‘I believed his parents were missing:’ Former girlfriend of Chandler Halderson testifies
MADISON, Wis. — Chandler Halderson’s girlfriend of several years testified Wednesday she had no idea what happened to Bart and Krista Halderson until she herself was being questioned by authorities.
Cat Mellender says she had a good relationship with the Haldersons after dating Chandler since 2019, and was even talking about planning a “girls’ trip” with Krista Halderson at one point. She says Chandler told her a similar story to what he had told everyone else — that Bart and Krista were going to the family’s cabin in Langlade County for the 4th of July weekend.
Mellender said she thought it was unusual that Krista had not sent any photos or texted while she thought they were up at the cabin that weekend, but she took the opportunity of Chandler’s parents being away for the weekend to hang out with him after several weeks in which the 23-year-old Chandler was effectively grounded.
Chandler’s concerns about the future
Prosecutors went over dozens of messages sent between Mellender and Chandler Halderson from June 30 to July 8 as the two made plans for that weekend, while Chandler also seemed to be stressed about his life situation.
In a series of messages he sent her on the morning of July 1, he said he didn’t sleep well and that he was “planning for the next thing to f— me over.”
“I had a great future planned and it’s falling apart,” another message from Halderson to Mellender that morning read.
Earlier in the trial, prosecutors alleged that July 1 was the same day Chandler and Bart Halderson were supposed to go to Madison College for a meeting about Chandler’s status there. Prosecutors believe Bart had uncovered a series of lies Chandler told about actually attending classes at the university, creating fake e-mails and phone numbers when his parents tried to check in.
Mellender testified that she was led to believe that Chandler was one class away from graduating at Madison College, had worked at a paid internship at American Family Insurance, also worked with a DNR dive rescue team, and had landed a job at SpaceX in Titusville, Florida.
Prosecutors have tried to prove that those were all lies, and asked Mellender if she ever saw any proof — grades from Madison College, pay stubs from American Family Insurance, or anything else. Mellender said Chandler showed her some computer code he was allegedly working on for a college class, but said she didn’t see anything else that would have proved his other claims.
Eventually, Chandler said he lost the job at SpaceX after a doctor told him he’d have permanent damage from a fall down the stairs he had in late June, which resulted in a concussion. In messages, he told Mellender he wouldn’t be able to fly because of it, and claimed SpaceX pulled the offer. She says she tried to help think of other ways to keep that dream alive, including looking up Greyhound bus fares if he couldn’t fly. Halderson responded the fares would have been too expensive.
4th of July weekend visits
At about 1 p.m. on July 1, Chandler mentioned to Mellender the possibility of his parents going to the cabin, texting her that he thought he overheard them talking about it, but he wasn’t sure. The two didn’t have plans to see each other that night because Chandler was still effectively grounded as far as Mellender knew, but later that night, at about 6:30 p.m., he texted Mellender, “baby I need you.”
The two had plans to meet at the Halderson home the next day, but Chandler sent a message to Mellender the morning of July 2 telling her not to hurry because he “had a lot of chores to do.”
Halderson didn’t say what the chores were, but referenced them multiple times over that weekend, even saying that Mellender couldn’t stay the night on July 2 because of the chores. She testified that she thought that was unusual because she had assumed that she would stay the entire weekend while his parents were gone. She asked “why leave and come back if I’m going to stay?” to which Chandler responded, “so I can get some chores done.”
Just after noon on July 2, Halderson asked Mellender if she could bring over a bottle of hydrogen peroxide and a Swiffer mop along with the groceries she was planning to bring. Halderson said he needed it because he had stepped on glass when one of the panes on the fireplace broke while he was playing with the family’s dogs.
When Mellender said she might not bring some items into the house, Halderson insisted again that he needed the hydrogen peroxide and Swiffer — the third time he had specifically asked her for those items that day.
Prosecutors stated previously in the trial that hydrogen peroxide can be used to clean blood. Mellender says Halderson had never asked for hydrogen peroxide before.
On July 3, the two made separate plans — Mellender was going to see her brother, while Halderson said he had to work on the chores. However, Mellender says at one point in the day, she saw on Snapchat’s Maps feature that Halderson was near the Wisconsin River near Sauk City. This was the area where investigators later found human remains belonging to Krista Halderson.
Also on that day, Halderson is seen walking into a Fleet Farm store on security camera footage. Mellender said she wouldn’t know why he went there. He did text her that he had tried to go to the dump that day, but it was closed.
On July 5, Halderson had told Mellender that he had a doctor’s appointment to follow up on his head and neck injury, giving her the location of the UW Health clinic on Science Drive. He warned her that the clinic had horrible cell phone reception so he wouldn’t be able to keep her up-to-date on how the appointment was going. When Mellender suggested using the clinic’s wifi to send messages on Snapchat instead, Halderson told her they didn’t have wifi and he couldn’t get Snapchat to load.
He said the doctors did an x-ray and a CT scan, and he claimed that he would have life-long leg numbness and it would cost him the SpaceX job.
Earlier in the trial, prosecutors mentioned that all of Halderson’s medical records from UW Health were subpoenaed, and there was no record of any visit for his head and neck injury beyond the initial ER visit.
Concern over Chandler’s parents
By the evening of Tuesday, July 6, Bart and Krista Halderson were still not home. Mellender says she texted Chandler to see if his parents were home, and when he said no, she suggested he text his brother.
Mellender said it was “very unusual” for Krista to go several days without contacting Chandler or his brother, corroborating testimony from other family friends that Krista was the type to constantly check in with her kids.
On July 7, the two again had a conversation about his parents, and Mellender says she encouraged Chandler to go to the police to file a report. By 11:22 a.m. that day, Chandler had texted her that he went to the police.
With the Haldersons officially considered missing, Mellender says she grew extremely distraught, to the point of having to ask her boss for permission to leave work after only about a half hour on the morning of July 8. She went over to the Halderson home to be with him, and when she arrived, Chandler was talking to local reporters in the driveway.
By the end of the day, she and Chandler were put into separate squad cars and taken to downtown Madison for more questioning.
“I wanted them to be found”
Mellender got emotional several times during her testimony, including her recounting of the night she and Chandler were questioned.
She says investigators talked to her for at least a couple hours that night, and she remembered being anxious and emotional to the point of vomiting. Despite that, she says she wanted to give police everything they wanted to see.
Prosecutors asked her why she thought it was important for her to share everything.
“I believed his parents were missing and I wanted them to be found,” Mellender said while fighting back tears.
Prosecutors ended their questioning by asking her if she had anything to do with cleaning anything up at the Halderson home or their disappearance, to which she answered no before crying again.
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