On Oct. 31, 2005, Teresa Halbach went to Avery Auto Salvage in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, to photograph a car for Auto Trader magazine. She was never seen alive again.
The 25-year-old’s charred bones were discovered Nov. 10 in a burn pit behind the trailer of Steven Avery, whose family owns the 40-acre salvage yard.
“Teresa trusted the world and never thought of anyone as a bad person,” says her aunt, Carol Stumpf. “Ever since this happened, it has definitely changed my thinking now. You can’t trust everybody. You have to be very careful.”
Whom to trust is the core dilemma enmeshed in the complex murder case of Teresa Halbach – and a question that is now being asked far outside the reaches of Manitowoc County. Today Avery, 53, sits in Waupun Correctional Institution serving a life sentence with no chance of parole for Teresa’s murder. But the Netflix phenomenon Making a Murderer, a 10-part docu-series reexamining Avery’s extraordinary prosecution, has hundreds of thousands of people nationwide asking if law enforcement and the courts got the wrong guy – again.
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For more on Steven Avery and Making a Murderer pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on stands Friday.
Avery was previously convicted in the rape of Penny Beerntsen. He spent 18 years in prison before he was exonerated by DNA evidence. Avery was in the middle of suing Manitowoc County, its former sheriff and its former district attorney for $36 million for his wrongful conviction when Teresa went missing.
Was evidence in her murder planted, as Avery claims, by a sheriff’s department bent on vindicating itself and proving him a violent criminal? Or did Avery really kill Teresa? The series has sparked fierce online debate since its debut on Dec. 18 and even inspired hundreds of thousands to sign petition to the president asking him to pardon Avery. (The White House responded by saying that the president cannot pardon a state prisoner.)
Avery’s former attorneys, Dean Strang and Jerry Buting, tell PEOPLE his only hope is if new evidence comes to light. And thanks to the spotlight the Netflix series has shone on the case, it just might. “Some interesting information is surfacing,” Buting tells PEOPLE.