Following in the true crime footsteps of Serial and The Jinx, Making A Murderer, now streaming in its entirety on Netflix, tells the story of Steven Avery, who was convicted of sexual assault in 1985 only to be exonerated by DNA evidence in 2003. A mere two years after his release, however, Avery was arrested for the alleged rape and murder of Teresa Halbach, a crime Avery has always maintained he didn't commit. None of this is as straight-forward as I've laid it out for you here, and the series is well worth a binge watch. While Making A Murderer does a tremendous job of tying up even the most minute, seemingly insignificant loose ends, one left me scratching my head after the final credits rolled: What happened to Steven Avery's wife, Lori Mathiesen?
Even before he served 12 years for a crime he did not commit, Avery did not live a charmed life. His insular family was looked down upon in his hometown of Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and he had been in trouble with the law as a young man after burglarizing a bar and taking part in disturbing acts of cruelty toward a cat. (In fact, the show indicates he served 18 years due to the wrongful conviction when in fact the first six years of his sentence were in connection with the assault on his cousin Sandra Morris, featured in Episode 1, who is perhaps most famous for being the wife of a local deputy and getting Avery more prominently on the town police force's radar in the first place.)
But amid this turmoil, in 1982, 19-year-old Avery met single mother Mathiesen. "She was pretty," Avery says in the documentary. "Beautiful, that's what I thought. She had a good head on her shoulders. She was making it on her own." They were married shortly thereafter. Within three years, the young couple had four more children, including twin boys born shortly before Avery was (wrongly) arrested for the attempted rape of Penny Beernsten. He described theirs as "a good life."
But his prison sentence put an understandable strain on their marriage. Mathiesen (then Avery) had five small children to care for on her own. In a letter to Avery, according to the series, Mathiesen wrote:
I just can't handle these kids anymore. Between the crying, yelling, talking back and fighting I just can't anymore.
Avery returned expletive-filled letters threatening Mathiesen with murder if she did not bring his children to see him. Both ends of correspondence were angry, violent, and tremendously sad. In 1988, the couple divorced.
That's just about all we hear of Mathiesen on the show, which certainly isn't unreasonable: It makes sense that would be the end of her involvement in Avery's story. (She declined to comment on her ex-husband during the Halbach case.) But even though it is, it also kind of isn't.
Mathiesen went on to marry Peter Dassey. Now, if that name sounds familiar to you, it should. Peter Dassey is the father of Brendan Dassey, Steven Avery's nephew who was charged as a co-conspirator in the murder of Teresa Halbach after a confession, which he recanted later. Lori and Peter live in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, which is a mere hop-skip-and-a-jump away from Manitowoc (just under 20 minutes according to Google). Bizarre though it sounds, I say this as someone who grew up in similarly sized town: This is very small town.
While watching Making A Murderer, I have often commented that if this were an episode of Law & Order, it would be a classic for its sheer insane interconnectedness and truly mind-boggling plot twists. But what keeps viewers on the edge of their seat (at least this viewer) is that as completely crazy as it all is, even the most outlandish theory put out by the defense makes perfect sense. The weird coincidence of Mathiesen being married to the father of Avery's alleged accomplice is simply par for the course.