Yes, like many of you, I have gotten sucked into Netflix’s “Making a Murderer.” For those living under a rock, “Making a Murderer” is a 10-episode docu-series that follows Steven Avery, who was wrongly convicted in 1985 for a sexual assault in Wisconsin and spent 18 years in prison before being set free by DNA evidence cops sat on for over 10 years. Avery eventually sued Manitowac County for $36 million for wrongful imprisonment. During pretrial proceedings, a woman named Teresa Halbach went missing; her charred bones and vehicle eventually were found on the 40-acre Avery Auto Salvage lot. Steven Avery and his 16-year-old-nephew, Brendan Dassey, were convicted in her death. The series plays out over 10 years, through both trials. The results leave viewers scratching their heads, filtering all of the evidence and testimony and suggestions of suspicious police work.
Last week, while attending the Vikings-Packers game in Green Bay, I chose to do what many want to do — drive to Avery Auto Salvage in Two Rivers, Wis.
As a Green Bay native, I was excited to attend the game and spend time with old friends. Of course, I brought up the show in a conversation early on, and received a “please don’t go there” look. Come to find out, my friends have friends who know the Halbachs. Yes, I expressed my desire to head to the Averys’ place, and despite encouragement to steer clear of the area, I pressed forward as I left for home on Monday morning.
I arrived at the salvage yard shortly before 8 a.m., fully intending to see the site, filled with curiosity about everything I’d seen on television. As I drove down the long stretch of driveway, the sun was almost rising over the morning clouds. I took video as I approached, and at one point I needed to either veer right toward the trailers or drive straight ahead toward the salvage yard.
A very faint black “Private Property” sign could be seen on a post beside the road. With good intentions, I said to myself: “There it is, ‘Private Property, No Trespassing.’ I am going to respect that and do the right thing.” I turned around and drove the long driveway back, snapping a photo of the company sign when I reached the highway.
Five minutes later, I talked myself into going back: “This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance, just do it.”
By now it was 8 a.m., and the business was open for the day. I drove straight into the yard, steering clear of my desire to go near the residences. I walked into the shop, where it was musty and dim. I heard someone working in the shop, and suddenly the phone rang. At about the eighth ring, in walked Chuck Avery, Steven’s brother. He asked if he could help me. I replied, “The phone is more important than me.”
After he finished a short phone conversation, I introduced myself as a pastor from Minnesota who was in town for the big game. We talked sports briefly, and then I just spoke the obvious.
“Say, the reason I am here is to just let you know there are many people out there praying for you and your family. I just wanted to stop by, give you some encouraging words and, if it’s OK, head outside, read some scripture, and bless your property and business.”
The flannel-wearing Chuck, as depicted in the series, appreciated the gesture. We chatted for a few more minutes, and I encouraged him to invest in a new private-property sign. He said a few cars had come and gone in recent days. He told me the family just takes it day by day. I told him to keep his head up, that God knows the truth and that is all that matters.
Chuck thanked me for the visit, gave me a company calendar and wished me well as I traveled back to Minnesota.
I stood behind my car and recited Psalm 23, the shepherd’s psalm. Then I prayed: over the property, over the business and, most important, over all of the families that have been torn apart by this horrific event.
God was definitely with me, guiding me through the whole experience. I may not have all of the answers regarding guilt or innocence, but I do know that he knows the truth. As events continue to unfold, with every aspect of these cases, please continue to lift up the families in prayer as they have to relive all of this now on a daily basis.
Philip Jones is a pastor, home health care provider and security guard. He lives in Washington County.