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‘Making a Murderer’: Inside 3 Best Conspiracy Theories

From faked deaths to extra bodies, internet sleuths have spent months coming up with far-fetched explanations – but could one of them be true?

In late August, Steven Avery’s attorney Kathleen Zellner filed a motion seeking evidence for advanced scientific testing, the first big legal move she’s made since taking on her client and vowing to exonerate him of Teresa Halbach’s murder. The filing makes bold declarations about what the various tests will prove, and reveals her theory on how Avery was framed by law enforcement. Zellner told reporters that she already has enough evidence to win Avery a new trial, but sending him back to square one isn’t her goal. These advanced scientific tests, she claims, will lead to a full exoneration and reveal what really happened to Halbach on October 31st, 2005. With 17 exonerations under her belt, it’s hard not to take such statements from Zellner – who is working on Avery’s case pro-bono – as a guarantee.

The results of the various tests – including radiocarbon tests on the drops of Avery’s blood found in the RAV4 and fingerprint DNA tests – are expected in approximately three months. If Zellner gets her wish, there will be enough evidence for her to file a new petition for post-conviction relief in which she will finally reveal all that she has been hinting at on Twitter since taking on Avery’s case in January.

In the meantime, those who have been following this case with rabid interest are left to stew over the possibilities online, in blog posts or video rants, and in the various Reddit subgroups dedicated to Making a Murderer. Since its Netflix debut last December, dedicated viewers have been parsing court documents, pouring over evidence and brainstorming different theories to an exhausting degree of specificity. 

While a number of the claims made in Zellner’s motion have been hotly debated online for the last eight months, now Zellner is contending that she actually has the evidence to prove them. Some believe that Zellner is going to blow the lid off what has been a much darker conspiracy all along. Grab your tin foil hats, here are three kinda bat- crackers – but not completely impossible – theories being proposed by Making a Murderer superfans.

Theory #1: Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department (MCSD) officers killed Teresa Halbach in order to frame Steven Avery for the murder

Motive: In 2005, Avery was suing MCSD, Manitowoc County, former Sheriff Thomas Kocourek, and former District Attorney Ken Vogel for a total of $36 million over his 1985 wrongful conviction for rape. Avery looked to be all but guaranteed to win a substantial settlement that threatened to bankrupt the sheriff’s department and the county, not to mention ruin a few reputations. Avery reportedly had ample evidence that Kocourek and Vogel dissuaded any effort to pursue other suspects and ignored evidence of his innocence after he was convicted. They were both scheduled to give their depositions in mid-November 2005.

Argument: MCSD had Avery under surveillance, so they knew that Halbach, a pretty 25-year-old photographer for Auto Trader, made weekly trips to Manitowoc and had met with Avery at least four or five times. According to the Reddit theorists, on October 31st, after Halbach left the Avery Salvage Yard, she was lured somewhere remote and murdered – by Kocourek, Vogel, or someone they hired. A few other officers were roped in to plant the evidence on the Avery property. They also allege that Halbach’s ex-boyfriend, Ryan Hillegas, was coerced into helping, either because they convinced him of Avery’s guilt or they threatened to target him as their number one suspect.

Avery was arrested on November 9, Kocourek and Vogel’s depositions were “postponed,” and Avery ended up settling the lawsuit for a paltry $400,000 before they could be rescheduled.

Well Actually: Kocourek and Vogel might have had a compelling motive to frame Avery, but if they’re willing to commit murder to accomplish their goal, wouldn’t they just kill him?

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Teresa Halbach was reported missing on November 3rd, 2005; Steven Avery was convicted of her murder.

Theory #2: Teresa Halbach is still alive and was an informant who worked with law enforcement to frame Steven Avery by faking her own murder.

Motive: Law enforcement still wanted to frame Avery for their own interests, but they wanted someone to help them, not someone to kill. So, they decided to recruit a pretty criminal justice major named Teresa Halbach by convincing her that Avery was a danger to society and she would be doing a service by faking her own murder.

Argument: According to one Redditor, Halbach played the role of femme fatale, who took a job at Auto Trader in order to establish a professional relationship with Avery, while also planting seeds that he had taken an inappropriate shine to her. Following that final, fateful appointment on October 31st, Halbach vanished into thin air – with a one-way ticket to Canada under a new name, obviously – and law enforcement spent the next week planting evidence. These theorists believe that select members of Halbach’s family knew she was still alive, which would explain why Halbach’s brother Mike, for example, spoke about her as if she was dead before the burnt bones were even found.

The bones in burn pit, burn barrel and down at the Radandt quarry were never conclusively identified as belonging to Halbach anyway. A small piece of tissue attached to a shin bone was sent to the FBI for mitochondrial DNA testing, and their report concluded that Halbach could not be excluded as the source; only seven out of the 16 DNA markers necessary for identification were present, which is why the FBI’s results were so inconclusive. Nevertheless, investigators informed the media that the FBI had confirmed the bones belonged to Halbach, and no one from the FBI was called to testify about this evidence at Avery or Dassey’s trial.

Well Actually: Being a criminal justice major in college does not explain why Halbach would participate in faking her own death to frame someone she does not know, let alone sit idly by as an innocent 16-year-old like Brendan Dassey takes the fall as well. Putting aside those ethical implications, Halbach would also be agreeing to fool friends and family members into believing she’s dead and be okay with never seeing them again. There’s also the practical fact that “disappearing” for good takes the kind of resources, money and brains that the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department simply does not have.

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Steven Avery’s family owned a junk yard, where Halbach’s car was later found.

Theory #3: The charred bones don’t belong to Teresa Halbach.

Motive: Framing someone for murder really requires a body in order to convince loved ones and the media that the victim is dead, not to mention convince a jury to convict. According to this theory, Halbach’s remains weren’t an option – she’s still alive as in Theory #2, or something about her corpse would have pointed at the real killer, or there was no time to burn the body – so another woman’s cremains were planted at the Avery’s instead.

Argument: Many believers in this theory have speculated that the bones might belong to another Manitowoc County woman – who looks disturbingly like Halbach – named Carmen Boutwell, who was found dead from an alleged meth overdose on the morning of November 3, 2005, the day Halbach was reported missing. There are some claims that Manitowoc County handled her cremation, which would have occurred during the same period when the charred cremains were found on Avery’s property.

A YouTube vlogger went the extra mile by proclaiming to have proof – Halbach is a distant relative of Boutwell on her mother’s side. That was enough for her to conclude that the two women would be a mitochondrial DNA match. This works, except she describes a genetic link between Halbach and Boutwell with at least one male blood relative in the mix, and mitochondrial DNA is inherited exclusively from the mother. So, even if the two women were distantly related, their mtDNA would not be a match. And if their mtDNA was a match? It still wouldn’t conclusively ID either of them as the source of the cremains.

Well Actually: This theory is not impossible, it’s just difficult to prove or fruitless to debate without more known variables. If all of the alleged commonalities between Halbach and Boutwell could be corroborated, it would certainly be extremely coincidental and strange – but it doesn’t prove anything about the bones themselves. Good thing Zellner has asked for additional tests on the pelvis bone found at the quarry in order to “determine their origin.”