It Had to Be Ryan Hillegas Who Killed Teresa Halbach
If you murdered someone, the dumbest way to get rid of the body would be to toss it on top of a gigantic bonfire that you started in your backyard for that purpose, mere feet away from your own house, on Halloween. Think of the smell of burning flesh. Wouldn’t everyone around notice that if they didn’t also notice the fire? I’ve heard many people say that the smell of burning flesh is something you will never forget because it’s so awful, and I would think that this would be doubly true if you had to smell that smell for the four to six hours it would take to to reduce a body to ashes in a backyard fire pit.
Did everyone in the Avery family just ignore the smell of burning flesh? Did they think, “Well, it must be Steven burning a human body to cover up a murder, but because we love him so much we’re not going to say anything?” This makes no sense because there were a lot of people in the Avery family, as we know from the Netflix documentary, Making A Murderer who were clearly willing to tell the truth that they had seen a fire. If they were covering for Steven, why mention it? Or, if mentioning it was unavoidable, someone might have said that they got close to the fire but didn’t see or smell anything. No one did that.
But let’s say no one noticed the smell of burning flesh for five or six hours. Maybe the wind was blowing it all off in a direction away from everyone’s noses. He nevertheless still had to go on nothing but blind hope that no one was going to walk by and not notice a charred corpse engulfed in flames. Think of the flames! A big fire is like a neon sign that says, “LOOK OVER HERE!!!”. There is something in the caveman brain the draws the human ape to a fire.
The house was not surrounded by a fence or a gate, so I wonder why someone otherwise very careful about destroying evidence would nullified that concern by take such a huge risk? Couldn’t any one of Brendan’s many school aged siblings have wandered over to the fire? Why would Steven Avery have been so confident that they wouldn’t have noticed a body? And if someone did, how could he be sure that they would remain silent to all of their friends? Was he prepared to throw them into the fire too? How many kids would he have been prepared to throw in the fire that evening, I wonder?
But it gets even stranger. Think of the enormous amount of work it would have taken to get rid of a body this way. How odd that a similar amount of diligence did not go into disposing of the RAV4. Five hours for the fire, and only five minutes for the vehicle? There’s a great mismatch in effort there. Why did Steven Avery suddenly become so lazy and careless when it came to what would have been the equally important task of getting rid of the vehicle? He drove it a few hundred yards across the property, and then bled everywhere on the inside? He even opened the hood to disconnect the battery for some mysterious reason and left his DNA on the hood latch, but not on the lever on the inside of the RAV4 to pop the hood, nor on the battery cables? Very strange indeed.
Since Teresa’s blood was found in the cargo area of the RAV4, I wonder what the sequence was that would have been followed to get her body on the fire? If Steven Avery was the murderer, he must have loaded Teresa into the back of her vehicle right after killer her. But where was he going to take her? Why didn’t he follow through with the original plan? And after abandoning that plan, what made him decide on the outlandish idea of starting a bonfire in his backyard? That is a very unexpected shift in thinking!
If Steven AVery was going to burn the body, wouldn’t that have been his plan from the beginning, and not just a spur of the moment afterthought? Ken Kratz claimed that someone Steven Avery had served time with said that Steven had stated that he had carefully planned to murder and rape a woman, and then use fire as a way to dispose of her. IF that is so, then the fire couldn’t have been an afterthought, but yet it was.
We also have to take into consideration that if Steven didn’t hide the RAV4 as quickly as possible, it would have been noticed by more people, and those people might have been willing to attest to when they saw it, and where, if it had been moved. We know from court testimony that several people testified to seeing it as it was around the time Teresa showed up at the house.
So, if concealing the RAV4 was the first things he did, he would have had to leave the body somewhere while he drove the RAV4 off to the distant corner of the lot. Did he start the fire first and leave the body unattended while he did this? He certainly didn’t drive off with the body in the car, and then carry Teresa’s remains back to his house on his shoulders, I wouldn’t suppose. People definitely would have remembered seeing that. You might think that he left Brendan Dassey behind to tend to the body if, say, the fire had been started first, but this can’t be true because it was Brendan who agreed, when prompted by Thomas Fassbender to do so, that he saw his uncle Steven “go under the hood.” That means Brendan would have had to have gone with Steven out to the corner of the lot where the RAV4 was found, with God’s help, by Pam Sturm. But I wonder why he would have brought Brendan along? What purpose did his presence serve?
The sequence would have been: Murder -> body loaded into RAV4 -> RAV4 driven somewhere for disposal of body -> mind changes -> RAV4 driven back to trailer -> body unloaded -> body left somewhere while RAV4 is driven to corner of the salvage yard -> killer inexplicably takes his young nephew with him in the RAV4 while body is left completely unattended -> killer bleeds in four or five places in the interior of the RAV4 -> killer magically manages to leave no fingerprints, just his blood on the inside of the vehicle. -> killer and his nephew fail to notice that he is leaving blood all over the the interior of the RAV4 -> killer opens the hood of the RAV4 and leaves his DNA on the hood latch -> killer walks back to where the body is (presumably somewhere near the trailer -> killer collects materials to start a bonfire -> killer drags body out to bonfire and hoists her on top of it.
I’m sure I’m leaving something out, but to my way of thinking, all of this represents a very unlikely scenario.
Then there is the mismatch of brilliant and stupid to consider. The cleanup of blood in the garage had to have been done by criminal masterminds if any part of what Brendan Dassey confessed to was true. Teresa was stabbed in the stomach, shot in the head, and her throat was slit? Blood would have been everywhere, one would expect. It must have taken hours and hours and hours to get every microscopic mist of blood off every surface in that place, and I guess the trailer too, depending on which continually shifting story of Brendan’s you choose believe. How scrupulous they must have been! But darn it if they didn’t overlook that ONE and only piece of evidence that the cops found in the garage after looking for it on more the five previous occasions: the bullet with Teresa Halbach’s DNA! It was just laying on the ground in plain sight the whole time!
The same thing with the fire. Brilliant job of getting rid of the body. I mean, somehow they got lucky after choosing the dumbest method imaginable. Not one of the dozen or so people who lived there happened to pass by at an inopportune moment, and no one noticed the smell of burning flesh. How were they caught? According to the theory by which they were convicted, they left bone chunks in the fire pit. Somehow they forgot to rake them out and bury them or throw them in a nearby lake where they would never have been found. Instead, they only raked out some of the bones, and then threw them in burn barrels on the very same property? It makes no sense.
And there is another mismatch with the timing of the discovery of evidence. Okay, the odds that a small battalion of men could go into the garage and search for days and not see a BULLET lying on the ground in what we know was plain sight already sounds about as likely as a black man getting a fair trial in Alabama in the 1950s. But for the identical thing to happen with the other two major pieces of evidence? The problem with the state’s evidence is that its discovery all followed the same unbelievable pattern: despite hundreds of people highly trained to know what to look for and how to look for evidence at a crime scene, nothing is discovered for many days, and then, suddenly it is revealed that all of the crucial evidence was hiding in plain sight all along? Without knowing all of the details, people intuitively know something is amiss.
But the phenomenology of such a thing is such that without knowing the specific details, intuition can be challenged by a skillful liar because it is very easy to get something wrong in the particulars of your theory. Without anything else to go on, what one thinks about how the sequence of events might have occurred must necessarily be highly speculative, and often, probably wrong. IF you are in any way attached to your theory, what happens when someone comes along to point out its inconsistencies?
For example, once you determine that Steven Avery wasn’t the killer, you will be naturally be tempted to identify who was. As things now stand, almost eighteen months after the airing of Making A Murderer, dozens of alternative killers have been proposed. That means millions of people are also wrong! This is a bigger problem than you might imagine because no one in this case is unified against an obvious alternative killer, and without such unification, there is rancor in the ranks.
Contrast this with those who believe Steven Avery is guilty. Their overall cognitive burden is much, much less, because they are all unified in their agreement that Steven Avery is guilty. That’s a huge advantage, and in the time that has passed since the airing of Making A Murderer, they have made tremendous headway, lead by none of than Ken Kratz and Thomas Fassbender, in swaying public opinion away from what it had been when it was officially released at the tail end of 2015.
I do have to confess that there is one little problem with all of this. Well, at least the part about the bones. If Steven Avery killed Teresa Halbach, then this had to be what he did, and all of the bizarre circumstances around the discovery of evidence are just weird accidents. The hundreds of investigators and technicians who were at the Avery Salvage Yard over the course of several weeks really were blind.
If the bones that were in the fire pit belonged to Teresa Halbach, then someone did burn her down to ashes, and if that is so, it seems as likely as not that it was Steven Avery.
It also must be acknowledged that on the face of it, it is just as bizarre for someone else to have killed her, cremated her, and then moved the bones to the location where they were found. The real killer, if it wasn’t Steven Avery, would have had some, if not all of the problems that I listed that Steven Avery would have had. Maybe even more, depending on the situation. It is not enough to opine that Steven Avery didn’t kill Teresa Halbach and burn her body. One must also make a compelling case for why the real killer would have made the decisions he did, and then follow all of the implications of one’s reasoning.
If we can imagine for a second that the killer was not Steven Avery, we must try to think the way the killer would have thought. In this scenario, the killer drove Teresa’s RAV4 to the Avery property and parked it in the far corner of the yard where it was found, and then spent a few minutes piling on some branches and brush along with the rusty hood of an old Rambler.
Our first task is to realize that if the killer was trying to pin the murder on someone else, he must have assumed that in the absence of an alternative suspect, suspicion would have naturally fallen on him. Now, who, but on the ex boyfriend, would suspicion have fallen most heavily?
Returning to the RAV4, if the whole point of planting it at the salvage yard was to incriminate Steven Avery, wouldn’t it have made a lot more sense to just leave the body in the car? There isn’t a single scenario I can think of in which the killer would have needed to burn the body all the way down to ashes except for one, and that scenario would involve something that would have caused the killer’s DNA to be left on the victim, and in such a way that it could not be easily removed. Ryan Hillegas had scratches on his hands, so maybe his DNA was underneath her fingernails, but another very strong possibility is that he also raped her.
Obviously rape would have left the killer’s DNA inside Teresa’s body, and it would have been impossible to get rid of by any other means except burning. This should explain, perhaps, why the killer made the wise choice to not leave her body in the RAV4.
But even in the scenario in which rape had occurred, burning the body still would have been de trops. What would have been the point of getting rid of DNA if the chosen method was a de facto neon sign that a body was being disposed? If Steven Avery was the killer, it still would have made more sense to bury the body somewhere far off in the wet secluded, dreary countryside. One might even countenance the notion, if we must have a fire, that the killer would have set the body ablaze while it was still in the RAV4, but in some very remote area.
But going to all of the trouble of cremating the body fits only one scenario. The killer had more than one goal. How would someone go about getting rid of the DNA they left on a victim’s body, yet still use that body to suggest someone else as the killer? There really is only one solution to that puzzle.
If Teresa Halbach was killed by someone other than Steven Avery, it would have had to have been someone very close to her. Someone who knew that she had been to the salvage yard and nowhere else after that. It had to have been someone who might have had access to her schedule, or even to her voicemail and email.
Think about it: If Teresa Halbach had been murdered by someone who didn’t know her extremely well, or even someone who didn’t have specific knowledge of her movements that day, they wouldn’t have known that Avery Salvage had been the last place she’d been, so it would never have occurred to such a person to drive her RAV4 back to Avery Salvage hoping to raise suspicion that someone on the Salvage Yard had been the one involved in her murder.
If Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey killed Teresa Halbach they wouldn’t have disposed of her body in a bonfire in the backyard. They would have driven at least thirty miles away and dumped her in a wooded area, put her in a body of water, or buried her. They certainly would not have left the RAV4 on the salvage property with Steven Avery’s blood in several locations in the interior. Either Brendan, if we are credulous enough to believe he was involved, or Steven would have driven the RAV4, and the other would have followed in the Grand Am to give the other a ride back once the RAV4 had been dumped somewhere. If Steven’s hand had been bleeding from the huge gash on his right middle finger, he would not have failed to notice this, and if there had been a fire that day to get rid of evidence that there had been a murder, it would have been to torch the RAV4.
What about Avery’s brothers or someone like Scott Tadych? It must be true that a murderer’s primary objective after a murder is to take whatever steps necessary to elude detection. Pinning a murder on someone else would only be an option insofar as it achieves this first goal. No one in the Avery family killed Teresa Halbach for the primary purpose of taking out revenge on Steven Avery in the hope that they could successfully frame him for their murder. So it would had to have been a secondary purpose, if one at all.
Someone would have needed to hate Steven Avery a whole lot to do this. But if another Avery had those feelings toward Steven, why stop at merely planting evidence? Why not go one step further and offer false testimony to corroborate the state’s theory? All that anyone needed to say would have been something like, “Yeah, I saw the body being placed onto the fire,” or, “I smelled burning flesh,” or, “Steve Avery confessed to me that he did it.”
Additionally, since it was widely expected that Steven was about to come into money, it is very difficult to imagine that anyone in the family would have wanted to negatively affect the family fortunes just at that particular time by ensuring, merely for the sake of spite, that Steven go back to prison for murder.
Using this logic it is possible to rule out just about everyone but Ryan Hillegas. He was unemployed at the time, and he didn’t have an alibi. We also know that it took him only a couple of minutes to gain access to her voicemail and her username and password for her wireless mobile account. This makes it very easy to imagine that he already had access to everything Teresa assumed was private. Ryan alone would have been in a position to know of Teresa’s movements on a given day.
From a criminal profiling standpoint he also matches up well. These kinds of murders are almost always committed by someone who knew the victim, and that is doubly true for former lovers, which Ryan was.
This isn’t all though. I will write a follow up post on my thoughts on the bones in the very near future.