Indefensible: The Missing Truth about Steven Avery, Teresa Halbach, and Making a Murderer

I’ve changed my mind on this case. I now think that Steven Avery did it and that the compelling Netflix documentary Making a Murderer was deceitful.

Wisconsin prosecutor Michael Griesbach writes in this 2016 book:

Prison records corroborate the fact that Avery was and would continue to be a danger to society upon his release. Eight years into his sentence, in 1993 he described himself succinctly to his caseworker at the prison in an “ORDER TERMINATING RESPONDENT’S PERIODS OF PHYSICAL PLACEMENT AND RETAINING MONITORED CONTACT BY TELEPHONE AND CORRESPONDENCE.” The caseworker’s notes read: He describes himself as an impulsive man, a person who acts out of anger, an individual who possibly would be better off if he thought before he acted.
The caseworker believed that Avery was in need of serious help but pointed out that he wasn’t willing to assist in his rehabilitation.
Mr. Avery is an individual who has significant needs, and perhaps of most concern to me is that fact that he is not involved in any programming as a result of his own choice.
Programs that would provide him with insights into parenting skills; hopefully tools to deal with the type of anger flashes that flare up in a [sic] domestic violence; anger management programs; sexual treatment; sexual behavior programs. They are all available as well as academic programming, in the institution.
Avery’s risk factors multiplied when he got out. No longer residing under the structure of a carefully regimented prison system where behavior is strictly monitored and opportunities to offend are minimized, he faced a whole new set of challenges upon his release. Not least among them was his choice of where to live. His decision to move into an ice shanty when winter arrived is a case in point. After living eighteen years in an eight-by-twelve prison cell, perhaps he felt the need for confinement. Its close quarters made it feel just like home: “I wanted somethin’ small,” he told a reporter, “everything was, I don’t know, just too big. It didn’t feel right.”
* * *
Continuing to explore what may have motivated Avery to commit such a heinous crime, I moved forward to the last time he made an appointment with Teresa prior to the day she disappeared. What was he thinking with regard to Halbach when she snapped a picture of a Grand Prix that he was selling just weeks before she died?
It had been less than two months since his fiancée, Jodi, who later informed police that they were accustomed to having sex every day, and sometimes multiple times per day, was incarcerated. On his desk Avery had copies of a picture of his erect penis, along with a note ( back to patio door ) and another with Teresa Halbach’s personal cell phone number. He came out to do business with her while he was dressed “just in a towel,” which concerned her enough to at least mention it to a coworker shortly after it occurred. Driven perhaps by the same kind of madness that led to his drawing of a torture chamber in prison and comments he made to other inmates, he bought handcuffs and leg irons the day before her visit, just a short time before she was murdered. Jodi would not be released from jail for months, and Barb Janda told police she didn’t think the handcuffs and leg irons were intended for Jodi—begging the question, then whom were they for?
Fast-forward to the night before Halbach disappeared. Avery called his nephew’s ex-girlfriend and invited her over so they could “have some fun,” suggesting that they could have sex and “have the bed hit the wall real hard.” Presumably, he was referring to the same bed upon which he tortured, raped, and murdered Teresa Halbach less than twenty-four hours later. If this isn’t proof of motive and intent, I don’t know what is.
The next morning, at eight-twelve a.m., Avery concealed his identity when he called Auto Trader magazine and asked for “the same girl they sent last time.” The receptionist wasn’t sure if the caller was a male or a female, as the voice was too hard to understand. He left a name with an ambiguous gender, “B. Janda,” and gave Barb’s telephone number instead of his own, even though he was the one planning to meet the photographer.
Why didn’t he call Halbach directly, as he had done on the prior occasion when he called her for a hustle shot? He obviously had her phone number. Why go through the Auto Trader receptionist unless he didn’t want Halbach, who he’d upset on the previous appointment, to know he was calling?
After I considered all these facts, it seemed clear to me that the overriding motive behind Avery’s actions was to act upon his perverse satisfaction from engaging in physical violence and unwanted sexual aggression, without a whit of remorse or concern for the harm he inflicted upon his victims.

…given the violent and sexually deviant conduct he engaged in from his young adulthood to the very night before he murdered Teresa Halbach as set forth in the state’s “other acts” motion, it’s hard to conclude with any level of confidence that he wouldn’t. His sexual deviancy knew no bounds and never lay dormant, not even in prison, where he told fellow inmates of his violent plans regarding women when he was released.
On March 9, 2006, police interviewed a former cellmate of Steven Avery. He was no longer incarcerated and therefore had no expectation of a reduced sentence if he provided information. Ex-con Ronald Rieckhoff spoke with Investigator Gary Steier from Calumet County in a telephone interview that was summarized as follows:
RIECKHOFF indicated he had seen the news in which inmates had been telling the police that AVERY had shown them a torture chamber on a piece of paper. RIECKHOFF indicated he was in prison with STEVEN AVERY in STANLEY PRISON in the Wausau area and had spoken to STEVEN approximately 20 times. RIECKHOFF indicated he was in Unit 3 and AVERY was in Unit 2, but he would talk to STEVEN AVERY in the recreation field and in the prison library. RIECKHOFF indicated STEVEN hated all women and would resort to the saying about women, find them, feel them, fuck them, forget them.
At approximately 3:30 p.m., I (Inv. STEIER) again had telephonic contact with RONALD RIECKHOFF. RONALD stated he had been in prison with STEVEN AVERY since 2001 and had spoken with STEVEN approximately 20 times while he was in prison. RIECKHOFF stated he was a paralegal and from time to time AVERY would ask him questions. RIECKHOFF stated STEVEN AVERY had told him he wanted to kill that young bitch that had set him up for the rape when he got out. RIECKHOFF again stated he would talk to STEVEN AVERY in the recreation field or in the prison library. RIECKHOFF again indicated in RIECKHOFF’s words, he hated all bitches, he hated all women. RIECKHOFF again reiterated STEVEN’s comment to him, I’ll find them, feel them, fuck them, forget them.
Years later, long after Avery was convicted of Halbach’s murder, Jodi Stachowski’s words to Nancy Grace concerning Avery’s attitude toward women revealed that he was true to his word after his release: “We all owed him,” Jodi explained, “and he could do whatever he wanted.”

* After watching Making a Murderer, I viewed the entire four-hours March 1, 2006, video taped interrogation of Brendan Dassey. It was painful to say the least. Here are my observations, which I’ll state in an overview first and then in detail:
Brendan was not physically hurt. He was not physically threatened. In fact, his interrogators never raised their voices. In a nutshell, Investigator Mark Wiegert and Special Agent Thomas Fassbender, sometimes unfairly dubbed “Liegert” and “Fact-bender” by critics, did not force, threaten, hurt, or yell at Brendan. They offered him breaks, snacks, and drinks to keep him comfortable.

* “As I was talking with Kayla, she stated to me that her cousin, Brendan who had been burning things with Steven on Halloween night had been acting up lately. I asked Kayla what she meant by him acting up to which she stated Brendan would just sit there and stare into space and start crying. Kayla also told me that Brendan had lost approximately 40 lbs. since this all started a couple of months ago. Kayla and her mother CANDY, both told me at that time they both remember seeing the bonfire by STEVEN’s house on Halloween night. Kayla and CANDY had stopped by Kayla’s grandmother’s, Delores, on Halloween night and they remember seeing the fire down by Steven’s trailer.”

Police spoke to Brendan Dassey a week later. During that interview it quickly became clear to the officers that he knew something about Teresa Halbach’s murder. They knew that he was helping his uncle burn garbage in a fire that night, and they thought that he might have seen something in the fire.

* Making a Murderer spliced the video so that viewers didn’t see the rest of Brendan Dassey’s responses showing he knew what kind of gun Avery used, and how many times he shot Halbach in the head, which was not public knowledge and even the police didn’t know that then. Investigators did not find out until later that there were two confirmed entrance defects on two different pieces of Halbach’s skull.

* Dassey’s statement that they placed Halbach’s body in the RAV4 also explains why splotches of her blood were found in the back of the vehicle, which was consistent with the scenario of her body being placed in the back of the vehicle with blood in her hair. Also, Avery’s DNA on the hood latch was not found until Dassey told the police that Avery had opened the hood, although Dassey could not say why.
It seems, then, that at least some portions of Dassey’s confession are true.

* Kayla Avery was just fourteen when Dassey told her at a birthday party in December 2005, less than two months after Halbach’s death, that he had seen Teresa Halbach “pinned up” in Steven Avery’s trailer. She told police that her cousin “had gotten very shook up” after telling her that he had seen this and then observing the bones in the fire.

* By its skillful use of film and sound techniques and omission of facts that belied its conclusion, Making a Murderer has all but convicted two intelligent, honest, and well-respected police officers of planting evidence to frame Avery a second time. This is a narrative now widely accepted by legions of Netflix viewers whose only familiarity with the Avery case is the documentary itself.
Transformed into would-be jurors, who are cleverly manipulated by an all-knowing judge in the form of the documentarians, viewers are shown only one side of the evidence. The prosecution’s refutation of evidence-planting claims during cross-examination and rebuttal—the “truth-seeking machinery” of jury trials, as one legal scholar put it—is minimal. Avery’s criminal history is deconstructed beyond credulity. His lighting a cat afire after dousing it with gasoline when he was twenty years old is passed off as an accident while horsing around with friends. He didn’t intend to cause any harm to his neighbor after he ran her off the road and held her at gunpoint. As Making a Murderer would have it, he did so because the woman was spreading rumors about him. Never mind that he had been using a pair of binoculars to watch her for weeks, sexually gratifying himself as she drove by. I had to admit, though, I was impressed. The skill with which the documentarians made light of Avery’s criminal history rivaled that of seasoned criminal defense attorneys whom I have seen turn sinners into saints countless times at sentencing.
Nor are viewers informed of the handcuffs and leg irons found by police in Avery’s trailer home after the murder. There was no evidence he used the items on the day Teresa Halbach disappeared, but they were in keeping with what appears to have been on his mind in the days leading up to her murder. Left out, too, was his sketch of a “torture chamber” and his fantasizing to fellow inmates about using it to sexually assault and murder young women when he got out, foretelling the atmosphere surrounding his real victim’s final hour.
Clinging to claims of objectivity, the documentarians have pointed out that truth is elusive in the Steven Avery case, which is true enough. However, by excluding facts that don’t fit their aim and manipulating others, they have distorted the truth beyond recognition and have decided for the rest of us what we are to believe. “High-brow vigilante justice” is how columnist Kathryn Schulz put it in her column about the documentary in The New Yorker (“Dead Certainty”). To which I respond, “Right on.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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