Filmed over a ten year period, Making a Murderer is an unprecedented real life thriller about Stephen Avery, a DNA exoneree who, while in the midst of exposing corruption in local law enforcement, finds himself the prime suspect in a grisly new crime. Set in America’s heartland, the series takes viewers inside a high-stakes criminal case where reputation is everything and things are never as they appear.
This is a series that isn’t really for the faint hearted. Equally shocking, frustrating and horrific, no matter which side of the fence you fall, it is a brilliant piece of television that has a plot that a whole force of fictional scriptwriters would struggle to dream up.
A little background on the series and its makers seems as good a place as any to start. As mentioned already, it was filmed over a ten year period and then edited and condensed down into ten hour long episodes so it must be expected that a huge amount has been left out. The makers and directors of the series are Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi. They have not been involved in any directing or film making before although Moira had worked in film studios. The story is that they read an article in a paper about the suspect being arrested along with some of his back story and were fascinated by the story so grabbed a camera, drove down there and began filming that day. Moira and Laura are romantically involved so it makes sense that this would be true and it explains the huge amount of recorded footage spanning a huge time period which helps to make this such a fascinating watch.
The series is put together very well and they actually use absolutely no narration at any point in the series with the story being told completely through interviews, live footage, recorded phone calls and imagery. There are some text pop ups on screen here and there to tie things together but even they are mainly limited to locations, dates and, where necessary, subtitles.
Before I move on to the actual episodes and story, please do take note of the following –
There will be many spoilers below this paragraph.
It is unclear if this program had any bias. There are suggestions that the film makers tried to show Mr Avery in a better light but there are also plenty of suggestions that refute that. This is just a review of the program, not an opinion piece on his guilt or innocence though I will give you my opinion at the end so, with that, on to the details of this gruesomely fascinating story.
While the subject matter hinted at within the title of Making a Murderer is obviously regarding whether he did or didn’t kill a Teresa Halbach in 2005, really the story starts around two decades earlier and off the back of another crime. During the first few episodes we get a fairly large amount of back story on the town and locations for the rest of the season, the residents of these towns, the local police department and of course the “murderer?” Steven Avery and his family.
The Avery family are from Manitowoc County, Wisconsin where they own and run a salvage/scrap yard. They are most easily described as a family of “Rednecks”. Living on the site of the salvage yard in trailers spread out around it are Mum and Dad, Allan and Dolores Avery, Steven, Steven’s brother Chuck, his sister Barb and a collection of Steven’s nieces and nephews. One of those nephews is Brendan Dassey and Brendan is also one of the key components of this whole story.
At first we get a brief insight into the family and while they come across pleasant enough, we do also get little snippets of information regarding troubles caused by the Avery family, and Steven in particular. For example, we get told, by Steven, about him being a troublesome youth and once killing his cat by throwing it onto a bonfire and burning it to death.
We essentially get the idea that the family, but especially Steven, are not well liked in the community but even more importantly, he is not well liked by the authorities in the area. We learn of a few small run-ins with the police and it is made pretty obvious that the police would like nothing more than to teach this troublemaker a small lesson. I doubt in those early stages anyone really knew what was to come but a storm was brewing.
In 1985, one Penny Bernsteen was the subject of a horrific assault where she had her life threatened and was the victim of an attempted rape. She escaped and the police became involved. Penny was shown some mug shots and a line up and picked Steven Avery out of each one leading to him being found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.
Pretty straightforward right?
Well, no actually.
Steven Avery professed his innocence from day 1 of the accusation and provided an alibi. He was still found guilty though and served 18 years of that sentence before advances in forensic science led to him being exonerated.
In retrospect we find out how much hatred there was towards him from the Police force in things such as the police artist drawing a sketch of Steven from a picture of Steven rather than a description of an assailant. There were many more things but the most shocking was this. The Manitowoc police were called by another police force who essentially told them they had the wrong man in prison. They firmly believed another by the name of Gregory Allen was the assailant. We learn that Manitowoc were aware of Gregory Allen and the threat he posed enough that they had 24 hour surveillance on him. In fact, we learn that the only time he wasn’t under surveillance was during the time Penny was attacked. He had a history of violence and had been incarcerated 4 times. He had also been connected to a sexual assault that took place at the exact place Penny was attached. Despite all of this, Manitowoc did not even talk to Gregory Allen at any stage. In fact, they did not treat a single other person as a suspect. They arrested Steven and found him guilty and while they had him locked up, Gregory Allen went on to attack and rape more women and is now doing 60 years inside.
It is obvious to me that the police had a very deep hatred of Steven though it is never explained why as they obviously wouldn’t admit that they did. While we all know he was innocent of the assault on Penny, I do also believe that it was an intentional set up, not a mistake. It is amazing to write but I essentially believe that the police here were happy to allow a dangerous rapist to attack other women as long as they had got Steven put away and that is a horrible thought.
If a person with enough power decides they don’t like you, they can just click their fingers and end your life?
If their hatred was strong enough to do the above, then how much more did it grow when he reappeared on the streets as a free man 18 years later? Not just a free man, but a sort of hero and for him to be that hero, they were portrayed as either a bunch of dangerously incompetent fools or as evil and corrupt bullies with too much power. Do you think they would feel guilt or hate him even more now?
How about when Steven sues the County for damages that add up to $36 million? A number that even Manitowoc County admit would have bankrupted their whole County. How much do they hate him now?
Finally, if Steven wins his lawsuit, how many of these so called protectors and enforcers of the law will go to prison and lose their families and lives? How much of a threat is Steven to them, to the whole County?
It is not hard to leap to a conclusion that they would have been glad to see the back of him. What is shown in this series, and is for us to make our own mind up about, is did Steven make it easy for them by committing a horrific crime or did they fabricate a way to get Steven, his status and his lawsuit out of their lives forever?
Soon after filing the lawsuit, Steven was arrested for the murder of Teresa Halbach and no matter what way you sway in this argument it is important to remember that Teresa was murdered by someone and is therefore the truest victim. Teresa was last seen on the Avery property, there on Steven’s request, photographing a van that was for sale. Teresa worked for Auto Trader and had visited the salvage yard many times to take pictures of cars. A few days later, Teresa was reported missing. As the last place she was known to be was the Avery place, the whole area was seized for a period that ended up being around 8 days while they searched for evidence of a crime. Eventually, and over a period of time, her car was found in the salvage yard along with bloodstains, personal items of Teresa’s were found in the vicinity of Steven’s trailer, her car key was found in Steven’s trailer, bone fragments were found in a barrel/fire pit, evidence of a fire was found, witnesses placed Steven at the scene at the time and, a while after, Steven’s nephew Brendan Dassey confessed to helping his Uncle in both the rape, assault, murder and disposal of Teresa.
Specifically, Brendan Dassey confessed to the following horrific sequence of events, shortened for this review, but gruesome enough that if you want to skip it, move down passed the italics –
Upon arriving home from school Brendan went over to his Uncle’s trailer. When he went inside, Teresa was naked, shackled to the bed by her hands and feet. He was encouraged by his Uncle to rape her, which he did. Her throat was then cut and she was stabbed multiple times. They dragged her outside and, as she was still alive pleading for her life, they shot her in the stomach multiple times and then finally in the head before throwing her onto a fire pit to reduce her body to ashes.
So, with all that, there is surely no argument about who did or did not commit this horrendous crime right?
Well really that is up to you. What you are going to see in this series is a huge amount of evidence put forward by Steven Avery’s defence that shows a huge amounts of holes and malpractice within the investigation that led to the damning evidence against Steven. I won’t go into a huge amount of detail, the series makers do that for you, but some of those holes are as follows –
Manitowoc County were told to not be involved in any of the case and instead a different County came in to help avoid any conflicts of interest due to the ongoing lawsuit. Despite this, they did not stop investigating and after days of no evidence being found on the Avery property, Manitowoc implemented themselves into the investigation and every single piece of evidence was found then and only whenever a Manitowoc officer was present, though they shouldn’t have been.
The most amazing example of this is that Steven’s very small trailer was searched around 8 times and nothing was ever found before an Officer James Lenk of Manitowoc County joined two officers from a different County on the 9th search and found Teresa’s car key sitting in the middle of the floor, in plain sight. One of those officers is quoted as to saying he did not know how it had appeared there as he had searched that trailer many times and it was not there before that day. That same key was found to have Steven’s DNA on it, again pointing towards him being the killer but, weirdly, it didn’t have any of Teresa’s DNA on it at all.
Brendan’s confession is also very dubious. He is absolutely and with no doubt a simpleton who doesn’t grasp situations at all. He denied all knowledge of anything happening until an officer told him that he would be in trouble and couldn’t go home until he told them what they needed to hear. At this point he tells them the story of the crime and is officially arrested. In court he tells the judge he made it up because they said he could go home if they did. He even tells them the name of a book he read that actual crime in but all of this is ignored
There is so much more put forward by the defence that is simply laughed off or ignored though I thought the defending council, Dean Strang and Jerry Buting pictured below, did all they could have done.
There is so much more put forward from both sides that I couldn’t possibly fit in a review and I strongly urge you to watch the show. It is a horrific yet fascinating watch that will make you think long and hard about civil liberty, people in power and criminals.
Unfortunately you also will then have to watch the most disgusting, arrogant creature in the form of the District Attorney Ken Kratz. No matter your feelings towards Steven Avery, all sides appear to agree on one thing. Ken Kratz is an irritating man with the most annoying voice on television.
You probably have guessed by now but I really enjoyed watching this series. It was absolutely morbidly fascinating, shocking and terrifying. It is put together very well and each episode is important. There is no filler here. It feels thorough and clever and will amaze most of you completely. It invokes so many emotions throughout pulling the viewer along on a rollercoaster of disgust, amazement, anger, hope, sadness and confusion in the way only a real life event can.
I urge you to watch it – you won’t be disappointed but you will spend the next month researching it and taking about it.
Finally, my view is short and sweet, I am absolutely convinced Brendan Dassey is innocent and I think Steven is too but I have small doubts there. The one thing I am sure of though is that all law enforcement involved in this case are both corrupt and imbecilic. The whole case was a farce and whether Steven did do it or not, it should be brought to a retrial. It is a basic human right that we are all innocent until proven guilty and are allowed a fair trial. As long as this is the only trial that Steven and Brendan have had, then that basic human right has been denied and can therefore be denied to any one of us on the whim of judge or police officer.
Making a Murderer