Episode 052: Bart & Krista Halderson

August 29, 2022

A couple heads to the lake for the holiday weekend, but all is not as it seems. Investigators must untangle a complicated web of lies to find the truth of what happened to Bart and Krista Halderson.

Episode Media
Bart & Krista Halderson (Dane County Sheriff’s Office)
Chandler Halderson (WI Department of Corrections)
Chandler seen on surveillance video at KwikTrip (CourtTV)
Empty freezer in the Halderson’s basement (Dane County Sheriff’s Office)
Location of Bart’s remains (CourtTV)
Location of Bart’s remains (CourtTV)
Location of Krista’s remains (CourtTV)
Episode Sources
Episode Transcript

Welcome back to Bite-Sized Crime. This week I’m bringing you a tragic case, one that began with a web of lies and ended with a family destroyed. This episode includes graphic descriptions, so listener discretion is advised.

In the early 1990s, Bart Halderson met Krista Frater when they were both working at the same department store. Both had grown up in Wisconsin – Bart in Sheboygan and Krista in Madison – so after they married in 1994, they knew they would stay in their home state. They moved a few times for Bart’s work, but eventually they settled in the suburbs of Madison.

Bart and Krista had two sons, Mitchell and Chandler. Growing up, both boys were involved in church activities and were very active in the Boy Scouts, eventually achieving the rank of Eagle Scout. Bart and Krista were proud of their sons, and they wanted them to be successful in life. They had both worked hard for what they had, and they expected the same from Mitchell and Chandler.

By 2021, Mitchell had graduated from the University of Wisconsin and had a steady job with a software development firm. Chandler was attending Madison College and working for an insurance company while living at home. He had just accepted a job at SpaceX and was planning to move to Florida. Everything seemed to be going well for the Halderson family. 

But in early July, Bart and Krista suddenly disappeared.

The first indication that something was wrong came when Krista failed to show up for work on Friday, July 2nd. This was extremely out of character for her. Yes, it was a holiday weekend, but Krista would have let her supervisor know if she was taking the day off. Her co-worker Michael called his wife Jane to ask if she had seen Krista. Krista and Jane had known each other since middle school and were incredibly close. Jane knew immediately that something was wrong. She called Krista’s cell phone, but it went straight to voicemail. She called Bart’s cell and got the same result. Her next call was to Bart and Krista’s son Mitchell, but when she asked him where his mom was, he had no idea.

Jane’s last call was to Chandler Halderson. He did know where his mom was, but it wasn’t what Jane expected to hear. According to Chandler, Krista and Bart had left town with another couple – Chandler couldn’t remember who – and they had taken a bunch of alcohol and cash with them, saying they were headed up to their cabin at White Lake for the weekend and would probably go do some gambling at the casino.

Jane wanted to believe this story, but something about it made her feel uneasy. Krista would have told her if she was heading out of town, and the part about the cash and alcohol was very odd. Neither Krista nor Bart were big drinkers, and Bart was notoriously careful with their finances. Plus, they were in the middle of a home renovation – it was very unlikely that they would be blowing money at the casino. But on Sunday, Chandler told Jane that he had finally gotten a text from his mom: they were doing fine and had plans to attend the July 4th parade in White Lake. Jane felt like she could finally relax.

Unfortunately, her relief was short-lived. On Wednesday, July 7th, Chandler called Jane to say that his parents hadn’t returned home from the lake like they had planned. By this time, Jane and her husband Michael were staying at their own cabin about 90 miles away from White Lake. They immediately jumped in their car and made the 2-hour drive to the Haldersons’ cabin to check on their friends.

When they arrived, it was clear that no one had been there for quite a while. If Krista had said they’d made it to the cabin safely, why was there no sign of them? What was really going on?

Jane called Chandler back and let him know what they’d found – or what they’d hadn’t found. Chandler decided to go to the Dane County Sheriff’s Office and file a missing persons report.

The sheriff’s office released a missing persons alert, and soon, Bart and Krista’s picture was all over the local news. Authorities asked the public to come forward with any information they might have about the couple’s disappearance.

Detectives started their investigation at the Haldersons’ home on Oak Springs Trail. As Chandler showed the detectives around the house, Deputy John Nelson noted that Chandler was slow to answer their questions, and that he seemed “lethargic and tired”. He chalked it up to the stress of not knowing where his parents were.

In the garage, detectives found both of the Haldersons’ vehicles. Chandler said they had ridden up to the lake with friends instead of taking their own car. He thought they had gotten picked up early in the morning on July 2nd, because he didn’t remember seeing them leave.

Because the house was in the middle of being remodeled, everything was in a general state of disarray. Sections of the floor had been removed, and furniture had been pushed together in odd arrangements. It was difficult for detectives to determine what was potential evidence and what was just debris from the renovation.

When one of the detectives asked Chandler about a piece of missing glass in the fireplace screen, Chandler said the dogs had broken it while playing with a ball, and that while cleaning it up, a piece of the glass had gotten stuck in his left toe, which had bled everywhere.

Detectives also asked to see Chandler’s phone, since he had mentioned Krista’s text from Sunday. Chandler gave them screenshots of his last conversation with his mom. 

While detectives were interviewing Chandler at the Halderson home, Mitchell had driven up to White Lake to meet with officers from the Langlade County Sheriff’s Office. When they arrived at the cabin, they found it in the same condition Jane had described. The grass was overgrown, the boathouse was locked, and nothing seemed to have been disturbed. The neighbors told them they hadn’t seen anyone around lately. Mitchell gave permission for the officers to break into the cabin, but it only confirmed their suspicions – Bart and Krista had never made it to White Lake.

By now, the word was spreading about Bart and Krista Halderson. Friends and family were reaching out to Mitchell and Chandler, offering their support. Neighbors were cooperating with police, providing footage from home security cameras and trying to recall anything strange they may have seen in the past week.

Chandler spoke with local news outlets, telling one reporter, “We’ll find them. It’s better to not listen to the negative theories.” He painted a picture of hope, saying, “They’re maybe at a casino, their phones off, no reception. Maybe they’re on a boat, having some fun with their friends.” 

And everyone wanted to believe it, that Bart and Krista were just off having fun and had forgotten to check in with their family. 

But the truth was much more sinister.

On July 8th, Chandler noticed that the police presence outside the house had increased. He called Detective Brian Shunk and asked if anything had changed in the investigation. But Detective Shunk told him that it was just a shift change, nothing to worry about. 

Later that day, Chandler was called down to the sheriff’s office to give another interview. He replayed the events of his parent’s disappearance for the detectives, but this time their questions seemed more pointed, more suspicious. Finally, Detective Shunk looked Chandler in the eye and said, “We know your parents are no longer with us and we know the reason why… Your parents never made it to the cabin and we think you know that.”

Chandler Halderson was placed under arrest for providing false information to law enforcement in a missing persons investigation. 

The news hit the media almost immediately. The son of a missing couple was under arrest – but not for murder. What was going on with this investigation?

The next morning, a bombshell: human remains had been found. Within days, they were identified as belonging to Bart Halderson. It would be another three weeks before Krista’s remains were discovered. By that time, Chandler Halderson was sitting in jail on a million-dollar bond, awaiting trial for the murder of his parents.

From here, the trail of evidence is convoluted and somewhat overwhelming, so we’re going to examine it chronologically, laying it out as clearly as possible.

In the weeks leading up to Bart and Krista’s disappearance, Chandler’s life was unraveling – or, his life as he pretended it be. Chandler had been lying to everyone for a long time, and he had finally been found out. 

Chandler’s story had been that he was studying renewable resource energy at Madison College, living at home and working for American Family Insurance to make ends meet. He was also volunteering with the Madison Police Department and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources as a part of their dive units. To top it off, he had a job offer from SpaceX and was planning to move to Florida with his girlfriend.

But none of it was true.

When Bart had questioned him about his progress in school, Chandler had shown his father faked emails from Madison College, saying that there were issues with his transcripts. When Bart called the phone number provided in the emails, the staff member on the other end sounded a lot like his son. The number would later be traced to a burner phone purchased by Chandler.

By the end of June, Bart had put all the pieces together. American Family Insurance had never heard of Chandler, and when he called the number on the Madison College website, a real staff member told him that there was no record of Chandler Halderson attending their school.

So Bart decided to call Chandler’s bluff. He set up a meeting at Madison College for 3pm on July 1st. He told Chandler to add the meeting to his calendar; they would talk to the admissions department and get his transcript issues sorted out.

This sent Chandler into a panic. On the morning of July 1st, he sent multiple texts to his girlfriend Cat, texts that sounded frantic and desperate. “I hardly slept,” read the first text. The second said, “…stuff hasn’t really been going well for me lately so I’m tryna plan for the next thing to f*** me over.” Then he said, “…I had a really great future planned and it’s falling apart.”

A few hours later, at 1:04pm, Chandler texted Cat that he thought his parents might be heading up to their cabin at White Lake for the holiday weekend. Investigators believe that this is when Chandler decided to kill his parents, to cover up his web of lies.

At 2pm, Bart texted Chandler, “I’m ready whenever you are.” By 3pm, he was dead, shot in the back with a high-powered rifle.

After that, Chandler texted his mom: “Dad’s phone died, text or call me.” He followed that message with another: “And get soda on the way home, I have an extra hour of work.” Chandler was buying time, preparing for the next part of his plan. 

Around 5pm, a neighbor’s security camera showed Krista returning home from work and pulling her black Volvo into the garage. Three hours later, the Volvo was seen backing out of the driveway and leaving the neighborhood. At 8:24pm, it stopped at a Kwik Trip convenience store down the road. Chandler Halderson is seen on security cameras purchasing two large bags of ice.

After he returned home, Chandler began to dismember his parents’ bodies. The neighbor’s security camera captured a flickering light coming from the Haldersons’ living room late that night, right where the fireplace was located. Neighbors later recalled smelling a “pungent” odor in the air. 

Early the next morning, Chandler walked into the local Fleet Farm and used his bank card to purchase a 6’x8’ plastic tarp. He texted his girlfriend Cat and told her not to come by the house just yet because he had “a lot of chores to do”. Investigators later found a to-do list on his phone, created just after he killed his parents. The list included items such as “clean floor”, “door handles”, and “H2O2 lemon”, the chemical compound for hydrogen peroxide.

In her testimony during Chandler’s trial, Cat recalled that Chandler had asked her to bring him some hydrogen peroxide and a Swiffer mop. She thought it was an odd request, especially since he kept insisting. He also kept repeating that she couldn’t stay with him the whole weekend because of all the “chores” he had to do.

On July 3rd, Chandler told Cat that he couldn’t meet up that day; again, he had chores to do. But when she looked up his location on Snapchat, it said he was near Sauk City, about 25 miles west. A passerby later identified a man matching Chandler’s description in that area, walking near OId Highway 60 along the Wisconsin River, carrying what appeared to be a backpack.

On July 4th, Chandler used his mother’s phone to send a fake text message to himself, something he could show to their friends and family, “proving” that Bart and Krista had made it to the cabin. They were going to see the parade at White Lake – but there was no parade that day.

On July 5th, Chandler stopped by Cat’s mother’s house in Cottage Grove and asked if he could swim in the pool. But he never removed the pool cover, and he never got wet. A little while later, Cat’s mother and her partner spotted Chandler’s Subaru SUV parked at the back of their property with the hatchback open. He disappeared into the wooded area behind their shed. Later, vultures were spotted circling the area.

On July 6th, the garage light at the Halderson home was turned on 7 times between the hours of 1am and 4am. Around 4:30am, Chandler spent an hour driving around the city. Later that day, Cat asked Chandler why his parents weren’t back from the lake yet and told him he should text his brother. People were starting to notice that Bart and Krista were gone.

On July 7th, Chandler reported his parents missing. Jane and Michael checked the cabin at White Lake, but found no sign of Bart and Krista. When they called Chandler, he asked them if they had seen any blood or bullet casings anywhere… definitely a strange question from a worried son.

On July 8th, Chandler went around the neighborhood, asking people for their security camera footage. Everyone said they had already given everything to the police. One neighbor, a recently retired detective from the Madison Police Department, had the foresight to record his conversation with Chandler. He had seen the increased police presence in the neighborhood and knew that something big was going down. His conversation with Chandler was fairly mundane on the surface, but would later be played in court as evidence of Chandler’s desire to know what his neighbors had seen.

Chandler also wanted to know what police had found. When investigators reviewed his Google search history, they found that Chandler had been searching for his parents’ names in the news. Within the span of a minute, he had searched for “Wisconsin dismembered body found,” “Woman’s body found in Wisconsin,” “Body found Wisconsin,” “Dead body found in Wisconsin,” and “Body found in Milwaukee River 2021”.

While Chandler was knocking on doors and Googling his crimes, investigators had descended on the property in Cottage Grove. Cat’s mother and her partner gave permission for authorities to search the area. In the woods, buried under a pile of tree branches, search teams uncovered a human torso, later identified as that of Bart Halderson.

A search of the rest of the property revealed a wealth of evidence. In a nearby water tank, a pair of scissors, bolt cutters, and a broken off saw blade were found covered in blood. In a trash can, a grocery bag filled with cleaning supplies, also covered in blood. And in the barn, a large tarp like the one Chandler had purchased a few days earlier, and a rifle hidden behind a wall board. All of the blood at the scene would come back as a match to Bart and Krista Halderson.

Within hours, Chandler would be in custody. According to police reports, Chandler told detectives that they didn’t know the whole story and offered to tell them everything. But he also reportedly said, “I didn’t feel bad about what I did.”

On July 10th, investigators searched the area near the Wisconsin River by Old Highway 60. Multiple eyewitnesses had called in tips, saying they had seen a man driving a Subaru SUV in the area on July 3rd. The car had been parked by the river trail for several hours, but the man hadn’t been carrying any fishing gear, just a backpack.

On July 11th, a search warrant was executed at the Halderson home on Oak Springs Trail. Investigators found blood on the floor in the laundry room and the bathroom as well as on the vacuum cleaner and inside several trash cans. Also covered in blood were Chandler’s shoes. All of the DNA was a match to Bart and Krista.

In the garage, detectives found rope that matched the type found near Bart’s remains. There was an ax covered with blood, and a broken saw handle that matched the blade found at the Cottage Grove property.

In the basement, two bullet fragments and a spent bullet casing were recovered, and hidden behind some insulation in the wall were multiple firearm magazines. A standing freezer – one that hadn’t been there when investigators first spoke with Chandler on July 7th – was found to have been wiped clean and would later test positive for human blood.

One detective noticed that the colors of the fireplace ash seemed strange, not what would typically be found from burning wood. It also appeared that the fireplace had been recently cleaned. But a small white fragment found within the ashes would later be determined to be part of a human skull.

In a later search, detectives would discover Bart and Krista’s IDs and cell phones wrapped in aluminum foil and paper towels and stuffed into a pair of shoes, hidden underneath a shelf in the garage.

Over the next few weeks, investigators continued to search for human remains. Remains belonging to Krista were discovered in the woods near the Wisconsin River, and detectives were eventually able to recover additional remains from the Halderson property, although they never said exactly where. 

The evidence against Chandler was damning. He was charged with first-degree intentional homicide in the deaths of Bart and Krista Halderson. 

In late July, Sheriff Kalvin Barrett gave a press conference, thanking those who assisted with the investigation and expressing sympathy for the family. “We have kept the Halderson family in our thoughts and prayers throughout this investigation and we extend our continued sympathies to them today. We ask that everyone allow them to grieve this tremendous loss with the utmost respect and dignity… This has been a time consuming and exhaustive investigation and I want to commend the hard work and dedication of our Sheriff’s Office personnel, along with everyone who has stepped up to assist us.”

In January of 2022, the trial of Chandler Halderson began. In his opening statement, Assistant District Attorney William Brown laid out the case, telling the jury how Chandler lied to his family, then, when he was found out, carried out a horrific plan to cover his tracks. “He didn’t even give them the dignity of having a funeral or even a final resting place in one piece, or together… Their remains were scattered.”

Chandler’s defense attorney told the jury that her client was just a normal kid who deserved the assumption of innocence. “Look for what’s missing. Evidence of one thing is not evidence of another. Avoid jumping to conclusions.”

For several weeks, jurors listened as dozens of witnesses testified about Chandler’s activities and Bart and Krista’s character. Crime scene photos and surveillance footage were used to great effect, and on January 20th, the jury found Chandler Halderson guilty of first-degree intentional homicide. He was also convicted of providing false information, mutilating a corpse, and hiding a corpse. 

Chandler Halderson was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He is currently serving out his sentence at the Dodge Correctional Institution in Wisconsin.

This was a story that did not have to end in tragedy. Bart and Krista were loved by their friends and family, and they loved their sons. It is heartbreaking that one son felt so trapped by his own lies that he resorted to violence in order to get what he wanted. 

Bart’s father Blake wrote a beautiful tribute to his son and daughter-in-law filled with memories he wanted to share with the world. In it, he said, “The world would be a much better place if they would have been allowed to gracefully get old… They will be missed so much, leaving such a big hole in everyone’s life that knew them.”

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