Field Research on The RAV4

Today, I got an opportunity to do several things I’ve had on my list to do with respect to a 1999 Toyota RAV4, the same kind that Teresa Halbach owned  which was found on Avery Salvage, October 31st, 2005.  I was able to do this was by finding someone on Craig’s List with a 1999 Toyota RAV4.  The first call was answered, but the the vehicle had been sold, but the second person still had the RAV4 for sale.  I explained what I wanted, and he agree to let me come over to take a few photographs.  

There were a few things that I wanted to check on.  First, I wanted to see whether any of the fingers of my right hand would come into contact with the surrounding surfaces as the ignition key was being inserted and turned turn to the on position.  This was important for me to find out because Steven Avery’s blood was found directly on this surface as was brought out during his trial.  The first photo, which you’ve seen posted on Overthrow before shows the original photo from Teresa’s RAV4, and the ones following are the ones I took today 3/11/2017.

blood smear of Steven Avery's on Teresa Halbach's car console

Console of Tersa Halbach’s RAV4 where Steven Avery’s blood was found

What I found out was a little surprising because I had incorrectly thought that it would be nearly impossible for skin to make contact with the area surrounding the ignition, when I actually put the key in and turned it, it was hard for my hand not to make contact with the surrounding area.  To some, this may seem obvious, but if the angle of the ignition is different by just a few degrees, it would be unlikely.  I know this because that’s the way it is with the car I drive.  But I know each car is different, and that’s why I performed the test.

The second test that I wanted to perform was to see whether blood might be visible in the back cargo area through glass as heavily tinted as the glass in Teresa’s RAV4.  I was lucky that the RAV4 that I found had the same kind of heavy tinting that Teresa’s had, and even the weather and the time of day were the same.  So with all of the conditions as close to what they were when law enforcement officers peered in through those windows on October 31st, 2005, I to peered in to see what I might see.  I didn’t take any pictures of the inside while standing on the outside of the vehicle cameras don’t always do a good job of showing what the eye can see, and this is especially true when a surface, such as glass, reflects a lot of light.  So on this one, you’ll have to take my word for it.

What I’ll report is that it definitely would have been possible to see the blood, even through the tinting, but it also could have been very easily missed.  The one thing I obviously wasn’t able to recreate was the exact way the blood in the back of the cargo area appeared when it was discovered, or, if it had been where it was when the RAV4 was discovered, how it looked then.

The only place where it would have been even possible to see is from a position standing directly behind the cargo door.  I checked the angles from the front passenger window on the right, and also the rear passenger windows, and from none of these vantage points would it have been possible to see any blood had it been there.

I also checked to see whether it would have been possible to see any blood on the ignition switch from the front passenger (untinted) window, and also from the driver’s side window.  I would have to say no also on this.  It would not have been possible to see any blood.

And this is what John Ertl testified to during Steven Avery’s trial.  When prosecutor Thomas Fallon tried to suggest that the difficulty with seeing into the RAV4 had to do with how much light there was outside, and also the fact that, because it had been raining, the beading of the rainwater on the windows would have distorted the view.  I will say that I did not find either of these two conditions to have much effect.  Instead, what made it difficult to get a clear view into the RAV4 in the spots where blood was clearly visible in better lighting conditions, were the restricted angles of view from the outside of the vehicle, and the tinting.

The last thing I wanted to investigate was the front blinker.  When the RAV4 arrived at the crime lab, there is a photograph which shows the blinker in the cargo area, propping up the back seats for some reason, but the question still in hot dispute is whether the blinker was already in the back cargo area of the RAV4 before it was hauled off to the crime lab, or whether it had been in its socket but had popped out, or maybe taken out, for some reason during the process of loading it into a trailer and bringing it into the Wisconsin Crime Lab in Madison.

I believe this is an important thing to know because if the blinker was still in its socket at Avery Salvage, then someone would have had to put it in the back of the RAV4 after it had arrived in Madison, and before pictures of it had been taken by Ronald Groffy on 11/06/2005.  According to Groffy though, the back door of the RAV4 was locked when he arrived.  If so, how did blinker get in the back?  Someone must have unlocked the door to the back, deposited the turn signal, and then lock the door again.  But why lock the door, if not to create the impression that it had never been unlocked?

There is a picture that was used as an exhibit which provides inconclusive evidence that the turn signal was in place when it left Avery Salvage.  It’s inconclusive because the area in question just doesn’t show up very well in the picture.  What can be seen, however, is a small square off to the left, and an upright rectangle further over to the right.  The upright rectangle appears to be a gap through which the area on the other side, what appears to be the ground in the picture, can be seen.

The wheel well cover is not in place, because I’ve taken photos of what that looks like too, and it should be perfectly smooth and uniform surface as seen here:

The only way to really know would be to find an RAV4 similar to Teresa’s, to take the wheel well, off and then to photograph it at as close to the same angle it was photographed in the exhibit picture.

And that’s exactly what I did. By some small miracle, the owner of the RAV4 was one of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet.  He was actually willing to remove the wheel well to allow me to get a good, close up view.  There was only one problem.  The owner unbolted the wheel well on the passenger side.  This wouldn’t have been a problem except for the fact that on that particular side, a windshield wiper fluid reservoir was directly in front of the turn signal, and this made it very difficult to tell from a photograph, the only thing I have available to show you, whether the evidence photo in question showed whether the blinker was in place or not.

Being there in person, and seeing it with my eyes, I feel as though I was able to tell.  To me, it appeared that had the blinker been absent, and had there not been a fluid reservoir in the way, it would have been possible to see a much larger rectangular patch of ground than we can see in the little rectangle show in a few pictures above.  But since the photograph from Avery Salvage Yard clearly showed show the larger void that you’d expect, it seems logical that the blinker is still in.

I asked the gentleman whether it might be possible to to do the driver’s side, but he said he had to take his son to a birthday party being thrown for one his friends, but that I could call him at some later time, to make arrangements.  You can be quite sure that I’ll keep you updated as soon as I get more photographs.

One last thing about the blinker though. I missed this in the last post about the blinker, but John Ertle did say something about it which is worth mentioning because I think it sheds a little light on the topic.  When he was asked in court about how the vehicle was found, this is what he had to say about the blinker:

Yes, once we got the debris away from it, there was a scratch behind the Rambler hood. And then  this front end had a little bit of collision damage, the lens on the light was cracked or broken and there was some tinting to the window

This sounds to me like it was in place, just broken.

Just to summarize why this is important at all is because it supports my theory that someone was in the RAV4 mucking around before the morning crew at the Wisconsin State Crime Lab arrived.