As Netflix subscribers are well aware, Manitowoc, Wisconsin is the setting for the 10-hour true-crime series Making A Murderer. But it is also a generally quiet community, whose residents never had any say in their town becoming an epicenter of a nationwide controversy over corruption and injustice. The New York Times’ Chicago bureau chief Monica Davey first visited Manitowoc in 2005 to report on the very unusual case of Steven Avery, a man exonerated of one heinous crime only to be charged with another in the midst of a costly lawsuit. Davey returned to the town a decade later to see how it was holding up in the wake of the popular and divisive Netflix series. Unsurprisingly, she found that Making A Murderer was the source of a great deal of tension in Manitowoc and that residents were not exactly eager to talk to reporters or curiosity-seekers. Davey’s article shows just how much the town had changed since her first visit in 2005.
In downtown Manitowoc, the county seat, the talkative, curious people I had come upon a decade earlier were no longer surprised—or the least bit pleased—to see yet another reporter. Many avoided any talk about Making a Murderer, or simply spotted my notebook and walked away. The mayor declined to be interviewed. Business owners refused to discuss it: One said she had read online about a call for a protest in the town, and she was worried about safety.
This story is not really about Avery’s guilt or innocence, though opinions on both sides are offered here. (“He’s guilty as sin,” says one resident.) It’s more about what happens when a previously little-known community suddenly becomes famous for the worst possible reason.
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