It Wasn’t Easy To Burn Teresa Halbach’s Body

body engulfed in the flames of a wood fire

Using fire to dispose of the dead is a common cultural practice in many parts of the world.  So common, in fact, that it has become a matter of concern to climate scientists and others as each pyre releases into the atmosphere an alarming quantity of greenhouse gas.  In India and Nepal alone, there are over 7 million of these fires annually, and many more than this number in other parts of the world.

Because the practice has been carefully studied by scientists, it is known that each body takes approximately 1,200 pounds of cured wood held at a steady temperature for between four to six hours.  Only by such efforts is it possible to ensure complete incineration of all soft tissue.

If Teresa Halbach had been consumed in flames in Steven Avery’s backyard burn pit, we are obliged to consider how the logistics of this might have played out.  For example, what was his fuel source?  Was this source of fuel collected before or after Teresa Halbach’s murder?

If firewood had been the primary fuel source, he would have needed twelve hundred pounds of it¹.

Some of the simple follow up questions would be: Did anyone on the Avery property keep that much wood around?  Did anyone heat their home with wood?  Did anyone notice sizable stacks of wood around the burn pit or close to Steven Avery’s trailer shortly before Teresa Halbach went missing? Had Steven Avery recently purchased a lot of wood?

Or was Steven Avery able to round up enough scrap wood already located on the property to keep a fire going for four or more hours?  According to the prosecution, this was a premeditated murder.  According to the prosecution, prisoners who had spent time with Steven Avery when he had been a prisoner had reported that Steven Avery discussed how fire would be the ideal way to dispose of incriminating evidence left on a body.  Therefore, if Steven Avery murdered Teresa Halbach in the manner in which he’s was convicted, his choice of a fuel source, and his collecting this source wouldn’t have been an afterthought.

If it had been an afterthought, he would have been obliged to collect a great quantity of suitable fuel on the fly.  At least 150 gallons of gasoline² would have been needed if gas was the fuel for the fire.  If used tires had been the fuel source he would have needed about forty used tires.

It should be possible to rule gasoline out as the fuel source since there are forensic tests specifically designed to detect these kinds of accelerants whenever arson is suspected.  We should assume that such testing has already been performed, and that we all would have heard about it by now as it would have been brought up during trial.

It is also difficult to imagine how, without special equipment, this quantity of liquid fuel could have been safely applied to a raging fire without creating a significant hazard to the person applying it.

Old tires might have been used, but this too seems highly unlikely for several reasons.  There are about 15 MJ/Kg in wood, and in rubber 32 mj/kg.  But in tires, only 15% of total weight comes from rubber, with an additional sixteen to seventeen percent coming from fabric, fillers, and other material.  If 1,200 pounds of cured wood is needed to completely cremate a body, very conservatively that would be 600 pounds of car tire³.  If a used car tire weighs about 20 pounds, the equivalent of 30 tires would have been required to burn Teresa Halbach’s body to the state in which it was discovered.  The problem here is that tires leave behind all of the spooled steel wire used in their manufacture.  Some of this was indeed found in Steven Avery’s burn pit behind his red trailer, but only enough to account for maybe one or two tires as you can see from the picture of the burn pit in question taken by forensic experts..

 

  1. How much wood does it take to cremate a body?
  2. How much gasoline does it take to cremate a body?
  3. How many used tires does it take to cremate a body?
  4. (mj/kg for rubber in tires)

 

 

 

 

 

16 comments

  • Another point about the bone evidence supposedly found in the Avery burnpit. Stevens dog chained at the burnpit, a german shepard named Bear. According to investigators Bear was so aggresive toward them that they were unable to process the burnpit for evidence. Fair enough. But something that doesn’t make sense is why didn’t Bear chew on the bones? What canine will sit with a pile of bones and not chew on them even if only to get a taste of a new smell? Dogs are ruled by their sense of smell. I’m sure Bear and other animals around the salvage property had never smelled or tasted a human. That would’ve have made them even more the curious. If human remains had laid in that burnpit for as many as 8 days it would have certainly drawn animals. Yet there is not one single mention in any forensic report of animal dna or animal chew marks on the bone fragments. I can only conclude that the bone fragments were never in the burnpit to began. Especially considering the coroner was banned from viewing the remains on the Avery property. The state crime lab forensic anthropologists received the bones in a box with virtually no background information attached to them. There’s more to my conclusions but I won’t go into all tonight.

    • I think you’re onto something, but it’s more probable that Bear’s rope/chain didn’t reach that far.

      A question I had about the dog was who was feeding and watering him while the family was away and the sheriffs had control of the property? You may recall that they let one of the kids come get the puppy from Barb’s, but I’ve never heard anyone speak about feeding Bear.

      Maybe some of the missing bones were a result of animal activity??? No idea. It’s a thought now that you’ve raised it.

  • Burning a lot of tires would have created heavy black smoke which would have been visible off property. Has anybody seen testimony from the trial and/or any other evidence that would support this?

  • What about the odor – smell of a human body that was burned in an open pit fire? That smell would travel a great distance….at least far enough for those others living in near-by structures to have smelled it. Also, would not that odor linger for day in the fire pit? Somewhere I read there was a rain storm during that time period but I doubt that would have washed out all of the odor.

    • It would have been a terrific question to ask in an open ended manner: Did you smell anything unusual around that time? But can’t be asked now. Too many people have been affected by lots of speculation. ‘Witness’ testimony is totally out of bounds by now UNLESS it was presented at the time, like the tip line and letters sent in about other people’s behaviour, e.g. the German’s strangeness.

      I wish there were interviews of more people around Teresa covering the days between 31 October and 5 November. There’s your book title: Five Days in November.

      The reason the Asia McClain testimony is at all valuable in the Adnan Syed case is because it happened at the time of the crime, not 10 years later. There are physical letters, file notes, records of phone conversations. Those things matter. Like phone records over many days, not just on the day.

  • Could the burned spools from tires have been moved but a couple just sloppily left behind, in haste? Easier to move 30 or 40 of them with most tire weight burned off.

    • It’s a point. So where are those? Obvious evidence is missing. What is there now does not match science.

      The problem with this whole case is the ignorance of the investigators involved. It’s small town America on so many levels. Student photographers, digging up a crime scene for gods sake!

      So much evidence has been tainted in this case I doubt it can ever be solved satisfactorily without a completely left field, out of the square, approach.

  • Yes, it was brought up at trial. The expert was Scott Fairgrieve from Canada. If you’re into podcasts, you can hear him speak about all this on The Docket – Making a Murderer After Show – Special Guest Scott Fairgrieve. It’s on Soundcloud.

    Unfortunately, the pdf files of the transcripts aren’t group searchable (at least on my system), so I can’t easily tell you which day he testified.

  • I’ve always wondered how they would add any substances below a burning body in an open fire pit. It seems that placing any flammable substance on top of the body would indeed keep the fire going, but how effective would it be at cremating a body underneath it? Seems the only logical way would be to somehow lift the body (maybe with a metal pole?) in order to add more material beneath the body?

  • Was ANY of this brought up at the trial? I am halfway through the transcripts and thinking wth, sooo many points the defense could have brought up that even a jury of morons could figure out didnt add up. Was all if WI out to get SA? I feel that even his defense team dropped the ball… maybe they just didn’t see the train wreak coming ?