The Curious Case in Manitowoc County

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On October 31, 2005, freelance photographer Teresa Halbach was scheduled to meet with Steven Avery at his home on the grounds of Avery’s Auto Salvage to photograph a minivan for Auto Trader Magazine. She went missing the same day. Volunteers in the local community combed the area in attempts to trace her and finally found her charred remains and car on Steven Avery’s property.

What ensured next has been the basis of a documentary on Netflix titled ‘Making a Murderer’. The story of a man – Steven Avery – who was wrongly convicted for a rape charge and spent 18 years in prison only later to be exonerated after a DNA test.  He’s now perhaps being set up for another crime – the murder, rape, and mutilation of Teresa Halbach. There’s enough opinion online on whether he’s guilty or not – so my opinion on that subject wouldn’t be required. However, I’d like to draw a parallel to a seemingly similar murder case in Kenya.

To begin with, I’m not a trained law-enforcement officer, I’ve never investigated any criminal offense, I don’t hold any diploma/degree in criminology and has never served in any investigative capacity. So here’s my armchair analysis. On 6th September 1988, British wildlife photographer Julie Ward was murdered in Kenya’s Maasai Mara game reserve while on a solo photography safari. Her charred remains were found on 13th September in the park.

After the Kenyan government insisted that she was attacked by wild animals and her body set on fire by lighting, he’s father Mr. John Ward set out to prove his daughter was  not attacked by animals. His compiled dossier makes a fascinating read on a book he authored titled, ‘The Animals are Innocent’. Mr. Ward made the burn site his ground zero for investigation. He collected the soil sample around the area and sent them to the British National Space Center for analysis. In a proceed similarly to how the agency tests for soil elements in other planets, they were able to extract the chemical components in the soil by heating up and passing the vapour through the various chemical test. The result was the chemical signature of the accelerant used to burn the body.

Crude oil occurs in different earth strata and usually mixed with surrounding minerals. Given this, it possible to know where an oil product was extracted by checking for similar impurities. Armed with this information, Mr. Ward collected petrol/gas samples from nearby gas stations and sent them to BNSC for comparison. Bingo! He was able to track which gas station the petrol/gas used in the burning was bought. This provided a good lead which he used and tracked down the killers.

Back to Teresa Halbach’s case. I’m not intimately familiar with all the evidence but at one point a witness mentions a bonfire in excess of 10 feet high. It is common knowledge that to get such a large bonfire you need an accelerant. If the bones had traces of the accelerant then Mr. Avery would be guilty especially if they could match the chemical signature to the gas/petrol in his garage or car. If not then he’s innocent. I’m quite sure NASA possess the requisite technology for this tests since they rely on them to perform soil tests in Mars.

Caveat Lector
My ideas are limited to what I read and watch – so they might not be applicable in real world investigations. If you fancy murder investigation, go ahead and indulge in The Trial of Anthony Casey.



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