A convicted Wisconsin murderer has reportedly confessed to the 2005 murder of photographer Teresa Halbach, a crime detailed in the Emmy-winning Netflix documentary “Making a Murderer,” though authorities are dubious about the man's claims.
Joseph Wayne Evans Jr.’s confession was met with skepticism, particularly since he previously told police Steven Avery, one of Halbach’s convicted killers, admitted he committed the crime in a 2010 jailhouse confession. According to Newsweek, Evans, 54, of Marinette, took credit for Halbach’s highly publicized slaying in a confession to a filmmaker working on a sequel to “Making a Murderer” called “Convicting a Murderer.”
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The director, Shawn Rech, told Newsweek in an exclusive interview Tuesday that Evans shared his allegations during filming of the documentary series.
“We haven’t confirmed the legitimacy of the confession, but seeing as it was given by a notable convicted murderer from Wisconsin, we feel responsible to deliver any and all possible evidence to law enforcement and legal teams,” Rech told Newsweek. “Having been in production for 20 months, we’ve uncovered an unfathomable amount of information and evidence that is leading us to the truth. Our investigation does not end here.”
Rech told TMZ that he has doubts about the confession, which he said came following a multipage letter Evans sent the production team in which he tried to further implicate Avery in Halbach’s murder. The director said he’s been in contact with Evans for a little over a year since receiving the letter.
Others, including agents with Wisconsin’s Department of Justice and even Avery’s post-conviction attorney, Kathleen Zellner, have also expressed doubt about the legitimacy of Evans’ words. DOJ officials addressed the contradictions in Evans’ claims in a statement to Fox 11 in Green Bay.
“The Wisconsin Department of Justice has received the new information related to the case,” the statement read. “DOJ takes all credible reports seriously, but it’s important to note that this new information directly contradicts information previously provided by the same individual.”
Zellner on Wednesday alluded to a possible motive for Evans’ confession: The $100,000 in reward money she has offered for information on Halbach’s true killer or killers.
Evans opened the confession letter, which Zellner shared on Twitter, by referencing the reward and talked in detail about the money later in the document, telling Zellner they could reach an agreement on an amount in excess of what she is currently offering.
“Your offer of $100,000 is a spit in the bucket for what’s all at stake,” Evans wrote to Zellner. “If your (sic) fully serious to get your client, Steven Avery, out, your (sic) gonna need my help.”
Evans also included a Wisconsin Department of Correction inmate deposit slip -- made out in his own name -- with which she could transfer money into his inmate account.
He wrote that if Zellner is serious about exonerating Avery, she would put $2,000 in his account and set up a meeting with him. He said he would put the details in a deposition, which he would give under oath.
“After that, I want $13,000 to start the process of me to chill out in my cell and wait,” he wrote, adding that he expected additional payments toward the rest of his reward upon the setting of any new court hearings in the case or if Avery is granted a new trial.
“After all is said and done, I want $250,000 over your $100,000,” Evans wrote.
Rech initially declined to name Evans as the man who confessed to killing Halbach, 25, but Evans’ name was made public when Zellner tweeted images of the handwritten confession from the inmate.
“We received the handwritten confession on Saturday. It is worthless unless it is corroborated,” Zellner tweeted Tuesday after news of the alleged confession broke.
She shared the news with the hashtags #MakingAMurderer2, #WorkingOnIt and #NotSoFast.
On Wednesday, Zellner shared the eight-page confession in a series of two tweets, telling her followers: “Let’s see. You be the judge of the credibility of this confession.”
“Oh yeah, almost forgot the deposit slip,” Zellner wrote in a third tweet, adding multiple emojis of smiley faces crying laughing.
Avery, 57, and his nephew, Brendan Dassey, 29, are serving life sentences for the killing of Halbach, a photographer for AutoTrader.com who vanished on Halloween 2005 after going on an assignment at the auto salvage yard owned by Avery’s family.
As law enforcement officials searched for the missing woman, her Toyota RAV4 was found concealed among the junked vehicles in the salvage yard, which was next to Avery’s mobile home. Avery’s DNA was found inside the vehicle and on the hood latch, and during a more detailed search of the Avery property, charred remains later identified as Halbach’s were found in a burn pit behind his home.
The ignition key to Halbach’s SUV was found on the floor behind a bookcase in Avery’s bedroom, and ballistic evidence led authorities to believe the photographer had been shot in a garage on the salvage yard property. A bullet hole was found in her skull after her remains were discovered.
Dassey, then 17, was charged in the case after he confessed during an interrogation, which was later hotly contested by his lawyers and supporters, to helping Avery rape and kill Halbach before disposing of her body.
Dassey recanted the confession almost immediately afterward and both he and Avery have maintained their innocence. In 2016, a federal judge overturned Dassey’s conviction, ruling that his interrogation had been coerced.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit the following year upheld the conviction by a 4-vote, the majority agreeing that police had not acted inappropriately when they questioned the teen.
Like Zellner, Dassey’s attorney, Laura Nirider of the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth, addressed the confession from Evans on Tuesday.
“We are aware of the alleged confession given by an inmate in Brendan’s case. Thanks to all for your messages,” Nirider tweeted.
Her account has a March 1 tweet “pinned” at the top of her feed that addresses the amount of time that has passed since Dassey’s conviction.
“It’s been 13 years today. Brendan went behind bars at age 16; now he’s 29,” Nirider wrote. “That he’s grown up, in the face of all setbacks, into such a kind, gentle, resilient, and hopeful man is nothing short of a miracle.”
We are aware of the alleged confession given by an inmate in Brendan’s case. Thanks to all for your messages.— Laura Nirider (@LauraNirider) September 24, 2019
It’s been 13 years today. Brendan went behind bars at age 16; now he’s 29. That he’s grown up, in the face of all setbacks, into such a kind, gentle, resilient, and hopeful man is nothing short of a miracle.— Laura Nirider (@LauraNirider) March 1, 2019
Evans, who is imprisoned at the Wisconsin Secure Program Facility in Boscobel, is serving a life sentence without parole after being convicted in December 2009 of the murder of his wife the previous year.
The inmate wrote in his Sept. 18 confession, which was addressed to Zellner, that he was driving back to Manitowoc County from Sheboygan on Oct. 31, 2005, when he went to Avery’s Salvage Yard to look for replacement parts for his 1996 Chevrolet Tahoe. He claimed he was told to drive back to one of the property’s outbuildings to meet with an employee, whom he could not find.
Evans claimed he pulled up on the passenger side of a Toyota RAV4 with a woman, presumably Halbach, sitting inside.
“A lady stepped out in front of my vehicle and I hit her,” Evans wrote. “She fell to the ground and hitted (sic) her head on a large rock.”
Evans wrote that he got out of his vehicle to check on the woman, who was unconscious and bleeding from the head. He claimed he took off his hooded sweatshirt, placed it like a pillow under Halbach’s head and ran to Avery’s trailer for help, but no one came to the door.
“I then placed the lady in the back cargo area of her RAV Toyota to take her to the hospital, but she was dead already from her head injury,” Evans claimed.
He wrote that he panicked, thinking about “six different kinds of pills” he had with him, as well as alcohol.
Evans said he went back to Avery’s trailer and went inside, where he found a .22-caliber rifle. He said he took the gun and a couple of bloody Band-Aids and some bloody tissues he found, placing those items in a plastic baggy.
Mail in the trailer was addressed to Avery, whom he then decided to frame for Halbach’s death.
Evans wrote that he returned outside and put on gloves before placing rocks bloodied by Halbach’s fall in a plastic bucket he retrieved from his Tahoe. He said he put the gun and the bucket in Halbach’s SUV, which he drove over to a burn pit behind the garage.
Evans claimed he placed Halbach’s body on the floor of the garage on top of some cardboard and plastic before shooting her three times with the gun from Avery’s trailer.
“I then put her back in the cargo area of her RAV and drove over to the pit behind the garage,” Evans wrote in the confession.
Evans claimed he pulled Halbach’s body out of the SUV and covered her with debris before moving her vehicle to where it would later be found. He then wrote that he used the bloody bandages to smear Avery’s blood on the console of Halbach’s car, as well as on the hood latch, where Avery’s DNA was found by authorities.
Prosecutors at trial theorized that Avery’s DNA was transferred to the hood latch from sweat as he lifted the hood to disable the battery.
Evans’ confession stated he took Halbach’s bag with her cellphone and camera equipment, as well as her key ring, from which he said he took the ignition key and planted it behind the bookcase in Avery’s bedroom.
He wrote that he was going to leave but “kids got home, so I moved my Tahoe back by the junk cars to wait it out until later that evening.”
Evans said that when it began to get dark, he got a gas can from the Avery garage and, going back to the burn pit where he’d left Halbach’s body, doused it and the debris and set them on fire.
“As it was burning, I was drinking my brandy after popping more pills to help calm me down,” Evans wrote.
Evans claimed that, while waiting in his Tahoe for the right time to make his exit, he saw “some teenage kid,” presumably Dassey, go over to the fire for about 20 minutes before leaving. Dassey lived with his mother on the family’s property, not far from Avery’s home.
Evans wrote that he went back to the fire pit about an hour later and poured more gasoline on the blaze. Sometime after 3 a.m., he said, he went back to the pit, where the fire was petering out, and used a shovel to “move stuff around and to bust up some bones.”
He claimed he then used a nearby burn barrel and started a fire with which he burned Halbach’s bag, cellphone, camera, “a computer thing” and some folders and papers.
He then left the Avery property, he wrote.
Evans wrote that he took the bucket with the bloody rocks with him when he left. He did not say what he ultimately did with those items.
“That’s what happened,” he wrote. “But there’s a lot more to the cover-up for many years, by many people.”
He told Zellner he would give her the information in exchange for the reward money and “a complete negotiation for amounts to protect me from civil action, criminal fines, attorney fees, etc.”
“I will go over (it) with you. I will give up all those involved in this,” he wrote.
Evans wrote for Zellner to “keep (her) panties on” because he’s “not out to screw” her over. He described the situation as a “deal relationship” between the two of them and said Zellner would win when he gave up the details of the crime and the cover-up he claimed took place afterward.
He claimed the state used him to get to Avery, who at the time of Halbach’s murder was in the process of suing Manitowoc County authorities over his wrongful conviction for a 1985 rape.
“I’m done with all of that,” Evans wrote. “I’m jumping ship to look out for myself and my children and grandchildren.”
He ended the letter by telling Zellner it was her choice to make the next move.
Evans’ confession contradicts what he told authorities in August 2016, when he claimed in a letter that Avery told him in 2010 that he had, in fact, killed Halbach. According to WBAY in Green Bay, Evans claimed Avery told him he’d have gotten away with the crime “if his idiot nephew of his, Brendan, would not have spoken to the police like he told him not to.”
Evans said he and Avery became acquainted while both serving their sentences at the Boscobel prison. Department of Corrections records confirmed that both men were in the facility during the time frame in which Evans claimed the conversation took place.
He said in his 2016 letter that Avery told him he forced Halbach into his bedroom at knifepoint before tying her up with a shirt, raping her and killing her, WBAY reported. Evans said Avery admitted Dassey did not arrive until after Halbach was dead, but that the teen helped his uncle put her body in the burn pit.
Avery is currently housed at the Waupun Correctional Institution, according to state Department of Corrections records. Dassey is being housed about 40 miles away at Oshkosh Correctional Institution.
If Avery were exonerated in Halbach’s killing, it would mark the second time in his lifetime he was wrongfully convicted of a crime. Avery was 18 years old when he was convicted and sentenced to 32 years in prison for the July 1985 rape of a jogger, Penny Beerntsen, on a Lake Michigan beach.
Avery, who had an alibi that included 16 witnesses putting him 40 miles away in Green Bay a short time after the attack, was nonetheless arrested after Beerntsen picked him out of both a photo lineup and live lineup. He maintained his innocence through his conviction for the crime and multiple appeals.
The Wisconsin Innocence Project took on Avery’s case in 2002, at which time hairs found on Beerntsen’s body following the attack were tested for DNA. The testing proved Avery’s innocence and linked another man, Gregory Allen, to the crime.
Allen, a convicted felon who bore a striking resemblance to Avery, was already serving a 60-year prison sentence for another rape he committed in Green Bay 10 years after Beerntsen’s rape.
Avery was released from prison in 2003 after serving 18 years.
“Making a Murderer,” which focused on Avery’s exoneration and subsequent arrest and conviction for Halbach’s murder, revealed that Allen admitted to Brown County investigators in 1995 that he had raped Beerntsen 10 years earlier but another man was in prison for the crime. A detective reportedly called Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department officials with the information, but investigators there failed to act on the tip.
Manitowoc County deputies later recalled then-Sheriff Tom Kocourek telling them: “We already have the right guy. Don’t concern yourself with it,” according to Milwaukee magazine.
The Netflix documentary, which ran for 20 episodes over two seasons, focused in detail on the actions of Manitowoc County authorities following both the Beerntsen assault and Halbach’s slaying.
Avery and his defense team in the murder case alleged that authorities, not Evans, framed him and Dassey for the homicide in retaliation for the $36 million lawsuit Avery filed against them for his wrongful conviction.
The Associated Press reported the lawsuit was settled for $400,000 in 2006, after Avery had been indicted for killing Halbach.
© 2019 Cox Media Group.