Everyone accepts the assertion that Teresa’s remains were found on the Avery property, but I wouldn’t be so quick to accept that conclusion. Remember that there is no evidence there were ever any bones found on the Avery property. Investigators can say what they want, but not a single photo captured this very important evidence. We are to blindly trust that they found bones where they claimed — in the burn pit and the burn barrels. It would be simple to fabricate this evidence. Agent Pevytoe even testified that the alleged bone fragments were smaller than half a pinky nail and that much of what was found was actually burnt insulation.
How were the remains identified?
The bones were so badly burned that only a single testable bone — reported to be a 2 1/2 inch section of a shin bone survived. The bone allegedly still had remaining tissue intact. How is it possible that a bone survived? The teeth were burned beyond any identification. Teeth are supposed to outlast bone when exposed to fire. Dr. Simley testified that he could crush the dental fragments with his fingers. They were consistent with cremains, not a body burned in an open fire.
Dr. Simley did not find a single tooth suitable for comparison to Teresa’s dental x-rays. He had never seen such an extensive amount of damage. He found root fragments. In fact he super-glued two sections of a root together and stated that they were “consistent” with one of Teresa’s roots. I have searched and have been unable to find a single case where remains were identified from a root. It’s likely because roots are pretty plain. They do not have unique enough identifiers to conclude that they belong to any certain person. That is likely the reason he could not make a positive identification.
Consider what a root looks like.
This is how the roots appear on a dental x-ray
How is it possible that burned-up super-glued root sections were even stated as “consistent” with Teresa’s?! Were they consistent simply because it was identified as a root? This seems like junk science. Forensic bite mark evidence has recently been discredited and this type of evidence should probably be discredited as well. Many are under the mistaken impression that Teresa’s teeth were found in the burn pit. There is NO evidence that is true!
Dr. Simley’s testimony, Brendan Dassey trial
Q: Would you tell us or describe for us the condition of – – uh, these — the 24 tooth fragments and the three bone fragments that you examined?
A. They were all burned. They were all charred. Uh, they were very brittle. Um, again, they didn’t look like normal tooth like we would normally see, and essentially, the crowns were all gone. What we were looking at was just the root structure, which was, um, part of the tooth that’s buried in the bone. There was one portion of a crown, um, but that portion was from a — cuspid or an eyetooth and was not able to be identified.
Is it possible investigators gave him a box of random cremains? I think it’s very possible, in fact likely.
Next, consider the DNA from the shin bone that miraculously survived. There were major problems with this as well. Both Dr. Eisenberg and Sherry participated in the process of identifying the remains with this same bone. Sherry tested the tissue; Eisenberg sent the bone to the FBI.
Sherry reported that she only obtained seven of sixteen markers in her STR DNA test because the tissue was too degraded; yet her results were accepted as a MATCH to Teresa’s DNA.
Eisenberg sent the bone to the FBI who reportedly tested “charred remains” using Mitochondrial DNA testing and reported that Teresa couldn’t be ruled out as a contributor. If they had a suitable bone for testing, why didn’t they use that for the mitochondrial DNA testing?
A year later the FBI received dozens more bone fragments, none of which were suitable for DNA testing.
I am not convinced that the remains (from who knows where) matched Teresa Halbach. In fact, there is no chain of custody to reflect how Culhane even received the bone into her lab. Dr. Eisenberg testified that she shipped it directly to the FBI after identifying it as human remains. Sherry wouldn’t have received it before Dr. Eisenberg, as it wouldn’t have been identified as human at that point. If there is no proof there were remains on the property (there isn’t) and there is no conclusive identification of the remains (there isn’t), how can Avery be responsible for Teresa’s death? We’re left with nothing but the car on the property and the (very questionable) blood inside. Is that enough evidence to prove a person was murdered there? Or anywhere for that matter?
It doesn’t add up. IF a shin bone survived, the teeth should have survived! It is impossible to trust any of this evidence.
My previous article addressed the issues with chain of custody and documentation of the bone evidence. The issues don’t stop there. The testimony and DNA reports contain even more serious concerns about the validity of the bone evidence. Recently Reddit contributor, Amber Lea pointed out major red flags with the way the DNA evidence was presented at trial. Her research indicates that the only bone fragment found with intact tissue was purportedly processed simultaneously in two separate locations at the same time.
Special Prosecutor Ken Kratz displayed this photo during opening arguments and stated that Teresa Halbach’s shin bone was the large bone on the left.
That’s what Kratz asserts, but is there proof that this shin bone was identified as Teresa’s? Two witnesses testified about this key piece of evidence — Dr. Leslie Eisenberg (Forensic Anthropologist) and Sherry Culhane, lab analyst with the Wisconsin crime lab. The photo above was referenced as Exhibit #150 during the Brendan Dassey trial.
First, let’s begin with Dr. Leslie Eisenberg’s testimony about Exhibit #150. Dr. Eisenberg testified that she examined the bone specimens at the Dade County Morgue on November 10, 2005 and discovered the bone with the tissue.
Q All Right. And what is, um, Exhibit 150?
A One-five-zero is a portion of burned human bone that was recovered with other smaller burned human bone fragments and fragments of dried or desiccated human muscle tissue.
Q All right. And is the a fragment that you transferred to the crime lab for DNA analysis?
A That is one of the fragments that I transferred to the Federal Bureau of Investigations for DNA analysis.
During the Avery trial, Dr. Eisenberg testified more affirmatively that she packaged and sent the items directly to the FBI when asked if she sent the items to the crime lab.
Q Now the one we’ve been examining more closely here, is that the bone that you arranged to be sent to the FBI, or excuse me, to the crime lab for further analysis?
A No, the contents of all of the items you see on this screen, this larger bone, which is about two and a half inches long, and some of these other bone fragments and this muscle tissue was packaged by me and transferred directly to the FBI in November of 2005.
So she was clear that the specimens did not go back to the crime lab and that is important.
Note that the FBI referenced the specimen as “charred remains“, rather than “bone fragments“, even though they referred to several subsequent samples that were sent by Dr. Eisenberg as bone fragments.
**Also very important is the evidence that the shin bone referenced in exhibit #150 is referenced as Q1 Charred remains in the FBI document.**
The trial testimony revealed a contradictory claim about the shin bone fragment. Sherry Culhane testified that she received the bone fragment into her lab on November 11, 2005 and removed a portion of tissue that she believed was suitable for DNA testing.
A Item BZ was taken into the laboratory on November 11th, 2005.
Q And when you examined this, was it a combination of bone and tissue?
A It appeared to be, yes.
She referenced it in her report as “charred tissue” and labeled it BZ.
Item BZ was the same specimen that Dr. Eisenberg claimed to have shipped to the FBI. How do we know that? This PowerPoint slide which was shown to the jury during Sherry Culhane’s testimony is proof.
Q When you examined this, was this a combination of bone and tissue?
A It appeared to be, yes.
Q And what is shown on the big screen here, which we will later get an exhibit for and mark it, is that the bone and tissue fragment that you examined?
A Yes, it is.
Sherry Culhane testified that she removed tissue from the very bone that Dr. Eisenberg packaged and shipped directly to the FBI.
A Um, this is a bone fragment here with a piece of charred tissue attached to it. When I sampled this, I took a portion of the tissue that appeared to be least burned towards the bone and that’s what I used for my examination.
Q And did you assign a crime lab designation to this?
A Yes, I did.
Q And what was that?
A Item BZ.
Q And did you conduct DNA testing on this tissue portion of this burned bone fragment?
A Yes I did.
What does this mean?
The shin bone photograph was used twice at both trials to illustrate how they were able to obtain testable material from a fire that caused such extensive damage that the crowns of the teeth were completely burned; yet the timeline and circumstances of the handling of the only tissue found on that single bone do not add up. Dr. Eisenberg stated that she sent it directly to the FBI. How could that be? Did Culhane receive the tissue/bone specimen before Dr. Eisenberg even identified it as human? If Culhane removed a section from it before Dr. Eisenberg received it, she would have been doing so with no confirmation that the bone was even human. She would have also been altering evidence before Dr. Eisenberg would have had a chance to examine it. It wouldn’t make sense.
Both the Wisconsin Crime Lab and the FBI characterized the specimen as “charred tissue/remains,” even though it was described by Dr. Eisenberg as a “two-and-a half inch fragment of shin bone with intact tissue”. This is very suspicious in light of the fact that there are already obvious issues with the handling of the bones alleged to have been discovered on the Avery property.
Once again we are left with an enormous question mark related to the bones, the DNA and the identification of the victim. In fact, the absence of any characterization of a bone fragment in the lab reports could indicate that there were no bones at all! Perhaps the prosecution felt they needed to present solid proof that a bone from the pit was definitively identified as Teresa’s, and if there were no bones, maybe they had to get creative. Maybe there is nothing more than the photo of the shin bone of unknown origin and the box of bones, which by the way look very similar to pig bones.
One has to wonder where the tissue came from. Did the crime lab and FBI in fact test sections of the golf ball sized tissue alleged to have been discovered by Agent Pevytoe?
Summary of the bone discovery, collection and processing:
MTSO Deputy Jost finds 1 inch object believed to be a bone (11/8/05)
Investigators dig up the burn pit, transfer everything to the Calumet SO (11/8/05)
Box of bones are transferred to Dr. Eisenberg (11/9/05)
Agent Pevytoe finds golf ball sized piece of charred tissue while examining debris at Calumet Sheriff’s Office (11/10/05)
Dr. Eisenberg examines bones at Dade County Morgue, identifies shin bone with charred, attached muscle – sends it to FBI (11/10/05)
Sherry Culhane claims to somehow receive same shin bone with charred, attached muscle, labels it item BZ (11/11/05) and reports that a partial profile was obtained and that seven markers matched Teresa Halbach’s profile.
There’s a lot of confusion and misinformation about the bone/tissue DNA evidence and exactly which types of tests were performed. There were three separate sets of specimens submitted for DNA identifications — one went to the Wisconsin crime lab, and two separate sets of specimens went to the FBI.
We really don’t know where item BZ came from. We do however know that the reported result of the STR DNA test was grossly misstated. The reported “partial profile” — 7 of 16 locations should have been recorded as “inconclusive” because it was an indication that the test didn’t work — the sample was too degraded to trust the result. Instead, it was reported that since seven alleles matched the standard profile, statistics indicate that only one person of a billion would have that partial profile in a Caucasian population. It was suggested that although it was not a conclusive match, it was very unlikely that the specimen could have originated from anyone beside Teresa. This was very misleading, but the defense never refuted it.
2. The FBI received charred remains purportedly from the shin bone on 11/16/05 and performed mitochondrial DNA testing. They compared it to DNA from Karen Halbach’s buccal swab. It is unclear why no one sent the FBI Teresa’s DNA to compare to the charred material (designated as Q1 by the FBI). Since the MtDNA database is small, the report only concludes that Teresa cannot be ruled out as the contributor. No one from the FBI testified at either the Avery or Dassey trials.
To avoid confusion, the designation of the same shin bone/charred tissue specimens from Exhibit #150:
BZ – Wisconsin Crime Lab
1B2 – Dr. Eisenberg
Q1 – FBI
3. In January, 2006 Calumet County Sheriff Jerry Pagel incorrectly informed the media that the FBI confirmed the bones were Teresa’s, even though the FBI report clearly stated simply that she could not be ruled out.
On January 19, 2006, 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.
4. In November and December of 2006, several additional bone fragments were sent to the FBI. They reported that none of them were suitable for mitochondrial DNA testing.
This is not surprising, as many studies have shown that DNA cannot withstand high heat exposure — such as the heat alleged to have been generated in the raging bonfire.
Recent progress of DNA analysis techniques is improving its discrimination power and sensitivity on an ongoing basis and now this technique is routinely applied to the identification of skeletal remains.74–76 DNA profiling was expected to be a useful tool for identifying severely burnt bones when morphological tests would fail because of the deformation and fragmentation. However, casework we have encountered and studies published on burnt bone DNA typing show the harsh reality of this application. As mentioned earlier, the organic matrix disappears at a comparatively early phase in the burning process, and DNA is no exception.
Several studies have reported the applicability of DNA typing to the investigation of burnt bones.28,33,36,45,52 As a pioneer of experimental study in this area, Cattaneo et al assessed the amplification of 120 bp products of the human mitochondrial DNA region V in experimentally burnt human compact bones (800°C–1,200°C, for 20 minutes) as well as in charred bones obtained from actual forensic cases.52 They found that none of these burnt specimens retained DNA that was amplifiable and concluded that DNA typing cannot be used successfully with charred bones. (source)
There is simply no evidence that bones were found during the investigation. No one documented the bones on site at any of the three locations where they were allegedly found. Not a single photo exists. No one documented the “charred material” — not a single photo is in evidence. The FBI and crime lab reports didn’t even designate the shin bone as bone. If true that no bones were found, one can only speculate about the origin of the tissue sent to the labs. Clearly there were problems identifying the remains as Teresa Halbach’s, though one wouldn’t know that from trial testimony or media reports. The defense accepted Culhane’s report as proof that Teresa’s body was found. How can it be trusted when there is a huge problem with the chain of custody? If Dr. Eisenberg shipped it directly to the FBI as stated, how did Culhane test it at all?
The fact is the remains (if there were any found to begin with) were never conclusively identified and that means the fraud in this case may be much bigger than anyone could have imagined. Hopefully at some point Avery’s attorneys will look into this matter. It is too important to overlook.
Blanchard points out a seemingly obvious fact: that people are taking for granted that the bone fragments discovered in Avery’s outdoor fire pit are those of murdered photographer Teresa Halbach.
Netflix’s Making a Murderer is a 10-part documentary series that follows the case of 53-year-old Wisconsin native Avery. He is serving a life sentence (without the possibility for parole) for the murder of Halbach and illegally possessing a firearm. Avery had previously been jailed for 18 years for a sexual assault in 1985, but was exonerated in that case by DNA evidence in 2003.
Two years later, Avery brought a US$36-million lawsuit against Manitowoc County, Wis., for the wrongful conviction. Making a Murderer calls into question the investigation and trial that put Avery and his nephew, Brendan Dassey, behind bars in the Halbach killing. The program alleges that the investigators and police planted evidence and otherwise manipulated the outcome of the trial.
Steven Avery’s fire pit.
In a blog post, Blanchard outlines why she doubts the bone-fragment analysis, and questions how the authorities knew they were Halbach’s.
“Obviously it appears to be very incriminating, but what is going on with this evidence?” she writes. “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,” she continues. “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.”
According to Blanchard, lab analyst Sherry Culhane issued a report in December 2005, stating that a partial profile was retrieved from charred tissue, and that seven of 16 markers matched Halbach’s profile.
Blanchard says the absence of a chain of custody of the bones is critical because it could have rendered the fragments inadmissible, especially considering all the accusations of police cover-ups and bias.
“They brought in the state officials right away to ensure that everything would be properly handled,” writes Blanchard. “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,” she continues. “We are to simply accept the word of the state witnesses who claimed to see the bones.”
Avery’s lawyer, Kathleen Zellner, was also sent new research involving the bones by a Reddit blogger known as Amberlea1879.
The blogger, who claims she’s been poring over Avery legal transcripts and documents online, asserts that prosecution lawyer Ken Kratz and analyst Culhane were colluding to frame Avery.
Amberlea1879 says the FBI did not confirm that the tested bone fragments belonged to Teresa Halbach, and that Culhane was sent only “charred material.”
On Jan. 20, 2006, Calumet County Sheriff Jerry Pagel released a statement to the media that confirmed the FBI matched the fragments found in the fire pit to Halbach. Shortly after, on Feb. 7, Kratz sent an email to Culhane reiterating that statement.
The new information put forward to Zellner suggests that the analyzed material is, in fact, a general mitochondrial DNA match connected to a relative of Halbach’s mother, and not the actual bones of Halbach herself.
All of these new findings suggest that evidence could easily have been tampered with, giving Avery and Zellner more opportunities to prove his innocence.
Zellner has been publicly announcing her discoveries on Twitter as the evidence-gathering continues. She recently told Dateline NBC that she has found evidence that proves Avery innocent.