What Teresa Halbach's Keys Can Tell Us

by Seth Millstein

Internet sleuths are still trying to crack the case at the heart of the Netflix series Making a Murderer, and one piece of evidence is receiving a fresh wave of attention: Teresa Halbach’s key, which appeared to implicate Steven Avery in her murder. After the armchair detectives over at Reddit’s Making a Murder forum noticed a possible discrepancy in an old photograph, as reported by Business Insider, the key is getting renewed scrutiny. So, what do Teresa Halbach’s keys tell us?

In 2007, Avery was sentenced to life in prison for murdering Halbach. One piece of evidence the prosecution used against him was a key discovered in Avery’s trailer. The key matched with Halbach’s car, and Avery’s DNA was later found on it. But during the trial, Avery’s defense lawyers cast doubt on the key’s authenticity as a piece of evidence, and they argued it may have been planted by the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Office in an effort to frame Avery. Manitowoc County officials and the prosecutors in the case all deny any allegations of wrongdoing.

Now, the citizen detectives over at /r/makingamurderer have discovered another potential reason to doubt the key’s evidentiary value. It’s contained in this photo.

The keychain that investigators claimed to have found in Avery’s trailer had just one key on it. However, this image of Halbach depicts her holding what may possibly be a ring with two keys hanging off of it, which would have helped Avery's attorneys cast doubt on whether the keychain actually belonged to her.

That Reddit discovery sparked a flurry of renewed interest in the key. For example, Manitowoc County says that a detective shook a bookcase during the sixth search of the Avery residence, causing the key to fall onto the floor. But if that’s the case, asked Reddit user tuckerm33, why do most of the items on top of the bookshelf appear to be in the same position before and after the key’s discovery? That wouldn't be the case if the bookshelf had been shaken, right?

Several people have also questioned a comment made by Andrew Colborn, one of the detectives present when the key was discovered. At the time, Colborn claimed he and his colleagues “knew at the same time that [the key] was a very important piece of evidence.” But why would they think that, Redditors asked. After all, Avery lived on an auto salvage lot, and there were mountains of cars on the premises, so why would an errant key be so suspicious?

One user raised the theory that the key wasn’t actually Halbach’s, but rather a blank Toyota key could have been purchased and reprogrammed to match Halbach’s vehicle. That proposition would explain why Halbach, in the photo that’s getting so much attention recently, appears to be holding multiple keys, as opposed to the single key found on the crime scene.

It’s quite possible that none of these theories will hold up under closer scrutiny, and it could very well be that Halbach was holding a pen or other object in her hand. But the sheer number of viewer theories demonstrates both the byzantine complexity of the Avery case and, more broadly, the power of true crime stories in motivating amateur detectives to uncover new evidence. It happened with the first season of Serial, and it’s happening again now with Making A Murderer.

During the trial, Avery’s lawyers pointed out some curiosities regarding the key, including both its position on the floor and the fact that it was purportedly discovered on the sixth search of the home. Given that Jerry Buting, one of Avery’s attorneys, has now given credence to Reddit’s key-in-the-picture theory, it’s conceivable that these theories may receive actual professional legal scrutiny.

Images: Making A Murder/Netflix; Imgur