Making a Murderer: Lies of omission–Ryan Hillegas and Mike Halbach

Ryan Hillegas and Mike Halbach talk to a journalist in what seems to be a chance encounter.

Part 1, Episode 2. Approximately 45 minutes into the episode, or 12 minutes in from the end.

 

Statement and Behaviour Analysis

Since previously reviewing the behaviours of Making a Murderer ‘characters’, I’ve added another string to my bow–I’ve studied statement analysis. As well as finding it interesting and complimentary to nonverbal behaviour analysis, my main drive for learning statement analysis was to cover all areas (verbal and nonverbal), on a murder case I’ve been working on here in Australia. I’ll be using both of these techniques in this review.

I found that both techniques can find hidden information and highlight areas of interest independently. One is not necessarily better than the other, because they can both find things that the other one hasn’t highlighted.

My preference, of course, lies with nonverbal behaviour, because it decodes emotional state. I also believe that nonverbal behaviour analysis is more honest and accurate because nonverbal responses are largely driven by true emotion–they are reactive. What’s more, some behaviours are universal–innate responses stemming from our primitive drive for survival, from a primitive part of the brain. We can’t stop these behaviours from occurring, and for the most part, we’re not even aware we do them. These behaviours are the most honest and reliable.

On the other hand, our words and sentences are constructed through cognitive thought processes which occur in areas of the brain which are more developed. Language is a human invention and one which is relatively recent in the grand scheme of our existence. Spoken language is not innate, it’s constructed.

That said, since learning statement analysis, I hear communication in a new way, in a similar way to when I learned to read nonverbal communication. There is value in both techniques. Through these Making a Murderer ‘character’ reviews and other blog posts, I wish to share my knowledge with you, so that your day to day interactions and relationships are improved.

 

The Encounter

Halbach, Hillegas meet a Journalist

The beauty of this particular clip is that it seems it was a chance encounter–Ryan Hillegas and Mike Halbach are not prepared to answer these questions. Their responses are not well thought out or practised. They seem to have been constructed in the moment, at a time where their cognitive load is apparently high due to stress. This makes their statements more honest than if they had a clear mind (without stress), time to think ahead or practise. Good for us–bad for them.

What we see, is what appears to be Hillegas and Halbach responding on the fly, answering for each other, completing each other’s sentences and repeating each other’s words. There’s no doubt, these two are in collusion together. They are concealing something from us. What could it be?

In this review, we’ll deconstruct their words and behaviour to see what additional information we can glean.

 

The Dialogue

Journalist

"Did they find anything while you were out searching?"

Ryan Hillegas

"I'm not really going to comment on that, but if anything was found, you know, we had proper authority and professionals take a look at it as they need it."

Journalist

"How many times were you on the site? You were there Saturday when they found the car, but how many other times were you on the site?"

Ryan Hillegas

"Erm, I–"

Mike Halbach

"You were never on the site."

Ryan Hillegas

"I , I , I wasn’t, I wasn't on the site, that's, that's not true at all."

Journalist

"Did you get there Mike? Were you part of the–on the site searching?"

Ryan Hillegas

"We hav–"

Mike Halbach

"No. The people, I mean, the original, when we originally found the vehicle it was a member of our search party–"

Ryan Hillegas

"It was a member of our search party"

Mike Halbach

"who asked for permission to go onto the site. Ah, but, no, no one other than that has ever been on, on the Avery property–."

Ryan Hillegas

"On the actual site. It's been crime scene and–"

Mike Halbach

"Yeah"

Ryan Hillegas

"taped off, secured"

 

Decoding the Interaction

Let's deconstruct this interaction, using elements of statement analysis and behaviour analysis:

*If you’re short of time and already have an understanding of nonverbal communication and statement analysis, skip to the summary, for analysis in a nutshell.

Journalist

"Did they find anything while you were out searching?"

Ryan Hillegas

"I'm not really going to comment on that, but if anything was found, you know–”

Hillegas shugs both shoulders, together. Nonverbally this shows confidence in the words just spoken. This nonverbal behaviour hints towards the truth–truth in the words it corresponds to. A one-sided shrug, on the other hand, shows a lack of confidence in spoken words, hinting towards deception. In this case, the double shrug most probably confirms something was found. We can assume they are referring to the car.

While Hillegas stated he wasn't going to comment on whether something was found, he immediately followed with a verbal suggestion that it was ("but if anything was found”).

Both his verbal statement and nonverbal behaviour confirm something was found. Hillegas continues:

“we had proper authority and professionals take a look at it as they need it."

What concerns me most here is the word 'proper'. It suggests, what's in his head is some improper authority, otherwise ‘proper’ wouldn’t be included in the sentence.

Why would he be thinking about improper authority? We can only assume that any authority they received wasn’t ‘proper’. Why wasn’t it proper? Was it given by someone who didn’t have authority? Did it break protocol? Was it unlawful? Was it unethical?

He is withholding information, omitting part of the story. This is called a lie of omission. We don't know what exactly is being withheld, but this is enough to cause concern and in the case of a murder, this is highly significant.

There's also a nonverbal red flag on the word 'proper'–an eye blocking behaviour, an innate response. It looks like a long blink. Its purpose is to block out something we find negative mentally. It shows dislike or discomfort at that particular point in his statement. This is very telling. We know the brain doesn’t like it when we are deceptive and oftentimes we see nonverbal behaviours that stem from this. Is this a nonverbal reaction to being deceptive? Or, is he simply uncomfortable with whatever the ‘proper’ authority was?

I’m also concerned with the word ‘authority’. What authority are they referring to? Authority to be on the Avery property? Authority to search on other private or public land? Some other authority? The inclusion of the word implies there is some question over them not having authority to do something. The journalist didn’t state that in the clip shown. Did it come from someone else or from themselves? If it came from them, it implies they have done something they shouldn’t have. Were any of you there at the time or the search/findings? Had the question of them doing something untoward been raised by someone, or was it rumoured?

There’s another nonverbal behaviour that can’t go unmentioned. Just as Hillegas ends the word ‘professionals’ the muscles around his eyes activate, we can just about to see a squint, a narrowing of his eyes. This happens so quickly it’s classed as a microexpression. A microexpression is an emotional expression that happens within a fraction of a second. When we see a microexpression, we know that what we see is either, a leak of a concealed emotion, a suppressed emotion or an emotion which hasn’t yet registered in the person’s conscious. Microexpressions are involuntary, which makes them reliable indicators of emotional state.

So which expression are we seeing? It’s hard to tell from the side profile, but we can narrow it down to two emotions–anger and disgust. In both of these emotional expressions the eyes narrow. What we see here is Hillegas’s innate response of anger, or disgust, towards the ‘professionals’ in question.

I’m slightly surprised by what we just saw–and with what comes next.

Hillegas tilts his head slightly downwards, to his left. His eyes gaze downwards. This is the expression of shame.

Pulling these facets of the analysis together, on just one short response, what I feel I am seeing is someone who feels bad about something they have done. Something that has been consented to by authority.

Hillegas’s expression of shame is quickly interrupted.

Journalist

"How many times were you on the site?

Hillegas processes the question and before any words are spoken, we see another nonverbal behaviour–a sudden depression of the cheeks and a gulp. I don’t know the muscle movements involved in a gulp, but I expect the depression of the cheeks is part of it and not an independent behaviour. He clearly isn’t comfortable.

Uncomfortable with the short pause, the journalist continues.

You were there Saturday when they found the car, but how many other times were you on the site?"

Does the journalist have additional information that we aren’t privy to? He implies they (Hillegas and possibly Halbach) were on the site on Saturday and possibly more times.

What’s odd here, I’m sure you noticed, is that Halbach suddenly appears into view momentarily. Then he’s gone, he’s back, he’s gone, he’s back…

This is a swaying motion, similar to rocking. He’s moving his weight from foot to foot. Any repetitive motion, such as this, is a pacifying behaviour. It’s what many of us do when our stress levels increase, we do it when we are uncomfortable. It’s interesting to note that something within this particular question has sparked this, because a nonverbal response happens in the moment of an interaction, pinpointing the area to which it relates. His stress levels have suddenly peaked.

In his first sway, we see another stress indicator–a lip lick. Lip licks increase with stress because one physiological response to stress is a dry mouth. We lick our lips to counteract this and to lubricate.

Halbach’s eye gaze is firmly focused on Hillegas, seeking his reaction. We often look to our leaders to seek out their reaction. Does Halbach view Hillegas as the leader? Has Hillegas roped Halbach into this collusion? Or, is he just merely looking to see how his friend responds?

Hillegas hesitates as he tries to formulate a response.

Ryan Hillegas

"Erm, I–"

Seeing Hillegas hesitate, Halbach interrupts with a prompt. We have to ask why he would need a prompt for such a simple question if he was honest?

Mike Halbach

"You were never on the site."

This sparks Hillegas’ confirmation. As he speaks, he shakes his head, in congruence with his words. He eye blocks, twice, as he continues to hesitate over his words…

Ryan Hillegas

"I , I , I wasn’t, I wasn't on the site, that's, that's not true at all."

Here’s a small tip. If you want people to give you more information and keep talking, get comfortable with a pause. If you fill the gap–they won’t. You could miss out on valuable information. Most people aren’t comfortable with a pause in conversation and as a result, someone jumps in to fill it. Let that be the other person, so that you can glean more information.

The journalist fills the gap and brings Halbach into the dialogue.

Journalist

"Did you get there Mike? Were you part of the–on the site searching?"

Halbach lip licks again. Both he and Hillegas jump in to respond…

Ryan Hillegas

"We hav–"

Mike Halbach

"No. The people–”

Halbach shakes his head in congruence with his words, again looking towards Hillegas. He needs help. He’s not sure what to say. This is a red flag–if he was honest, he would know what to say.

Can you see how important the nonverbal behaviour is in understanding what is being communicated? It gives us a whole lot of additional information, which is otherwise missing if we only consider spoken words.

Why does he have a reason to be dishonest? He quickly switches his direction of speech, this is called a false start.

“I mean, the original–”

Another false start, before he arrives at one he’s happy to continue with.

“when we originally found the vehicle it was a member of our search party–"

And there we have it–“when we originally found the vehicle”.

This is a gold nugget of statement analysis. Is this a snippet of leaked truth, hidden amongst deception?

We’re starting to see how beautifully statement analysis and nonverbal behaviour analysis, together, open our eyes to see the bigger picture?

Hillegas interrupts, repeating Halbach’s words.

Ryan Hillegas

"It was a member of our search party"

If we weren't paying attention, we could easily have missed Halbach’s nugget of (potential) truth, while our focus was on these repeated and firmly stated words.

While that interaction took place, Hillegas’s movements became animated. His head and shoulders bob up and down with subtle jerky movements, I can only put this down to discomfort. This turns to nodding.

Halbach continues his sentence, while Hillegas continues to nod, backing up Halbach’s words.

Mike Halbach

"who asked for permission to go onto the site.”

Hillegas gulps. They make eye contact. Halbach fills the gap and continues with hesitation in his words.

“Ah, but, no, no one other than that has ever been on, on the Avery property–."

There’s another red flag here. As Halbach speaks he shakes his head in congruence with his words, but it soon turns into nodding–incongruent to his words–a misalignment between words and behaviour. Such disparities between words and behaviours alert us to potential deception.

Hillegas jumps in, talking over Halbach’s words. Halbach looks to Hillegas, letting him continue.

Ryan Hillegas

"On the actual site. It's been crime scene and–"

It’s here that Hillegas gives us another gold nugget, with the word actual. In a similar way to when he said ‘proper’, it suggests what's in his head is some alternative. If there’s an ‘actual’ site, there must also be the perception of an alternative site. Where is this alternative site, and what is its significance?

Mike Halbach

"Yeah"

Ryan Hillegas

"taped off, secured"

 

Summary

The Analysis in a Nutshell

To summarise what we saw and heard, I’m adding the red flags of the analysis to the dialogue below.

Journalist

"Did they find anything while you were out searching?"

Ryan Hillegas

"I'm not really going to comment on that, but if anything was found, you know, we had proper authority and professionals take a look at it as they need it."

Hillegas: Something was found- double shrug confirmation

Hillegas: The word ‘proper’- indicating his perception of something improper

Hillegas: On the word ‘proper’- eye blocking behaviour (dislike/discomfort)

Hillegas: The word ‘authority’- implies there is some question over them not having authority to do something

Hillegas: On the word ‘professionals’- microexpression of anger or disgust

Hillegas: Emotional expression of shame

Journalist

"How many times were you on the site? You were there Saturday when they found the car, but how many other times were you on the site?"

Journalist possibly has information we’re not privy to.

Hillegas: Gulp

Halbach: Swaying pacifier- a sudden increase in stress

Halbach: Lip lick- stress indicator

Halbach: Eye contact with Hillegas

Ryan Hillegas

"Erm, I–"

Hillegas: Hesitation

Mike Halbach

"You were never on the site."

Ryan Hillegas

"I , I , I wasn’t, I wasn't on the site, that's, that's not true at all."

Hillegas: Eye blocking behaviour (dislike/discomfort)

Hillegas: Hesitation

Journalist

"Did you get there Mike? Were you part of the–on the site searching?"

Halbach: Lip lick

Ryan Hillegas

"We hav–"

Mike Halbach

"No. The people, I mean, the original, when we originally found the vehicle it was a member of our search party–"

Halbach: Eye contact with Hillegas

Halbach: False starts

Halbach: “When we originally found the vehicle”

Ryan Hillegas

"It was a member of our search party"

Hillegas: Repeats to emphasise words

Hillegas: Jerky movements (discomfort)

Mike Halbach

"who asked for permission to go onto the site. Ah, but, no, no one other than that has ever been on, on the Avery property–."

Hillegas: Gulps

Hillegas/Halbach: Eye contact

Halbach: Hesitation

Halbach: Incongruent nodding

Ryan Hillegas

"On the actual site. It's been crime scene and–"

The word ‘actual’- indicating his perception of an alternative site

Mike Halbach

"Yeah"

Ryan Hillegas

"taped off, secured"

 

Wrapping up

I’ll be honest, I don’t like Hillegas or Halbach, simply because it’s evident to me they are being deceptive and withholding information in various clips throughout the series. I don’t have an opinion on whether they are involved in Teresa Halbach’s murder or not, as yet. Perhaps further analysis will uncover something that will create an opinion. Covering up anything, in these circumstances, is not acceptable when a murder has been committed and so many peoples lives have been impacted.

There is no doubt in my mind, l see the evidence that they are involved in a cover-up. I did, however, feel a smidgen of compassion for Hillegas when I saw his dislike (anger or disgust) at ‘professionals’ taking a look–and his shame. He feels a level of remorse for whatever it is he’s covering up. By no means does that make it okay. Has he just got himself in too far and now he feels it’s too late to change things?

I’m not sympathetic to Mike Halbach, just because it was his sister who was murdered. In the majority of cases, family, ‘friends’ or exes, are those who commit the murders. But, I am sympathetic to the rest of her family, from whom I have seen genuine sadness. I don’t recall seeing this from Mike Halbach, he seems too wrapped up in the cover-up. I’m hoping to prove myself wrong and discover this through further analysis.

Please leave your comments and let me know what you’d like to read about next. Thanks for reading.

Sophie Zadeh2 Comments