Ryan Hillegas is the ex-boyfriend of the late Teresa Halbach, the woman Steven Avery was convicted of raping and murdering in 2007. Did the police and courts get it right? This Ryan Hillegas wiki looks at the evidence and whether the right person is behind bars.
The 10-part Netflix documentary Making a Murderer, which premiered on December 18, 2015, brought to international attention the horrific events of October 31, 2005: the murder of 25-year-old Teresa Halbach.
The show also provided compelling evidence to suggest that Steven Avery, the man ultimately convicted of her murder, was framed by police and that his conviction was pursued by an overly aggressive prosecution. Since the show premiered, many have speculated on, if the show’s premise is true, who really killed Teresa Halbach.
Making a Murderer: Part 2 tries to answer that question. Launched on Netflix on October 19, 2018, the show examines the case and allegations of police misconduct. It also follows celebrity trial attorney Kathleen Zellner, a fierce lawyer known for winning impossible cases through the post-conviction process.
Zellner has one theory about who killed Teresa Halbach: her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Ryan Hillegas.
Who Is Ryan Hillegas?
Ryan Hillegas is remembered by the public because he dated Teresa Halbach. For the most part, the life of Ryan Hillegas has been pretty uneventful.
Hillegas and Halbach were in and out of each other’s lives over a five-year period. They first started seeing each other in high school, when they both lived in the small farming village of Hilbert, Wisconsin.
Their relationship was far from idyllic, though. Which might be why it was off-and-on for so long.
After graduating from Hilbert High School in 1998, Halbach went to the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, where she studied photography. Hillegas attended the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.
In her senior year of college, Teresa Halbach worked as an intern for Pearce Photography in Green Bay. She told Thomas Pearce that she had been in a physically and verbally abusive relationship. Halbach never explicitly told Pearce that it was Hillegas, but it is known that the two were seeing each other at this time.
In 2002, Halbach graduated summa cum laude from college, with a degree in photography. Ryan Hillegas graduated three years later, in 2005.
While Halbach and Hillegas continued to see each other, they were not romantically linked when she was murdered in 2005. And perhaps that is why some are fingering Hillegas as her likely murderer.
Was Hillegas Jealous Halbach Had Moved on with Her Life?
It is alleged that Ryan Hillegas was more than a little obsessed with Teresa Halbach and jealous that she had moved on with her life. Halbach emailed Ryan Hillegas to inform him that she was no longer interested in him. She had, in her own words, told him she’d moved on.
In fact, Halbach was in a sexual relationship with her housemate Scott Bloedorn in the months leading up to her death. This may have angered Hillegas immensely—Hillegas and Bloedorn were best friends.
Ryan Hillegas is also thought to have harbored deep-seated jealously over the fact that Halbach had started taking nude pictures of both men and women. Not only that, but she had reportedly started a sexual relationship with one of her clients, a then-married man by the name of Bradley Czech.
Even though their relationship ended long before Teresa was murdered, the pair remained in contact; he even sent her a text on October 31, 2005.
October 31, 2005 –Teresa Halbach Murdered
On October 31, 2005, 25-year-old Teresa Halbach disappeared. It has been alleged that the last place she was seen was on Steven Avery’s rural property, taking pictures of a vehicle he wanted posted for sale on AutoTrader.
Find out more about the victim: Teresa Halbach Wiki: Must-Know Facts about the “Making a Murderer” Victim
The Search for Teresa Halbach
In the days following the disappearance of Halbach, family, friends, and strangers handed out missing-person flyers and searched for her. But they could not find her.
On November 5, Pam Sturm, a second cousin of Teresa Halbach’s father, and her daughter Nikole decided to take another look for the missing young woman on the Avery property. It only took Pam half an hour to find Halbach’s dark-green Toyota RAV4 hidden under branches, with the license plate removed.
Pam Sturm called the Calumet County Sheriff’s Department and, through the VIN, was able to confirm with police that it was Halbach’s car.
Later that day, Ryan Hillegas and Mike Halbach, Teresa’s brother, were interviewed by local media about the discovery.
Ryan Hillegas struggled to answer the most remedial questions. The two of them looked at each other for help in answering questions. As the interview progresses, the two seemed to play off of each other, completing each other’s sentences.
It was an awkward and, for some, revealing interview, with Hillegas asserting he had never been on Avery’s property. A clumsy Mike Halbach echoes Hillegas’ sentiment, saying it was a member of their search party that found the SUV and that he, too, had never been on the property.
Ryan Hillegas Never Considered a Suspect
In most cases like this one, the people closest to the victim are often looked at and cleared of any wrongdoing. But in the Halbach case, police failed to interview anyone close to her or who had a history with her. For some reason, they never once suspected that Teresa Halbach was murdered by someone she knew.
Hillegas even admitted that the sheriff’s department never really interviewed him or asked him for an alibi for the night his ex-girlfriend was murdered.
Instead, investigators honed in on, and eventually arrested, Steven Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey for the murder of Teresa Halbach. In March 2007, Steven Avery was convicted of murdering Halbach and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Dassey was found guilty of first-degree intentional homicide, rape, and mutilating a corpse. He was sentenced to life and will be eligible for parole in 2048.
Despite the guilty verdicts, many believe that Steven Avery was railroaded by the police, investigators, and prosecutors. And that the real murderer is walking free.
Kathleen Zellner, Feared Attorney, Watched “Making a Murderer”
Tens of millions of Americans who watched Making a Murderer were outraged at what they believed was a rigged investigation and trial. One important viewer shared that sentiment: Kathleen Zellner.
Zellner, one of the most successful trial attorneys in America, watched the Netflix show and was outraged.
“When I watched the Avery case, I felt that the attitude toward him by the prosecutors and the state was that he was disposable. It was almost like a class thing. [His family] didn’t matter, they had no power,” Zellner said. “The longer I watched it, the more angry I got.”
Not one to just sit back and watch a miscarriage of justice, Zellner announced in January 2016 that she and Tricia Bushnell, legal director of the Midwest Innocence Project, were representing Steven Avery.
It didn’t take long for Zellner to suggest who she thought the real murderer was. In January 2016, in a now-deleted tweet, Zellner teased, “whoever deleted Teresa Halbach(‘s) cellphone calls is either the murderer or part of (the) coverup. Either way the killer is free.”
Those who have watched Making a Murderer know that Zellner was focusing her steely glaze on Ryan Hillegas.
Get to know Avery’s new lawyer: Kathleen Zellner Wiki: Steven Avery’s Best Chance at Freedom
June 7, 2017 – Zellner Files Motion, Knows Who Real Killer Is
On June 7, 2017, Zellner filed a 1,250-page motion at the Manitowoc County Courthouse, stating that she believes Ryan Hillegas is responsible for the grisly murder of Teresa Halbach. Zellner’s exhaustive motion for a new trial included sworn affidavits from 10 law enforcement, legal profession, medical, and scientific experts.
Avery’s lawyer requested a new trial for her client because she believes there is more than enough evidence to convict Hillegas. He is the only person who had motive, opportunity, and connection to the murder of Halbach, she claimed.
- Ryan and Teresa had an abusive relationship
- He was angry that they’d broken up
- He was jealous she’d had sexual relationships
- He misled investigators
- He had no alibi for October 31, 2005
- He had visible injuries on his hands
- He knew Teresa’s password to her cellphone where messages had been deleted
- He had control over her belongings
- He seemed to have an inside understanding of where her body would be found
Zellner said she tried to contact Hillegas, who lives in the Milwaukee area, to rule him out. But he refused to speak.
“Our investigators contacted Mr. Hillegas to interview him,” Zellner said. “He was told that we wanted to rule him out as a potential suspect, but we needed answers to certain questions related to his alibi, abusive relationship with Teresa Halbach, knowledge of her password, injuries to his left hand, interaction with law enforcement from Nov. 3 (2005) onward, damage to Teresa Halbach’s parking light, access to Avery property Nov. 7. Mr. Hillegas never responded.”
Reasons Why Zellner Suspects Hillegas of Murdering Teresa Halbach
Colleague and friend Thomas Pearce remembers Halbach telling him that she had been in an abusive relationship while in college. It was during this time that she was in a relationship with Hillegas.
Halbach emailed Ryan Hillegas to tell him that she was no longer interested in him and to leave her alone. She had moved on. At one point, she was having a sexual relationship with her client, Bradley Czech. In the months before she was murdered, Teresa was in a sexual relationship with her housemate, and Hillegas’ best friend, Scott Bloedorn.
At trial, Ryan Hillegas perjured himself when he said that Teresa’s relationship with Bloedorn was platonic and not sexual. He clearly knew what was going on.
Hillegas provided misleading information to authorities on more than one occasion. He gave wrong information about when damage to a parking light on Halbach’s RAV4 had occurred.
Hillegas told authorities that Teresa Halbach damaged the driver’s side bumper and parking light of her SUV months before she disappeared. Not only that, he claimed, but she had filed an insurance claim for the damage. Not true, said her insurance company; Halbach never filed a claim. Avery’s post-conviction defense team says the damage occurred after she left the Avery property on October 31, 2005.
Zellner’s team alleges that when Hillegas was trying to plant his ex-girlfriend’s SUV on the Avery property, he hit a post by mistake, and broke a parking light. Hillegas lied to investigators because he wanted to distract them away from the broken parking light he tossed in the rear cargo area of her SUV.
If investigators found the broken pieces of the parking light in her car, it would call into question the prosecution’s theory that Avery murdered Halbach before she left his property. They would then have to look for another suspect. Hillegas knew it wouldn’t take long before they came knocking on his door.
According to Zellner, Hillegas had no motive to frame Steven Avery unless he himself had murdered Teresa Halbach.
Plenty of Opportunity
- Hillegas has no alibi for October 31, 2005, the date on which Teresa Halbach was murdered. Nor does Hillegas have an alibi for the days after she disappeared, during which time it is alleged he burned her body and planted the bones on Avery’s property.
- There are major gaps on Hillegas’ cell phone during the time that Teresa Halbach went missing. On October 31 2005, there was a six-hour gap, from 9:41 a.m. to 3:48 p.m., when there were no incoming or outgoing calls.
- During this time frame, the defense maintains that Teresa Halbach left the Avery property and went to take pictures at the Zipperer property; it was her last appointment of the day. She was killed after she returned home, between 3:40 p.m. and 3:50 p.m.
- There was also a two-hour-long gap in Hillegas’ phone records from 3:50 p.m. to 6:01 p.m.
- There is an over 17-hour-long gap, from 7:47 p.m. on October 31, 2005 to 1:31 p.m. on November 1, 2005. It is during this time frame that Hillegas is purported to have transported Teresa’s body and burned it.
- On November 2, there was a six-hour gap from 10:06 a.m. to 4:12 p.m. On November 3, 2005, there is a gap from 7:31 p.m. to 8:10 p.m.—the time during which Steven Avery claims he saw unidentified headlights on his property.
- Then there was a flurry of mysterious calls. On November 4, from 4:15 p.m. to 7:25 p.m., Hillegas received 21 calls from an unidentified phone number. Avery’s defense team believes the caller was intentionally hiding their phone number. It is possible the caller came from law enforcement. During this time frame, Sgt. Andrew Colburn called police dispatch to confirm the license plate on Teresa Halbach’s still-missing vehicle.
- Hillegas knew Halbach’s username and password to her cellphone account. He accessed her account after she went missing—during which time a number of voice messages were deleted. Zellner and her team believe Hillegas deleted the messages to buy himself some time to dispose of her body. Halbach was known to check her voicemail often; if friends or family called and heard the mailbox was full, they would become suspicious.
- Footage taken before Halbach’s RAV4 was discovered shows Hillegas with scratches on the back of his left hand. Teresa’s fingernails were long enough to make those scratches. But no DNA could ever be located because her body had been incinerated.
- Scent dogs suggested that Halbach’s vehicle was moved onto the Avery property. Alerts from the dogs also showed that her body was in the vehicle when it was driven onto the property.
- Other dogs found a suspected burial site in a nearby wooded area. Other scent dogs zeroed in on an area where a witness said they saw a vehicle that matched Halbach’s RAV4, before it was officially discovered on November 5, 2005.
- Ryan Hillegas knew the sheriff’s department was doing aerial surveillance of the Avery property on November 4, 2005. Police confirmed that the RAV4 was not visible from any images taken that day. After the aerial surveillance was finished, it is alleged that Hillegas drove his ex-girlfriend’s RAV4 onto the property using a rear access road. This claim is backed up by another witness who said they saw a SUV similar to Halbach’s and a white Jeep use the access road. Only the white Jeep made the return trip.
- To explain why the vehicle was not seen in aerial footage, the killer covered up Halbach’s SUV with tree branches, cardboard boxes, and a rusty car hood.
Ryan Hillegas’ Behavior after Halbach’s Murder Was Odd
Hillegas’ behavior in the days after his ex-girlfriend disappeared and her burned body was discovered on the Avery property is also a little suspicious.
- While Hillegas helped spearhead the civilian search for Teresa Halbach, he lied about who he was. He was not Ryan Hillegas, the ex-boyfriend of the missing woman; he was Ryan Kilgus, a good friend.
- After Halbach disappeared, Hillegas moved into the house she once shared with best friend Scott Bloedorn. There, he had complete and total access to all of her belongings.
- Hillegas is also alleged to have searched the property surrounding the Avery Salvage yard; on one occasion he provided yet another false name. It is also thought that Hillegas entered the salvage yard on numerous occasions, providing him with more than enough time to plant evidence. As mentioned, he later denied having been on the property before.
- Ryan Hillegas called Bradley Czech on November 3, 2005, for the first time ever. It is not known why, or what the conversation was about.
- On November 5, 2005, the day Halbach’s body was discovered, Hillegas told Pam Sturm to search the Avery property. He gave missing-person posters to search volunteers. But he provided Pam and Nikole, the only two heading to Avery’s property, a digital camera and direct phone number to now-retired Calumet County Sheriff Jerry Pagel. Somehow, Sturm managed to locate Halbach’s RAV4, which was hidden on a busy 40-acre property littered with over 4,000 vehicles, in less than 30 minutes. It is likely, under this scenario, that Hillegas directed Sturm where to search. Keep in mind that in the video shot on November 5, 2005, the day Halbach’s body was found, Hillegas nervously denied ever setting foot on the property.
Where Is Ryan Hillegas Today?
Despite once leading the search for Teresa Halbach and never shying away from an interview, Hillegas has pretty much gone underground. It now seems as though Hillegas wants a life outside of the limelight.
In the 10+ years since Teresa Halbach was murdered, the media-shy Ryan Hillegas has worked at the Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital in Milwaukee. He started there as a registered nurse and, according to the most recent information, is working as an outpatient therapist.
Of late, Ryan Hillegas has avoided conducting any interviews and is certainly trying to stay off the radar of Kathleen Zellner. That could be tough to do, however.