Sunday, April 21, 2024

What Happened to James Lenk – After Making a Murderer Update

Lieutenant James Lenk of the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Office was heavily involved in the investigation of Teresa Halbach’s murder, brought back into the public eye by Netflix’s Making a Murderer. Testimony and evidence contributed by Lenk helped convict Steven Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey to the murder of Teresa Halbach, a photographer.

Steven Avery, exonerated after 18 years in prison on sexual assault convictions, had filed a civil suit against Manitowoc County and related parties. Due to that suit, when Avery became a suspect in Halbach’s disappearance and expected murder, the investigation was led by neighboring Calumet County. However, during the trial to convict Avery, two Manitowoc Sheriff’s deputies were proven to have repeated involvement in the investigation. Sergeant Andrew Colborn, and his superior Lieutenant James Lenk. The investigation wasn’t Lenk’s first interaction with Avery, which has drawn even more suspicions about his involvement.

James Lenk & Steven Avery

The earliest official reference for James Lenk’s awareness of Steven Avery was in 1995, during the period of Avery’s false imprisonment. Sometime that year, Andrew Colborn received a call from a detective in nearby Brown County. The detective reported having someone in custody that was claiming responsibility for a crime another person, in Manitowoc County, had been convicted of. This phone call remained officially unreported until September 12, 2003.

The day after Avery is released for his unjust conviction, Andrew Colborn contacted his superior officer, James Lenk. Lenk told Colborn to write a report, which was then taken by the sheriff and placed in a safe.

This report is uncovered only during the litigation of Avery’s civil suit against Manitowoc County, more than two years later. On October 11, James Lenk is deposed, followed two days later by Andrew Colborn, with questions about the report. While Lenk’s answers are largely evasive and unclear, it is established he instructed Colborn to make a report in 2003. What isn’t established is whether at any point earlier Lenk knew of the call. On October 26, then-Chief Deputy Eugene Kusche is deposed. His testimony states Lenk was aware of the call in 1995, as was then-Sheriff Tom Kocourek, who Kusche testified to have said, “we already have the right guy, and [Colborn] should not concern himself.”

Crucial to the defense’s allegations of misconduct, Colborn’s report, along with Colborn and his chain-of-command, became a focus of the trial. However the trial stops abruptly, when Steven Avery is arrested for the murder of Teresa Halbach. During the eventual trial, the defense questioned the circumstances of the investigation surrounding each piece of the evidence used to prosecute Avery: Teresa Halbach’s vehicle and key, her bones, and Steven Avery’s own blood. James Lenk, deposed three weeks earlier for Avery’s false imprisonment, is who found her key.

Teresa Halbach's valet key, found by James Lenk
Teresa Halbach’s valet key, found by James Lenk

Two days before Avery’s arrest, on November 7, Lenk is searching Steven Avery’s trailer with a Calumet sheriff’s deputy who had been instructed to watch him. The next day, Lenk, searching the same area without a supervisor, found Teresa Halbach’s valet key, on a ring matching a lanyard found in her vehicle. Later that day, Manitowoc County Sheriff Jerry Pagel gave a press conference, clarifying that Manitowoc’s role was only to provide resources as needed – despite the majority of physical evidence having been found by Manitowoc deputies.

On November 9, Steven Avery is arrested, initially charged with felony possession of a firearm. On November 10, Kocourek, Sheriff during Avery’s false imprisonment, would have testified at Avery’s civil trial, but due to the murder investigation, that trial was put on hiatus; eventually settled in order to fund Avery’s legal defense.

Eventually the prosecution, in part reliant on the key found by Lenk, got a jury to convict Avery. With Avery back in jail, and the civil suit settled, there was no further investigation into Lenk or Colborn with regards to Avery’s previous false imprisonment.

Explaining the Report & Key

During Avery’s trial, the report filed by Colborn is featured minimally, mostly used by the defense to establish Lenk’s relationship to the defendant. With the potentially hostile feelings clarified, the defense highlighted that the key wasn’t found until the fourth day of consecutive searching, the first day Lenk and Colborn were left unsupervised. Under oath, both Colborn and Lenk claimed they didn’t plant evidence, so how did the key end up there?

The official reason was that Colborn shook a bookshelf, and then Lenk entered the room, spotting the key, which supposedly fell out from beside the key to the floor, next to some slippers.

The shelf that the key was supposedly behind
The shelf that the key was supposedly behind

There’s skepticism cast on this, however; this was the seventh search of the a small trailer, and it seems unlikely that the key would have been missed. Additionally, the key is found to have Steven Avery’s DNA on it – and only Avery’s. Teresa Hablach’s DNA did not show up on the key, at all. This suggests that either Avery meticulously cleaned the key, and recontaminated it, or the key was otherwise cleaned and had his DNA transfer onto it – perhaps from the slippers or the carpeted floor.

One interesting point is that the key was found with Avery’s DNA on it. However, Teresa Halbach’s DNA was not present, and Steven Avery’s fingerprints were not found.

James Lenk Now in 2018

After the release of Making a Murderer, someone claiming to represent the online collective Anonymous threatened to leak phone records for Lenk and Colborn, but closer inspection shows the Twitter account is likely a hoax. Some information was shared possibly linking Lenk to another client of Teresa Halbach’s, but that the link is unlikely to exist and even if true, probably inconsequential.

James Lenk is no longer listed as an employee for any Wisconsin law enforcement office. He would be in his mid-60s by now, so has likely retired. There will likely never be a suit against him for his inaction which kept Avery in jail unnecessarily for a decade, and Avery has no more chances for appealing his recent conviction, so any answers will likely remain unknown. Without new evidence, the theories that Lenk would have participated or led a conspiracy against Avery cannot develop beyond speculation.

Morgan Sennhauser
Morgan Sennhauser
Morgan Sennhauser is a thoroughbred millennial, who has focused on working against censorship and surveillance in Africa and the Middle East. Now living in North Carolina, Morgan spends his time advocating for minority groups in impoverished regions, and writing about related topics.


  1. The guy lied and planted evidence in order to send an innocent man to prison. It’s only a matter of time before someone finds him. Unless he is dead already, then good riddance and hope he rots in hell!

  2. If he didn’t kill her or take advantage of the unprotected crime scene he is at least guilty of not giving any respect to the justice system, his peers (including the Avery family) or the general public.

  3. I think several of those officials murdered that woman and planted all that evidence…………….Come on, if Avery had murdered her, he definitely wouldn’t have left her car with his DNA on his property. And then proceeded to burn her body right by his house and leave the car key by his bed.

  4. By Leslie Falle: “my step father Randall K Mataya was
    convicted by Manitowoc County roughly 17 years ago in the death of a woman.
    This woman was brutally beaten, raped, bitten and tortured. No DNA matched to
    him, no fingerprints, no teeth imprints, no NOTHING. 17 years later, the
    Innocence Program launched their own investigation. A dirty ruthless police
    officer with scars on his face was pulled over and found to have this woman’s
    purse, driver’s license and shoes in his spare tire compartment. Do I believe
    Steven Avery is innocent??? VERY MUCH
    SO. Please share”.

  5. The entire system works exactly as it designed to work: Primarily in the obedient service of the wealthy & powerful who created it. Thus, you have cops that can go into the system and operate WITH IT (opting to perform in utterly unprincipled and diabolical ways), OR they can choose to be “BAD” cops and go against the system (protecting the weak and vulnerable and ignoring the master’s orders).

  6. Lenk and the sheriff killed her and covered it up. That is as obvious as anything I have ever seen.

    fool you you somethingbag monsters, I hope you burn on earth and then in hell

  7. The mantowoc gang also seem to have gotten the spare key from either the brother of Halbach, or more likely, the scratched up boyfriend.

  8. I don’t believe the police killed her, I strongly believe the ex boyfriend and room mate did and I reckon her brother knew and it’s one massive cover up which the police exploited to overturn a massive lawsuit against them and keep up the on going assault on Stevens freedom

  9. This guy took one for the team. It is would be naive to think that it was the independent action of one dirty cop. That whole police department is dirty. I am sure this guy took the fault and got early retirement with full pension as a reward.

  10. Lenk retired a few years ago from the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Office. He resides in Green Valley, Arizona. Lenk did not respond to phone messages, and no one answered the door Jan. 8 when a USA TODAY NETWORK reporter from The Arizona Republic rang the doorbell of his home in a golf course community in Green Valley, south of Tucson, Arizona.


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