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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Blaine 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.
Then he was specifically asked about a bonfire.
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.
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)
Later questioning . . .
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’stestimony (beginning on p 33)
later . . .
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 3 March 30, 2006 This time the fire is described as “big”
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)
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.
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 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.