Blood stains, bone fragments, and a bloody axe: what investigators say they found inside the Halderson home
MADISON, Wis. — One of the lead deputies who spent weeks “turning the house upside down” spent several hours Monday testifying what he found inside the Halderson home in the fifth day of Chandler Halderson’s homicide trial.
Deputy Greg Leatherberry, a crime scene investigator for the Dane County Sheriff’s Office, spent much of the day on the stand as he described in great detail what he found in every room of the family’s multi-level home in Windsor as they investigated the murder and dismemberment of Bart and Krista Halderson.
Not every room in the home had something of value to the investigation, Leatherberry said, but multiple pieces of possible evidence were found over a three-week period in which investigators searched for 10 to 12 hours per day.
“When we’re done with a ‘tornado search,’ we’ll find everything. I told (the district attorney’s office) we will turn the house upside down, looking for whatever piece of evidence in here that would have any value to this case,” Leatherberry said during cross-examination.
Authorities documented an extensive list of evidence, all of which was as they found it, Leatherberry said.
Investigators said not even half of what they found in the home was presented by the prosecution Monday, but here is a breakdown of some of the items that were found, sorted by where they were discovered.
- Investigators say they found blood stains on the handle of the family’s municipal garbage bin, as well as inside the garbage bin itself. Additional testing confirmed the presence of blood and the fact it was human blood.
- A severed rope was found inside a basket hanging on the garage wall, which was consistent with a piece of rope that was found tied around the dismembered torso of Bart Halderson.
- An axe was found propped up against a wall of the garage, hidden behind several boards that were also propped up against the wall. Red stains were found where the axe handle met the axe head, along with some dark staining on the axe head. There were also red stains up and down the axe handle, which additional testing found to be human blood.
- A saw handle was also found behind the boards, with the saw blade missing. Investigators searching the Cottage Grove farm where Bart Halderson’s remains were found had also discovered saw blades without a handle discarded inside an oil drum near where the remains were found.
- A search of a tool chest in the garage also found a handle for a hand saw.
The Family Room
- A measuring tape was found on the table in front of the fireplace, as well as a plastic bag from Target.
- A pair of workman’s gloves were found next to the fireplace.
- A pane of glass was broken on the fireplace, as had previously been described by Chandler Halderson, who says the glass was broken while he was playing with the family’s dogs. Small pieces of glass were found inside the fireplace itself.
- Paint above the fireplace had been discolored and bubbled up, which investigators say was likely caused by excessively high temperatures in the fireplace.
- The grate inside the fireplace was also found to be discolored in some areas, prompting Leatherberry to call fire investigators for more expert analysis.
- Two unburnt logs and some unburnt pieces of newspaper were found inside the wood-burning fireplace. Leatherberry could not recall the exact date found on the newspaper, but prosecutors said “stay tuned” for later in their case.
- A burnt piece of wood was also visible in the fireplace, with a white fragment seen on top of it. Testing found that it was a human bone fragment. Prosecutors have not yet said who they believe the bone fragment belongs to.
- Blood stains were also found on the floor in front of the fireplace. Further black light analysis showed additional blood stains in front of the fireplace, which experts identified as a “dripping” splatter.
- An empty freezer that had its lid up seemed “out of place” to investigators, because its placement in the basement did not seem functional to them. Further raising red flags to investigators was the fact that deputies who did an initial walkthrough of the house the day Chandler Halderson reported his parents missing said the freezer was not there when they visited the basement. The inside of the freezer appeared to be “very clean,” but tests found traces of human blood that were left behind in the drain at the bottom of the freezer.
- An empty bottle of hydrogen peroxide was found, which investigators said seemed out of place because it was near other well-stocked or full cleaning products. They also knew hydrogen peroxide could be used to clean up blood.
- A roll of yellow duct tape was found on a storage shelf. Leatherberry said he knew yellow duct tape was found inside a garbage bin that also held a tarp that was found in the woods of the Cottage Grove farm, not far from where Bart Halderson’s remains were found. Crime scene investigators took the roll of duct tape into evidence to see if they could determine if the tape in the garbage bin had come from that roll of tape found in the basement.
- Investigators found towels hung over the basement windows, preventing anyone outside from seeing in.
- Blood splatter was found on the face of a safe that was sitting on the floor of the basement. A portion of the splatter was tested and came back positive for human blood. Based on the splatter pattern, Leatherberry says the blood would have came at the safe from a 90-degree angle — meaning it came from something on the floor of the basement.
- Two items later determined to be bullet fragments were found on the basement floor.
- A spent fire extinguisher was found on a shelf of a blue work bench. Below the work bench, a spent ammunition cartridge shell was found.
- The spent casing was consistent with the ammunition used in an SKS rifle, the same type of rifle that was discovered in a shed on the farm where Bart Halderson’s remains were found, and the same type of rifle a friend had recently given Chandler Halderson.
- The spent casing was also consistent with a bullet Chandler Halderson had given to his brother, Mitchell, as a gift. Mitchell Halderson had turned over the bullet to authorities to assist the investigation.
- Mouthpieces for a vape were found behind a piece of exposed insulation in the basement, prompting investigators to pull out all of the insulation in the basement to see if anything else was being concealed in the walls.
- Once the insulation was removed, investigators found three ammunition magazines holding dozens of rounds that were being hidden next to the vape mouthpieces. The rounds in the magazines had the same casing as the shell found on the basement floor and the same casing as the bullet Chandler gave to his brother. Two of the magazines were holding 20 rounds of ammunition for an SKS rifle. A third magazine only had 15 rounds in it — meaning 5 rounds were missing.
In cross-examination, defense attorneys pressed Leatherberry on whether investigators could tell when blood was left on a surface. He said while the tests they had could not determine exactly how blood got to a location or when it did, their analysis could determine how certain patterns were made.
After Leatherberry’s testimony, prosecutors called Nick Stahkle from the Wisconsin State Crime Lab to the stand. He testified about how he used a chemical called Luminol to help investigators look for blood that may have been previously cleaned up or wiped away. The chemical allows blood to be shown under a black light, although he did say things like bleach may also create a “false positive” by glowing under the light. To determine what is actually blood, investigators said they would swab and test areas that lit up after the Luminol process to see which areas came up “positive” for human blood.
Stahlke testified that no evidence of blood was found in either Bart or Krista Halderson’s vehicles. Investigators did not apply Luminol to a third vehicle, belonging to Chandler Halderson’s girlfriend at the time, because they determined nothing had been moved inside that vehicle during the timeframe in question.
Luminol was also applied to several areas of the Halderson home, including the foyer, family room, bathroom and basement. Prosecutors showed a PowerPoint presentation prepared by Stahlke showing the areas where Luminol was applied, under both normal light and black light.
The Luminol tests found several areas of likely blood that had been cleaned up in the basement, including an area that found bloody footprints. Evidence of blood dripping and splattering were also found in the basement.
There was also blood splatter indicative of blood dripping in front of the fireplace in the family room, where investigators had also found a human bone fragment in the fireplace. A Luminol test of the entrance to the home also found likely blood near the door to the garage.
In cross-examination, the defense stressed that the areas of illumination the jury saw could have been from someone using bleach to clean, but Stahlke said most areas that were illuminated then saw additional testing, with many areas coming back positive for likely blood.
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