In Netflix’s Making a Murderer, documentary makers focus on the cases of Steven Avery and to a lesser degree, Brendan Dassey, and the judicial system in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin. Throughout the course of the series, a long series of people are introduced and their involvement in the trial brought into question. Dassey’s defense attorney is accused of working against him, prosecutor Ken Kratz might have ignored a conflict of interest, and even Avery’s own family has drawn suspicion.
One of the more interesting people involved in the case is Andrew Colborn. A sergeant with the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Office, Colborn has been connected to Steven Avery’s legal proceedings going as far back as 1994. The rest of this article will assume you’ve seen Making a Murderer, or are otherwise familiar with the case.
A Timeline of Andrew Colborn’s Relation to Avery & Dassey
In 1986, Steven Avery was convicted for a crime he was exonerated from in 2003. Eventually, Gregory Allen would be demonstrated as the rapist who assaulted Penny Beernsten, after new DNA testing methods were invented. But in 1995, Sergeant Colborn, working as a corrections officer for the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Office, received a call from a detective from nearby Brown County. The detective said he had someone in custody who was claiming to have committed an assault, that someone in Manitowoc was in jail for. Also in 1995, Gregory Allen was arrested in Brown County, lending credence to the idea that this informant was Gregory Allen, the actual assailant whose crime Steven Avery was sentenced for.
Manitowoc County, in 1995, had a population of around 80,000, which would, at exaggerated estimates, mean around around 85 rapes and assaults had been reported that year. With around 14-18% of rapes being prosecuted, and only around 5% being convicted, that means there would have been, going back a decade, less than 50 possible cases this detective’s contact was giving information about. This information is included to impart some idea as to the feasibility of acting on this phone call. Colborn, a corrections officer, would have only had to have reported the phone call to detectives, who would have had relatively few cases to look at to corroborate whatever information they might acquire from Brown County’s person.
And yet this information goes unreported for another decade. Only in 2003, the day after Steven Avery was exonerated and released from prison, did Andrew Colborn file a report about this phone call. On September 12, 2003, Colborn notifies his superior, Lieutenant James Lenk. Lenk, in turn, asks Sheriff Tom Kocourek what to do. According to testimony by a deputy in a 2005 deposition, Colborn was told “we already have the right guy and he should not concern himself.”
Only then is it passed back down the chain to Andrew Colborn to write a report about the incident. This report is then taken by Sheriff Peterson and placed in a safe in Lenk’s office.
Coming after Steven Avery has already been released, this report does nothing to immediately benefit Avery. However, in 2004, Avery’s lawyers file a suit seeking a $36 million payment from Manitowoc County for his wrongful conviction.
On October 13, 2005, a year into the proceedings, Andrew Colborn is deposed. He explains the chain of events outlined above, about taking the call and filing the report. Sheriff Peterson is also in court that day, to verify the latter parts of Colborn’s testimony.
The next event to occur, from Colborn’s perspective, was on November 3, 2005. The day Teresa Halbach is reported missing by her parents, Colborn placed a call to his dispatcher. In that call, he asks the dispatchers to run license plate SWH582, which is reported to belong to a missing person, Teresa. Colborn then asked if the plates for a ’99 Toyota, which was affirmed. When asked in Avery’s trial why he had placed this call, Colborn said he was not looking at Halbach’s license plates at the time.
In the investigation into Teresa Halbach’s disappearance, Manitowoc County handed control to neighboring Calumet County, to “avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest,” due to the then-ongoing civil suit Steven Avery had filed. However, due to limited resources, Calumet sheriffs relied on assistance from Manitowoc. While in press interviews at the time, both counties outlined the Manitowoc involvement as minimal.
With the trial brought on by charges against Steven Avery, that minimal involvement was shown to extend to participation in every part of the investigation. Colborn interviewed Avery the same day she was reported missing – the same day he called in her license plate.
After finding Halbach’s vehicle on the Avery property, Calumet County sheriffs repeatedly searched the Avery property. On November 8, Sergeant William Tyson went with Colborn and his superior, James Lenk. While conducting a search of Avery’s trailer, Lenk finds the key for Halbach’s vehicle, the one Colborn inexplicably called in on November 3. Even though Colborn and Lenk, with the Manitowoc Sheriff’s Office, are searching for evidence on the property, the Manitowoc Sheriff at that time, Pagel, reiterates their minimal involvement in a press conference later that day.
With the key and other physical evidence, authorities arrested Steven Avery on a charge of felonious possession of a firearm, with charges related to Halbach’s murder following.
Suspicions Around Andrew Colborn
Making a Murderer brought some attention to actions of Andrew Colborn in relation to Steven Avery, but the deputy has brought on a great deal of scrutiny from online forums.
The first question people want answered is why Colborn didn’t file a proper report when he was first told by a Brown County detective that Manitowoc had someone in prison for a crime they didn’t commit. More importantly, if he did not file a report in 1995, why did he file a report at all? The most likely answer is that, with Steven Avery’s release, Colborn was scared he could be found culpable for the false imprisonment, and wanted to mitigate the potential damages.
Making a Murderer focuses quite a bit on Colborn calling in the license plate number. Relevant parts of the testimony are shown, where he states he isn’t looking at the license plate at the time of the call. However, no reason for why he would make the call was established.
The most likely explanation, according to reddit, might be that he was looking at several license plate numbers in a notepad, and couldn’t recall why he had written the number. A more complicated theory is that because of the litigation Avery had filed against them, the Manitowoc Sheriff’s Office was conducting surveillance of the family and property. Colborn, familiar with the Avery’s because of that litigation, might have been conducting surveillance. He may have recorded the license plate of Teresa’s car on October 31, and noted that he did not see it leave. Then on November 3, Colborn would have entered the Avery property without a warrant, searching for the vehicle. Finding a vehicle without plates, he would get the model and year (’99 RAV4) with the VIN, and call to confirm the unplated vehicle is Halbach’s. Unable to progress further because of his illegal search, Colborn would then wait for the car to be found during a legitimate investigation.
Andrew Colborn, during Avery’s trial, does not offer these, nor any other reason for why he would have known about the license plate or had a reason to call it in.
With Manitowoc County claiming to have a minimal role into the Halbach investigation, a lot of people are questioning why Colborn and Lenk were searching Avery’s trailer, with relatively little supervision. The official answer is relatively straight-forward: Calumet County supposedly did not have the resources to conduct a proper search without the aid of Manitowoc deputies.
In his testimony, Andrew Colborn specifies that when he and Lenk find the key, they know it is something special. The Avery’s owned an auto scrapyard, so it is likely there would have been a lot of keys around the property. Left out of the documentary, was that the matching lanyard was found in the vehicle, when it was inventoried; Teresa’s sister testified to giving her the lanyard. The key was also the valet key, which may indicate it was not her primary key.
Andrew Colborn Now in 2018 – Recent Updates
Since the release of Making a Murderer, there has been a lot of buzz about it online. On December 29, 2015, a Twitter account supposedly belonging to Anonymous announced #OpAveryDassey. The focus of #OpAveryDassey was to disclose the phone records of Andrew Colborn and his superior, Lietenant Lenk. However, that account has now changed its name, and is claiming to have handed the endeavor off to another online collective, GhostSec. However, GhostSec, known for cyberattacks against ISIS, denied involvement. As of January 1, it appears that the threat of releasing those phone records was a publicity stunt to draw followers to the original Twitter account.
Andrew Colborn is still currently employed by the Manitowoc County Sherrif’s Office, now a detective and Lieutenant.