In December Netflix released the 10-part true-crime documentary Making a Murder which raises many questions about events surrounding the 2005 murder of Teresa Halbach in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin and the subsequent controversial trial which found Steven Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey guilty of it.
Avery spent 18 years in prison for a rape he never committed and, when found innocent of those charges in 2003, he sought $36 million in a civil suit against the county.
The documentary strongly paints the possibility that police and officials in the County of Manitowoc conspired to frame Avery for Halbach’s murder as a way to avoid paying out that lawsuit and saving their reputation.
The series’ very compelling presentation has led to worldwide outrage at the perceived injustice against Steven Avery.
The Media hype surrounding the case has included news segments, a petition to the President of the United States, multiple websites devoted to freeing Avery or presenting new evidence , and an exploded social media environment that has prompted even celebrities to comment on the case.
In the wake of this often times highly emotional controversy, police, businesses, and government officials of that region have been bombarded by harassing phone calls, crank visitors, aggressive media, and even people interested in a sort of murder-tourism.
Harassed Local Police
After watching the documentary many people walk away feeling the MCSO are a corrupt department and, because of this, they seem to have taken the brunt of the negative attention that the area is receiving.
“Fucking pigs I hope you rot in hell. I live far from Wisconsin but if I ever visit your shithole area of America I will knock out one of your coward cops and James Lenk. Guy better watch his back. Avery might be guilty but I have never seen police corruption so evident like in that case. Watch your backs – we’re coming fuckers. I will taste your fucking blood on your family’s tomb,” read one email sent to MSCO Sherriff Robert Hermann, who was also featured in the documentary but not as one of the central characters.
Hermann said the department has been bombarded with other, similarly negative, emails, letters, phone calls, and social media posts since the documentary came out.
They’ve even received bomb threats accompanied by messages mentioning there would be a “massacre” and “Justice for Steven Avery”.
Less threateningly, Hermann said that officers and other officials who were portrayed in the movie received mailed packages that contained spring-loaded, glitter-dispensing ‘party bombs’ marked ‘for Steven Avery’.
Hermann said he thinks it’s unfair that his police force is getting this type of attention.
He said they are just regular police officers trying to serve a community and, anyway, they had very little to do with Avery’s case in 2005.
The documentary shows that Avery’s $36 million lawsuit was reduced to a $400,000 payout after he was charged with Halbach’s murder and Hermann said that despite the documentary portraying the squashing of the civil lawsuit as the supposed-motive for framing Avery, in reality, his department would have no way of predicting that outcome.
Also upset at what they think is unfair attention directed towards them are the Manitowoc City Police, Two Rivers Police, and the Manitowoc County District Attorney’s Office; all of whom had even less to do with the 2005 case but are also getting harassed.
The Manitowoc City Police are a separate police force that are related Hermann’s department only in that they share the name ‘Manitowoc’ and have no jurisdiction outside the town itself, about 10 miles from the Avery property where Halbach’s body was found.
“The city of Manitowoc is within the county of Manitowoc and what people are having issues with is understanding that the city and county are two very separate law enforcement agencies. People are directing their anger to our agency and we had nothing to do with the investigation. There was one individual that was from Kentucky who claimed he was going to come up here and kill police officers. We’re still waiting for him to get here. ,” said Capt. Larry Zimney of the Manitowoc City Police.
Both Zimney and Hermann happily opened their doors to interview someone who could tell their side of the story.
Both of them said that they feel recent media-attention nation-wide has created a general ‘anti-cop’ climate and this is probably compounding with how they are police are portrayed in the documentary to create all this hate directed at them.
Confusion, or ignorance, over who to complain to seems to be the reason why the Manitowoc County District Attorney’s office is also getting phone calls and messages.
“Pretty much every day I’m getting an email or phone call”, when (the documentary) first came out it was “once an hour”, said Manitowoc County District Attorney Jacalyn LaBre.
LaBre also said her department had no jurisdiction in the 2005 case that was tried in nearby Calumet County.
The Police and Avery’s Auto Salvage
Sherriff Hermann pointed out that, despite the documentary portraying local police as being at odds with the Avery family, the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s department actually used to have a good working relationship with their family business, Avery’s Auto Salvage; using them to tow disabled and abandoned vehicles off the highway.
Avery’s Auto Salvage (AAS) was heavily featured in the documentary.
The business property not only includes a 40-acre car lot but also the homes of the family and the trailer and garage where Avery and Dassey are claimed to have killed and raped Halbach.
Hermann said that the working relationship with their businesses ended around the time of the 2005 trial and that, although the salvage yard wanted to continue a working relationship later, Hermann decided not to because of a recorded prison call he heard between Brendan Dassey and Allan Avery, Brendan’s grandfather and Steven’s father.
“I think from the sound of the phone call (Allan) could have been intoxicated and he was saying ‘that motherfucker’, (etc.) – just swearing up a storm about us to his grandson and how bad we were. I said ‘You know what? After that phone call I don’t think its good for us to send people up there to have vehicles towed in’,” said Hermann.
Hermann wanted to point out a bit of irony that recently occurred.
Shortly after the release of the documentary Chuck Avery, who owns the salvage yard, called Manitowoc County Sheriff’s office to have a fanatical, “maybe mentally challenged”, person removed from the Avery property.
Chuck Avery confirmed the story saying that one day a traveller just showed up from Milwaukee carrying suitcases probably looking to live with him.
When the anonymous-traveller’s taxi left the property and the man stayed behind, Chuck Avery became “uneasy” and called the MCSO.
“He was telling me, I know who killed Teresa and everything else. I was getting kind of nervous… I called dispatch (and) three squads from (MCSO) came out here,“ said Avery.
Avery said that since the documentary, his phone has been ringing constantly from some people wishing him well, others that are not positive, as well as many that just hang up as soon as he says “hello”.
During a brief 10 minute conversation he received 3 calls related to the case and this was a month and a half after the documentary came out.
Media and Murder-Related Tourism
Even though Avery’s business is still fully operational, the property has become somewhat of a tourist attraction.
Avery said that since the documentary many people have been driving up to his property and taking pictures.
He put up a hand-painted ‘no trespassing’ sign at the entrance to the residential portion of the property and said this deterred most people from actually entering but that he was still seeing cars every day driving down Avery Road, a technically a public road but that effectively serves as a sort of long driveway for the family.
Within an hour period several cars were witnessed travelling down the road and then driving back to the highway for seemingly no reason and one would have to assume they were just being voyeurs.
Perhaps the biggest visual-attraction related to the whole case is the large Avery’s Auto Salvage sign that is highly visible to the public at the top of Avery Rd beside Highway 147.
Chuck Avery’s nieces tied blue ribbons around the sign “for Teresa Halbach” and, as can be seen from the hundreds of snow prints surrounding it, people have been seen stopping to take pictures with it.
Since the documentary the nearby towns and businesses have also seen an influx of out-of-area visitors and media.
Workers at the Manitowoc Area Visitor and Convention Bureau said they were receiving requests for maps and directions to the Avery property but President Jason Ring was so fed up with the media hype he refused to talk about it anymore.
“I’m kind of hoping this will all just will go away,” he said.
Manitowoc bar-owner Jonathan Jagemann said many tourists come into his establishment, Courthouse Pub, which is right across the street from the Manitowoc County Courthouse and can be seen in the documentary, most notably in the scene when Brendan’s mom is upset yelling at reporters in the street after just hearing her son’s guilty verdict.
Jagemann said that tourists who have visited his bar have told him their only reason for coming to the Manitowoc area was so that they could visit sites related to the Avery murder case.
The closest town with a store to the Avery’s property, a mere minutes drive down the road, is the small town of Mishicot which was shown but not named in the documentary.
The owner Crow Bar in Mishicot, another bar featured in the documentary, said he stopped letting media come in after an incident where one news crew brought in cameras and interviewed people without even asking.
Many, if not most, people in Mishicot seem to have at least seen or met a member of the Avery-family in real life.
Although people’s comments were mixed, most local people seem to think that Steven Avery definitely committed the murder.
The general feeling locals have is that out-of-county people who are only familiar with the case from the documentary have tainted biased opinions and that they lack the intimate knowledge about case details and the Avery family that locals have.
Almost no one in the small community wanted to speak on the record because, many of them said, they didn’t want to get themselves in trouble with the Avery family or anyone else in their small community.
At times interviewees rolled their eyes or got angry when approached about the subject of Steven Avery or slamming their door shut.
“I’m not talking to you; you’re not a local,” said one bar patron, fed up with the national attention.
Heard more than once was the sentiment, “if those documentary filmmakers think he’s innocent why don’t they have him live near them.”
There were also several rumors and things said anonymously about Steven Avery.
It was said that he committed break and enters in the area, that he harassed neighbors, and that when he was released from prison in 2003, that he knew police couldn’t touch him so would drive his car above the speed limit wherever he went and would act in an arrogant manner.
These were all unsubstantiated claims, and the people that said them would not give their names, but they are representative of the types of things people in the area are said about Avery.
However, even with the many negative-statements about Avery, the reaction was mixed and many people also said they had never had a problem with any of the Avery family and that the documentary had raised a lot of questions in them.
One interesting thing is that many of the people with negative opinions about Avery refuse to watch the documentary.
If there is one shared sentiment between almost all the interviewed Manitowoc County people, officials and police its that the media spotlight must be difficult for the family of Halbach.
“The re-victimizing the Halbach family… is troubling. Its in the paper, its in the news, (and) Netflix. Its also of concern to a lot of people, the re-victimization of that family,” said LaBre echoing a common Manitowoc County sentiment.
Recent media reports said that Steven Avery has a new lawyer and there are plans to make another ‘season’ of the documentary.
For those wanting the case to go away, it doesn’t like it will be happening anytime soon.
To read more see: What Steven Avery’s former neighbour witnessed