After watching Making a Murderer as a wrongful conviction advocate, I felt compelled to research the case further. I was pleased when the transcripts and reports became publicly available. I’ve focused most of my attention on the credibility of the bonfire story and the discovery, handling, and reporting of the bone evidence. I did so because I found it so difficult to believe that a body was burned in the location alleged — the burn pit behind Steven Avery’s trailer. The photos do not support the claim. My disbelief has been confirmed in my mind by a combination of evolved witness statements and inconsistencies.
It was shocking that no one bothered to document the presence of this very important evidence allegedly found on the Avery property. (The word allegedly wouldn’t need to be stated if they had simply done their job, and photographed and filmed it.) Not a single photo of a bone on site exists, despite the fact that the state crime lab sent photographers to the property. Yet everyone, including the defense team, seemed to accept the word of the investigators, despite the lack of documentation. I will highlight inconsistencies observed as I reviewed the statements and testimony from those involved in the discovery of the bones in the burn pit.
Sergeant Jost, of the Manitowoc Sheriff’s Office was the first to discover the bones in and near the burn pit. This discovery was a huge break in the case, in fact Jost’s report describes the light bulb moment when he realized the burn pit behind Steven Avery’s trailer had been overlooked. His report will be highlighted, but first let’s examine the bonfire story.
Was there a bonfire on 10/31/05?
In an earlier blog article, I highlighted the fact that none of the many initial witnesses interviewed recalled a bonfire that night, but the statements evolved in subsequent interviews. This is one of the clearest examples of an organized effort to coerce the witnesses to offer statements consistent with the official story — that bones were found in the burn pit. Investigators needed the bonfire for their story to work. In later interviews, witnesses changed their statements to reflect observation of a fire in the burn pit, and the fire grew in size on third and fourth interviews. Ultimately everyone accepted that there was a bonfire that night. In fact, in Brendan Dassey’s first interrogation interview, the police told him there was a bonfire that night. It had become a “fact” by then. Please read more about the evolution of statements in this detailed summary here.
This is really important, because the absence of a bonfire that night changes everything. It goes a long way toward refuting the claim that Halbach’s body was burned behind Avery’s trailer, and the lie becomes circumstantial evidence that the discovery of remains on the property was manufactured evidence, just like the key. Many like to claim that the bones were planted, but I go one step further and suggest that they didn’t even need to be planted. Maybe they were never there at all. There is no proof. Someone simply supplied Dr. Eisenberg with a box of bones from who knows where. Done. There is a reason that courts require documentation of evidence and chain of custody. It is too easy for fraud to occur, but no one objected to the inclusion of the evidence, so all of the bonfire/bones testimonies were in.
Here are portions of Jost’s narrative from November 8, 2005:
“>11/08/05@ 1247 Hrs .: I, Sgt. Jost, drove Unit 70 down to that property. I allowed Officer Joanne Mignon to take a break. Officer Mignon gave me the log sheet, and she then drove Unit 70 back to the command post area. While I was waiting for B&M WASTE REMOVAL to return from Green Bay,I walked toward the south encl of the property, still keeping watch on the septic tank. While at the SW corner of the property, I noted the burn pit area which was located to the south of the garage for STEVEN AVERY’S residence.
While I was standing near the SW corner of the STEVEN AVERY property, I noted several items lying within close proximity to the burn pile. The items were as follows:
- There were numerous rings of wire lying in and around the area of the burn pile. I recognized these as steel beltings from inside tires.
- There was a tire which had not been burned. This was on the SE corner of the burn pit area.
- There was a rubber mallet which was on the grass, SE of the pile.
- There was a metal hammer, believed to be a claw hammer, lying on the ground, NE of the pile.
- There was a gravel shovel which was tipped upside-down, located on the west side of the pile.
- There was a burned/charred metal scraper with a wooden handle attached which was laying NE of the pile, on the grass area.
Earlier, when I had been in the command post area, I remembered someone mentioning that JOSHUA RANDANDT had checked on his hunting trailers on Monday evening. He saw there was a large fire burning near STEVEN AVERY’S property. The fire was described as being “larger than usual.”
Let’s examine Josh Radandt’s statements to police.
This information was included in Avery’s recent motion.
Similar to other witnesses, Radandt’s statements evolved. Initially there was only mention of a burn barrel fire, but investigators likely coerced him to modify his statements in a subsequent interview to “open burn pit, large fire.”
Update: Radandt signed a new affidavit in February, 2017 that describes the coercion. If it happened to him, and we know Brendan Dassey was coerced, why stop there? It’s likely ALL the witnesses were coerced about the bonfire.
It is interesting that Jost became suspicious that a body may have been burned in the burn pit based only on a described burn barrel fire. But statements would confirm that Jost’s intuition was right (absent documentation of the findings).
Jost’s statement, continued
I, Sgt. Jost, started to piece all of this information together. I felt this area, if not already looked at, should be checked for any type of evidence. When Officer Mignon returned, I spoke with her about my feelings of the burn pile. She stated she also felt that something was unusual with that area. Upon returning to the command post, I made contact with CASO Lt. Sippel. I explained to him that I felt the burn pit area specifically should be checked further. He responded to the property with me. Without disturbing the area, we walked close to the burn pit to take a further look. I mentioned to
him that due to the aggressiveness of the dog, it was very possible that the other K9 handlers may not have walked their dogs this close to the area. This also may have hindered officers from specifically going to this location.
As we were looking at the ashes lying in the area, it was evident that someone used some type of front end loader to remove ground from this particular location. The ashes were inside this area. As we looked at the ash pile, we observed that there was a bone lying near the south side of the pile, on the east side. Without disturbing the bone, I looked at it as closely as I could. It appeared as though it may have been a vertebrae bone. I could see another bone in the pile. At this time, we decided that someone from the Crime Lab or DCI needed to further investigate the area.
I, Sgt. Jost, remained at the burn pit area. A short time later, I believe it was TOM STURTEVANT from DCI who walked over to the burn pit with one of his female partners. Utilizing a small twig that was present, TOM moved the bone mentioned above. Without touching it, it still appeared to be some type of vertebrae bone. He moved some of the steel belting wires which were located on the east side of the burn pile and found there appeared to be several other items which appeared to be burns. One piece appeared to be in the shape of a part of a skull.
Based on this information, I returned to the command post to speak with the Crime Lab. Members of the Crime Lab responded to the scene. Using their sifting equipment, they sifted through the majority of the burn pile. They located numerous bones and teeth which were present among the ashes. These items were later given to the CASO for processing. No further details to add.
To summarize — Jost thought the burn pit seemed important, he discussed it with Sippel, the two of them walked over to the pit, discovered what appeared to be a vertebrae, Agent Sturdivant showed up, Jost went back to the command center to inform the crime lab of their findings.
Next, let’s look at Sippel’s report.
Lieutenant Sippel of the Calumet Sheriff’s office accompanied Jost to the fire pit. Here is his account of the discovery of bones.
It’s already obvious that their stories are inconsistent. In Sippel’s version, he went to the command post to inform them about the possible bones they’d discovered; Jost remained at the burn pit with Sturdivant.
Finally, let’s look at Sturdivant’s account. Keep in mind that neither Jost or Sippel testified at any of the preliminary hearings or the Avery and Dassey trials, therefore, these inconsistencies would not be brought to light.
Special Agent Sturdivant
Interestingly, Sturdivant describes how he was assigned to look at items of interest, but how was he assigned to look at Jost’s discovery of the bones, when both Jost and Sippel had just discovered them when Sturdivant walked up?
Sturdivant describes a red flag near the bone Jost had discovered. Interestingly, Jost never mentioned placing a red flag to mark the item. Maybe the inconsistent story is the red flag.
Sturdivant claims to have been the one to contact the crime lab unit, and John Ertl testified that he received a call from Sturdivant requesting the sifting equipment. If true, it means that Sippel and Jost did not notify the crime lab of their discovery as they described in their reports. These inconsistencies may seem inconsequential, but it is circumstantial evidence of deception and possible fabricated evidence. This aspect of the investigation should have been memorable to all involved, so why do their stories differ? How was Sturdivant summoned to the location? Why weren’t Jost and Sippel called to testify?
Is it possible this “discovery” was made up? It’s interesting to note that Sippel described seeing the bones on top of crusted ash. This is circumstantial evidence that they were placed there OR there is also the possibility that the investigators were dishonest, and that no bones were actually found at all. That is the reason documentation is so important. The issues with the bones does not stop here. Please read more about the bone evidence here and here. Thus far, nothing about this case holds up to even a minimum amount of scrutiny.