The New York Times Reporter Who Inspired ‘Making A Murderer’ Revisits Manitowoc

The November 23, 2005 edition of The New York Times featured an article titled “Freed by DNA, Now Charged in New Crime.” Written by journalist Monica Davey, who currently serves as the NYT‘s Chicago Bureau Chief, the article detailed the arrest of Steven Avery in the murder of Teresa Halbach, a 25-year-old photographer whose remains were found mostly burned to cinders on the family of the accused’s property. If this sounds familiar, that’s because Davey’s article is what inspired then-graduate students Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos to take up Avery’s story as their own and create Making a Murderer.

Now that the 10-part Netflix documentary series has become an international sensation, the NYT sent Davey back to Manitowoc County. Not to dig up anything new that Ricciardi, Demos, and a host of other real-life characters involved hadn’t already stirred up with media interviews and reports, of course, but to see for herself how much Manitowoc had changed in more than a decade. That, and to find out how the area was coping with its newfound — though mostly negative — fame.

As one of the few people willing to talk to Davey puts it:

“We lived through this 10 years ago,” Jason Ring, the president of the Manitowoc Area Visitor and Convention Bureau, said from a counter covered in maps and brochures.

“We made our judgment, and the trial came to an end, and locally most people were in support of that,” Mr. Ring said. “Now it’s back — by no choosing or no doing of anyone in this community.”

“So that’s the first point of injustice,” he added. “That we have to live through it again.”

Unsurprisingly, local governmental, police and business officials were unwilling to talk to Davey. Aside from one businesswoman’s safety concerns over an apparent protest, no concrete reasons were given, though it isn’t difficult to guess that most people in Manitowoc are simply tired of all the exposure. And as Ring noted above, everyone wasn’t happy about having to relive the local media frenzy from 10 years prior.

Then again, a more recent phenomena has also soured area residents to the press’s presence and questions about Making a Murderer — all the backlash. From online reviews and angry threats, to trolling posters and other occurrences, Manitowoc’s many electronic and physical lines of communication are rife with viewers who think the county falsely imprisoned Avery and his nephew, Brendan Dassey.

As Ricciardi put it in conversation with Davey:

“We have empathy for Manitowoc because we know that people have been reaching out in unkind ways and posting things about the city and the county,” Ms. Ricciardi said. “That’s an unfortunate response, because we have always wanted the series to be constructive, not destructive.”

Perhaps the most heartbreaking moment, however, comes in article’s final moments spent with Avery’s mother, Dolores. When Davey asked her about all the interest Making a Murderer had dumped on her family’s story, the matriarch brushed it aside as if she didn’t want to talk about it. “I’m too old for this,” she said. “It’s too much.”

(Via The New York Times)