most reliable.

If we consider the possibility that there was no bonfire on Halloween, we can also consider the likelihood that there was never a body or phone and camera parts burned on that property. The remains were in a condition consistent with a cremation. No crowns of the teeth remained; only root fragments (link). The condition of the bones combined with the fact that the collection wasn’t documented with a single photo and the indications that there was no bonfire on 10/31 means that we must consider that not only was the key, the blood and the bullet planted — so were the bones, and there is a considerable amount of circumstantial evidence to support this claim.

 

 

 

 

 

The Integrity of the Halbach Investigation was Severely Compromised

car+hiddenThe 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

  1. 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.
  2. Lieutenant Lenk found the RAV 4 key in Avery’s trailer
  3. Deputy David Siders found the parts of the cell phone in the burn barrel
  4. 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.

cell phone parts in burn barrel
cell phone parts in burn barrel

cell phone parts recovered

 

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.

Lenk sign-in 2

 

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.

lenk check-in

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 dark1

lenk dark2

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.

 

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