Steven Avery in court.

‘Making A Murderer’ Fire Expert: Teresa Halbach Not Burned In Steven Avery’s Fire Pit

The body of Teresa Halbach was not burned in a fire pit owned by Making a Murderer subject Steven Avery back in 2005, a forensic scientist hired by Chicago lawyer Kathleen Zellner claims.

Dr. John DeHaan, who has almost 50 years’ experience working with fires and bombs, said several pieces of evidence tell him Halbach was burned elsewhere, and her bones were planted behind Avery’s garage.

The news comes more than a week after Zellner filed a 1,200-page motion seeking Avery’s release or a new trial. An affidavit signed by DeHaan is one of hundreds of exhibits filed with the motion, although it was not part of the initial 220 pages released to media June 7. The Inquisitr has since obtained a copy of the document along with several other exhibits in Avery’s latest post-conviction petition.

DeHaan’s report also comes after almost two years of speculation among docu-series watchers. The state claims Avery killed Halbach before he and nephew Brendan Dassey burned her in a Halloween bonfire. Some of her bones were found in a burn barrel along with her phone, Palm Pilot, and camera. The state failed to fully explain why there were remains in at least two different places, even though Avery’s lawyers asserted that nobody would burn a body then dump the remains in his own backyard. But it was the state’s case the jury bought.

Burn Barrels and Fire Pit

Steven Avery and members of his family admitted to regularly burning garbage in 55-gallon barrels on their property. Avery burned his trash about every two weeks, although he said he did not have a barrel fire on October 31. Police found a total of seven barrels on the property. One was about 40 yards from Avery’s trailer. Four others were clustered near Barb Janda’s house next door. Each was used to burn kitchen and bathroom trash.

Regular bonfires were lit behind Avery’s garage in a shallow fire pit the family used to burn larger household items, various car parts and animal remains, a common occurrence in rural Wisconsin. That is what the October 31 fire was for — just another bonfire Steven Avery started at 7 p.m. and let burn for about 2.5 hours. Dassey, then 16, stayed by the fire for about two hours. At 8:57 p.m., Avery’s ex-fiancée Jodi Stachowski called him from the Manitowoc County Jail. After that, he watched a movie and went to sleep.

Teresa Halbach had been to his trailer at 2:31 p.m. that afternoon, took a picture of Janda’s van, then drove away, he said. He attempted to call her at 4:35 to schedule another photo shoot but the call didn’t go through.

Bones

On November 8, three days after Teresa Halbach’s 1999 Toyota RAV4 was discovered in the Avery salvage yard by Pam Sturm, Manitowoc County Sgt. Jason Jost saw what looked like a human vertebra on the ground near Avery’s fire pit.

Steel wire belts from burnt tires, old tools, charred metal and a burned vehicle seat found in and around the pit were covered in a hard crust, likely formed from the rain that fell in the area November 5-7. But it was what was underneath the debris investigators say broke the case open.

Sifting through the fire pit’s contents for two days, investigators with the Wisconsin State Crime Lab extracted what were later identified as bones from 40 to 60 percent of Halbach’s skeleton. The state alleged that the bones were “intertwined” with the tire belts, indicating that Halbach’s body was burned along with the tires. The seat was also a main fuel source to make the crude cremation of the 25-year-old photographer possible in the open air. And that is what happened to Halbach after Avery and Dassey raped and killed her, prosecutors told the jury.

Calumet County District Attorney Ken Kratz based that theory on the testimony of Dr. Leslie Eisenberg, the forensic anthropologist who Zellner claims incorrectly determined Halbach was shot in the head. Eisenberg concluded that Halbach’s body was burned in Avery’s fire pit from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m., October 31. DeHaan says Eisenberg is wrong about that, too.

“Burning a body in an open-air burn pit takes six to eight hours to accomplish thermal destruction to the degree I observed in Dr. Eisenberg’s reports and photos,” DeHaan wrote in the affidavit. “It is my opinion that the burned bones found in Steven Avery’s burn pit could not have been burned to the degree I observed after four hours of burning in an open-air pit like the one behind Steven Avery’s garage.”

Halbach’s body, he said, was burned in a vented, yet enclosed vessel that radiates a uniform amount of heat, something consistent with a metal burn barrel.

And what about the tire wires Wisconsin crime experts say were intertwined with Halbach’s bones? They weren’t, says DeHaan because the tires and the bones were not burned in the same fire.

“During fire exposure, the steel multistrand wires degrade, break, and fray to form bristles that readily trap any material coming into contact with them, during or after the fire,” says DeHaan. “Small calcined bone fragments are especially easy to trap. This has been observed in test fires where the tires were under or alongside a burned body as well as on top.”

“There was no evidence that the entrapment of the debris occurred during the fire that consumed the remains. From my review of these photographs and reports generated by law enforcement agents at the scene and Dr. Eisenberg in later examinations, there is nothing to suggest that the tires were, in fact, burned with the human bones recovered in Steven Avery’s burn pit in the manner described by the State.”

Questionable Excavation

Since the documentary aired, millions of viewers, even those who believe Avery may have killed Halbach, questioned the coincidental nature of how evidence began popping up on his property. It was either sardonic, or Avery is the unluckiest man who ever lived. He’d already served 18 years for a rape committed by someone else. Within two years of his release, a pretty, young girl he knows goes missing and her car turns up on his property. That was November 5. The vehicle’s key was found in his bedroom November 8, the same day another Manitowoc County deputy finds the first bone. It was a busy couple of days for law enforcement at the Avery salvage yard, and it all went down when Steven was 100 miles away at the family cabin. And he wasn’t coming back anytime soon.

His car and flatbed truck were seized by Marinette County deputies. Law enforcement secured the salvage yard. To say police had time to do a thorough job excavating Halbach’s bones was an understatement. But that is not what occurred, says DeHaan. Poor preparation, unqualified staff, and incomplete labeling of key evidence made it something emblematic of anything but solid police work.

Had investigators taken their time, DeHaan notes, a lack of anatomical consistency of the bones would have been clear from the start—a vertebra found near the fire pit, a leg bone in it. Facial bones and teeth and only parts of Teresa’s skull were removed along with bird bones. A part of a human pelvis was located in a nearby gravel pit.

Animals could have dragged some of the bones away, but DeHaan has a more scientific explanation.

“Teresa Halbach’s body was not burned there,” he says. “It is my opinion that someone transferred Teresa Halbach’s bones to Steven Avery’s burn pit. The discovery of larger fragments outside the margins of the burn pit and the finding of human bone fragments with similar degrees of fire damage in numerous other areas (including burn barrels on site) is also consistent with the ‘dumping’ of burned remains into the pit, with some rolling away.”

Meantime, Kratz and Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel have responded to Zellner’s latest motion, respectively calling it “deplorable” and “ridiculous.”

[Featured Image by Kirk Wagner/AP Images]

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