Teresa Halbach, the young Wisconsin photographer who was murdered in a case featured in the Making a Murderer series on Netflix, was raised on a dairy farm and was close to her large tight-knit family.
The remnants of Teresa’s final days, from her Wild Cherry Pepsi can to her Canon camera to the rivets on her Daisy Fuentes jeans, were the subject of endless forensic analysis and trial testimony and now Internet infamy.
It’s happening again, as Netflix launches Making a Murderer Season 2 on October 19, 2018. The series, as with the first, focuses largely on defense theories that Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey – the two men convicted of Halbach’s murder – are innocent. Prosecutors and courts have denied those claims, and both men remain in prison. Avery is Dassey’s uncle. (You can see crime scene photos from the case here.)
Before all of that, though, Teresa Halbach was a young woman with promise, age 25.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Halbach Had a Photography Business & Was a Volleyball Coach at a Catholic School
In October 2005, the month of her death, Halbach, with short, sporty brown hair that she wore tucked behind her ears, expressive brown eyes, a big smile that dominated her face, was an enthusiastic young woman with a lively personality and a new photography business. She coached her little sister’s volleyball team at a Catholic school, listened to the Beatles and No Doubt, watched “Extreme Makeover” with her younger sisters, and dreamed about becoming a mom. The details in this article, unless otherwise noted, come from the court records in Manitowoc County, including voluminous trial testimony, such as that from Teresa’s family and friends, who took the stand in court to describe the young woman to the jury.
Teresa was one of those people whom other people remember as the “life of the party” without it seeming like a cliché. When she filmed a video diary that was later played in court, she used the word “love” seven times in eight sentences.
Friends told We Are Green Bay TV that Teresa had an “electric personality” and was “just a happy-go-lucky, typical Midwestern girl.”
Her friends and mother, in testimony and media interviews, talked about her infectious smile. They talked about her “zest for life.”
2. Teresa Halbach Was Raised on a Dairy Farm in a Small Town
Seven years before the murder, Halbach, raised on a dairy farm, graduated from Hilbert High School, a country school in Wisconsin with fewer than 200 students. Hilbert, population about 1,100 people, is located in Calumet County sandwiched between Lake Winnebago and Lake Michigan.
An old rail town, it hosts events like a Cheese Derby picnic and Cheesehead run.
Teresa went to the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay for a degree in photography, graduating in 2002 Summa Cum Laude, and worked at the college newspaper, according to trial transcripts and Green Bay TV. She was part of a Business Marketing Group in Green Bay and dated a fellow Hilbert high school student named Ryan Hillegas for about five years before they drifted apart romantically. (He’s become a central figure of controversy in defense motions in the case.)
3. The Halbach Family Is Close But Teresa’s Birth Father Passed Away
It was a big family, with parents, Thomas and Karen, and four brothers and sisters. Thomas was actually Teresa’s stepfather; her father had died at age 31 in 1988. The 5-6, 135-pound brunette (measurements provided by her missing poster) was an avid traveler. She visited Spain, New Zealand, Australia, Mexico and around the U.S., and she was known for singing karaoke, according to her obituary.
On a tribute page, one friend recalled how Teresa had agreed to sing karaoke with her but surprised her with her incredible voice. The friend stopped singing along. She didn’t want to ruin the song, but Teresa urged her to continue singing. Hillegas said she was planning to dress up as a cowgirl that Halloween; she was social and liked to go to parties and sometimes bars, like a lot of people in their 20s. That Saturday, she’d been to a party in Green Bay.
Tim was her oldest brother, and then Mike, who later achieved documentary and news media fame for his many press conferences representing the family. He worked for the Green Bay Packers. She had two younger sisters, Katie and Kelly. Teresa lived next door to her parents, in an old farmhouse owned by them, her mother testified. She had moved home because her rent was going to go up. Why don’t you move closer to home, her mother suggested. Her parents offered her a deal on rent.
Teresa was especially close with her younger sisters, shopping, watching movies and she would come over to the family farmhouse on Sunday nights, where the three would watch their favorite TV shows together. It was common for the Halbach kids to stop in on Sundays. During most weeks, she would stop in once or twice to the family farm or call.
Teresa took photos with a PowerShot A310 digital camera by Canon. She was organized, the kind of person who tended to keep boxes and receipts. Teresa’s mother showed a family photo to the jury. In it, the family sits on a hay bale with a typical Wisconsin red barn in the background.
Katie Halbach was 11 years younger than Teresa. She told the jury they were close, and the two younger sisters would sleep over at Teresa’s or go shopping with her for clothes. Teresa usually carried a PDA, a Palm Pilot that she bought at Target. All tools of the job. Teresa liked shopping at Kohl’s, and she had a pair of Daisy Fuentes jeans. Her sister noticed Teresa wearing them and commented that “Daisy Fuentes was an old person so she was wearing old people’s jeans.” The jeans had little rivets that said “Daisy Fuentes” on them. This would later prove important. She recalled that her sister liked Wild Cherry Pepsi.
On Sunday, Oct. 30, 2005, the family gathered together for the last time to celebrate Teresa’s grandfather’s birthday, which was technically on Halloween. Teresa and all her siblings were there. That night, they milked cows. At 7, Teresa came back over to watch “Extreme Makeover Home Edition” with her sisters. She stayed until 10.
4. Teresa Recorded a Video Diary in Which She Discussed Death
In the video diary, which Halbach created three years before she was murdered, she discussed her dreams and her death. “Let’s say I died tomorrow. I don’t think I will. I think I have a lot more to do … I just want people I love to know that whenever I die, that I was happy. That I’m happy with what I did with my life,” she says in it.
She said in the video diary that she wanted to be a mother “because that’s the one thing I’ve always known that I want to be – a mom. But there’s a reason for everything. And I will be a good mom one day. I will. As long as I’m happy.”
Teresa also said that she was religious and loved God. She was positive, loved to travel, loved to give people compliments, loved to make people laugh.
“I love knowing that I like who I am. I love taking pictures. I love holding a camera in my hand. I love kids. I love babies. I don’t hate anyone. I love a lot of people. I feel loved.”
She had a roommate named Scott Bloedorn. Bloedorn told police that he talked to Teresa that Sunday about the “Halloween parties they had both attended over the weekend.” He said they were “just roommates” and that they lived in the same house for 8-9 months. He said Teresa was “always in good spirits and very tight with her family,” police reports say.
5. Halbach Opened Her Own Photography Business & Shot Photos for AutoTrader Magazine
Her final semester in college, Teresa interned with Tom Pearce Photography in Green Bay. After graduation, she continued working with Pearce, but then realized she wanted to own her own business, so she opened Photography by Teresa. She took photos of children, weddings and graduations, spending her short time on earth photographing life and other people’s happi-est moments. She also worked part-time for AutoTrader Magazine.
People would call AutoTrader to advertise their cars. A photographer was assigned a certain area, and Teresa would set up an appointment with the seller. The goal was to do this for only a while until her own business took off enough to just focus on that. Angela Schuster, manager of AutoTrader, headquartered in Milwaukee, said Teresa was hired as a photographer in October 2004, according to a defense appellate brief. Most of the jobs were prearranged at the AutoTrader office, but most photographers also went on shoots they called “hustle shots.” This meant that the photographer set up his or own deals with the customer and then sold them to the magazine. Halbach did a lot of these hustle shots because they brought in more money.
Police talked to one man with whom she had a personal relationship (he’s now a local DJ and has no criminal record). She was still in touch with Hillegas, who testified he last saw her that Sunday, too. He told police they dated for five years at the end of high school and early part of college, breaking up in 2001. They spoke “maybe once a week sometimes,” and he was also friends with her roommate, Bloedorn, who worked in construction.
No one thought Teresa had any real enemies, although Pearce told authorities that he saw her receive unwanted phone calls a few weeks before the murder. “Oh, not him again,” she said, without identifying the caller. When Pearce expressed concern, she said not to worry about it. Who was making them remains one of the mysteries of the case.
Teresa had performed photo shoots at Avery’s Auto Salvage on five occasions prior to Halloween, including on June 20, Aug. 22, Aug. 29, Sept. 19 and Oct. 10, the transcripts say. On one occasion, she told a coworker that Avery answered the door in a towel. She thought it was “creepy.” Teresa called the Janda voicemail at 11:43 a.m. and left a message. It was played in court. (Barb Janda is the sister of Steven Avery.)
“Hello. This is Teresa with AutoTrader Magazine. I’m the photographer, and just giving you a call to let you know that I could come out there today, um, in the afternoon. It would – will probably be around 2 o’clock or even a little later. But, um, if you could please give me a call back and let me know if that will work for you, because I don’t have your address or any-thing, so I can’t stop by without getting the – a call back from you… again, it’s Teresa… thank you.” She also left her phone number.
“The appointment was death,” a prosecutor later told a jury. “Little did she know what awaited for her.”