There is much to be infuriated about in Making a Murderer, the true crime docuseries from filmmakers Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi.
Over the course of 10 hour-long episodes, we’re presented with the curious case of Steven Avery, a man with an IQ of 70 who served 18 years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit. In 2005, shortly after he’s freed on DNA evidence—and with a $36 million civil suit pending against Manitowoc County, Wisconsin—Avery is arrested for the heinous murder of Teresa Halbach, a 25-year-old photographer whose charred remains are discovered at the Avery Salvage Yard.
From the very moment he’s arrested, Avery claims that the Manitowoc Sheriff’s Department is framing him for the crime, and during the subsequent trial, a number of suspicious findings are brought to light suggesting he may be right, from a phantom car key to a vial of Avery’s blood in an evidence locker that appeared to be tampered with to the extra-jurisdictional involvement of several Manitowoc policemen connected with Avery’s previous case (and pending lawsuit).
What you didn’t see during Avery’s trial sequences were his lawyers mentioning any other suspects besides Brendan Dassey in the murder of Halbach. That’s because prior to the trial, Avery’s defense team attempted to introduce evidence that other persons may have murdered Halbach. Later, on Jan. 10, 2007, Avery notified the court of his intent to pursue third-party liability, maintaining his innocence and stating that “Several members of Avery’s extended family as well as customers were on the Avery Salvage Yard property during the approximate time that Teresa Halbach likely was there” and may be responsible for her murder.
The state ultimately denied his request, citing the precedent established in State v. Denny, wherein the court adopted a “legitimate tendency” test for third-party liability evidence. The Wisconsin Supreme Court defines this “legitimate tendency” test as follows:
Third-party defense evidence may be admissible under the legitimate tendency test if the defendant can show that the third party had (1) the motive and (2) the opportunity to commit the charged crime, and (3) can provide some evidence to directly connect the third person to the crime charged which is not remote in time, place or circumstance.
The court deemed the introduction of any other suspects inadmissible “because the defendant does not contend any of the other persons present at the Avery property on October 31, 2005, had a motive to murder Teresa Halbach or commit the other crimes alleged to have been committed against her.”
Avery was ultimately found guilty of murdering Halbach, not guilty of mutilating her corpse, and guilty of the illegal possession of a firearm. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole, and both the state appeals court and Wisconsin Supreme Court have denied his requests for a new trial.
In a 2009 postconviction motion, Avery presented four suspects who he believed may be responsible for the murder of Halbach. Here is the evidence that Avery presented.
At the time of Halbach’s murder, the mustachioed Tadych was dating Barb Janda, the sister of Steven Avery who lived next door to him (they’re now married). Janda is the mother of Bobby, Blaine, Bryan, and Brendan Dassey. In the series, Tadych delivers a strange statement to the press the day after Avery’s conviction, saying, “What happened yesterday is the best thing in the world,” adding, “He got what he got comin’ to him.”
According to Avery’s court filing, Tadych’s “previous experiences with the court system show him to be a violent and impulsive person, particularly towards women.” In 1994, Manitowoc County charged him with criminal trespass and battery, with the complaint alleging that Tadych visited the home of Constance Welnetz at 3 a.m., knocking on her bedroom window. Welnetz was asleep with a man named Martin LeClair, and as she called the police, Tadych is alleged to have walked into her home and told her, “You will die for this, bitch.” Then, LeClair went outside to confront Tadych and Tadych struck him, knocking him briefly unconscious.
It didn’t end there. In 2001, Welnetz filed a temporary restraining order against Tadych, alleging he’d call her “repeatedly at work within short periods of time,” threatened to “kick her ass,” followed her, and once pushed his way into her home. Then, in 2002, Tadych was arrested for assaulting Welnetz. After she allegedly tried to kick him out of her home for yelling at her son, Tadych “shoved Welnetz against the wall, took her phone and threw it on the floor so she could not call the police,” and “twice punched Welnetz in the shoulder with a closed fist,” according to Avery’s court filing.
As far as Teresa Halbach goes, Avery claims Tadych was at the Janda home on the Avery Salvage Yard property twice on Oct. 31, 2005, the day Halbach was murdered. And it was Barb Janda’s van that Halbach had come to photograph, so “Barb, and likely Tadych, knew Ms. Halbach would be coming to the yard to photograph the van.” What’s more, Tadych’s only alibi is Bobby Dassey, who is now Tadych’s stepson. In fact, they’re mutual alibis in the case, claiming each saw the other while driving on their way to hunt, and that, according to the Avery filing, “no one else can vouch for their whereabouts during that afternoon.”
And according to Avery’s court filing, which cited a Calumet County Sheriff’s Department report, a co-worker of Tadych’s “reported that Tadych had approached him to sell him a .22 rifle that belonged to one of the Dassey boys,” and a .22 rifle is believed to be the weapon that killed Halbach. Also, a co-worker stated to the Calumet County Sheriff’s Department that Tadych “had left work on the day that Steven Avery was arrested, and that he was a ‘nervous wreck’ when he left.” Yet another co-worker allegedly overheard Tadych saying that “one of the Dassey boys had blood on his clothes, and that the clothes ‘had gotten mixed up with his laundry.’”
Bobby Dassey is the older brother of Brendan Dassey, and the nephew of Steven Avery. He was 20 years old when he provided damning testimony during Avery’s murder trial that he’d seen Halbach walking toward Avery’s trailer, and that Avery had, on Nov. 3, jokingly “asked us if he wanted… he wanted us to help him get rid of the body.” According to Avery’s attorney Dean Strang, this was “false testimony,” since the joke was allegedly made on Nov. 10 after Halbach’s body was found on Nov. 5.
According to Avery’s court filing, “If Bobby’s brother Brendan or his soon-to-be stepfather Scott Tadych were involved in the crimes, Bobby would have had motive to frame Mr. Avery for the crimes.” Also, Bobby reportedly didn’t like Avery, stating to the Calumet County Sheriff’s Department that Avery “would lie in order to ‘stab ya in the back,’ and that Steven had done this to him in the past.” Further, Bobby was home at the time Halbach was on the Avery Salvage Yard property, and admitted to seeing Halbach as he looked outside the window of his home on the property.
Bobby’s movements on the day Halbach is said to have been murdered, Oct. 31, 2005, struck Avery as “suspicious.” “He claimed to have gone hunting after seeing Ms. Halbach on the property, and said that Scott Tadych would say that he and Scott passed each other on the highway on the way to hunting,” read Avery’s court filing, citing a Calumet County Sheriff’s Department report. “Strangely, Bobby told police that Tadych ‘would be able to verify precisely what time he had seen Bobby.’ He did not explain why that time would be so important that Tadych would be able to tell the police precisely what time they had seen each other.” Avery’s court filing also found it odd that Bobby said he’d showered before he went hunting, and that his mother, Barb Janda, told police that Bobby had also showered after he went hunting.
And, citing a Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) report, “a physical examination of Bobby showed that he had scratches on his back. He told law enforcement that the scratches were from a puppy. The examining physician stated that the scratches looked recent, and that it was unlikely they were over a week old.”
Steven Avery’s older brother, Charles Avery, is seen in the series guiding detectives and filmmakers along the Avery Salvage Yard property. According to Avery’s court filing, Charles Avery “also potentially had the motive to kill Teresa Halbach.”
In 1999, Charles was charged with the sexual assault of his then-wife, Donna. The complaint alleged that Charles “held Donna down and had sexual intercourse with her against her will,” and that he’d “tried to strangle her with a phone cord, and told her that ‘if she did not shut up he would end it all.’” He’d also allegedly had “an aggressive history” with customers at Avery Salvage Yard, including Zina Lavora, a woman who told the Calumet County Sheriff’s Department that Charles “began sending her flowers and repeatedly asking her to go out on dates, which she found to be disturbing.” He’d left a gift at her door and called her repeatedly over several weeks, with Lavora telling co-workers she was “afraid of him.”
Avery’s court filing also cited “jealousy for Steven over money, a share of the family business, and over Jodi Stachowski,” Steven’s then-girlfriend. Citing a DCI report, upon Steven’s return from prison for his false conviction, “what looked like a half share in the family business was likely to be a third share with Steven’s arrival,” and that Charles’s daughter, Carla Avery, told police Charles “puts up with” Steven working at the yard, but that he doesn’t really want him to work there. And, since Steven was set to be paid a lot of money from the state for his false conviction, the filing says this “money may have caused jealousy to Charles,” and that Charles “may even have believed that if Steven were again sent to prison, his lawsuit proceeds might go to him and the other Avery family members.”
As for Jodi Stachowski, the filing says Charles “frightened” her. While in jail, Jodi had told another woman she was scared of Charles, and according to a DCI report, shortly after Jodi and Steven began dating, Charles “had come over to Steven’s home with a shotgun because he was angry that they were dating.” Stachowski even told her friend that she “was freaked out by Chuckie” and had once awoken to find him in her home she’d shared with Steven.
Avery’s filing further claimed Charles “had opportunity to kill Ms. Halbach.” In addition to being on the Avery property, according to a Calumet County Sheriff’s Department report, Robert Fabian told police, Charles asked Steven “if the photographer” had arrived yet on Oct. 31, 2005. Charles’s trailer is also the closest of any of the residences on the Avery Salvage Yard property to where Halbach’s car was found, and that “anyone driving her car down to where it was ultimately found would have driven past Charles’ trailer.” Charles also, according to the filing, told police that he lived alone and saw no one on the night of Oct. 31, 2005, so was sans alibi, and “had a means to frame Steven.” After Steven cut his finger, the filing says, “Charles could have smeared Steven’s blood from a rag in Ms. Halbach’s car. He could have planted the key in Steven’s room. Getting rid of Steven would only improve Charles’ situation at Avery Salvage Yard.”
Steven Avery’s younger brother, Earl Avery, doesn’t garner much screen time in Making a Murderer. He’s mentioned briefly on a title card stating that on Saturday, Nov. 5, Earl was running the business and gave volunteer searchers Pamela and Nikole Sturm permission to search the yard, where they later found Halbach’s Rav4 vehicle.
According to Avery’s court filing, “much of the same evidence relevant to Charles Avery would apply to Earl Avery as well,” including that his share of the business would have also gone from one-half to one-third upon Steven’s return. Earl had also, according to a Calumet County Sheriff’s Department report, told police “even if my brother did something, I would tell,” which Avery’s filing says expressed “his willingness to give information incriminating to Steven.” And Earl allegedly knew Halbach was coming to the yard on Oct. 31, 2005, on behalf of Auto Trader magazine.Like Tadych and Charles Avery, Earl also had a troubled past with women. Back in 1995, according to Avery’s court filing, the state charged Earl with “sexually assaulting his two daughters.” And Avery’s filing suggests Earl “had the means to kill Teresa Halbach,” since he and pal Robert Fabian would hunt for rabbits on the Avery Salvage Yard grounds, and that they were allegedly riding around on the property in a golf cart hunting rabbits the day Halbach disappeared.
Avery’s court filing cites a Calumet County Sheriff’s Department report (and a DCI report) stating that Earl admitted driving his golf cart past where Halbach’s car was found, and even though Fabian said Earl claimed he knew every single car on the lot, Earl “claimed he did not see Ms. Halbach’s car.” Also, “a cadaver dog alerted on a golf cart parked in a small garage behind the main residence on the salvage yard property.”
What’s more, according to a Calumet’s County Sheriff’s Department report cited in Avery’s filing, Earl “hid from police when they came to take a DNA sample on Nov. 9, 2005. When the investigators went to his home, he hid in an upstairs bedroom under some clothes.”
Avery’s court filing concluded with: “In sum, the court should have allowed Mr. Avery to introduce evidence and argue from that evidence that other persons could have been responsible for the murder of Ms. Halbach, namely Scott Tadych, Charles or Earl Avery, or Bobby Dassey.”