Halderson neighbor remembers smelling ‘pungent’ odor as prosecutors focus on family room fireplace

MADISON, Wis. — A neighbor of Bart and Krista Halderson said Tuesday he remembers smelling something “pungent” in the air in early July 2021 during the sixth day of testimony in Chandler Halderson’s homicide trial.

Steven Greiber, a retired detective who lives across the street from the Halderson home, said he was outside on the evening of July 1 when he started to smell a strong odor of burning wood. At first he thought someone might have just built a fire pit outside, but within a few minutes, Greiber said the smell changed. He says it smelled like someone was barbecuing pork.

“It kind of became real strong, kind of like a pungent smell, to the point that I actually walked down my driveway half the distance and kind of looked up and down the street to see if anybody was doing anything like grilling, or something else was going on, and I didn’t see anything at that point,” Greiber said.

MORE: Full coverage of the Chandler Halderson homicide investigation and trial — live stream, previous stories, timelines and interviews

Another neighbor, Colin Lynch, provided police with security camera footage he had that pointed toward the Halderson home. Later that night and into the early morning hours of July 2, the video showed a flickering light inside the Halderson house, which was more than 300 feet away. Jurors saw a timelapsed version of the video, which showed the flickering — which investigators believed to be the fireplace in the Haldersons’ family room — from about 12:18 a.m. to about 4:30 a.m. on July 2.

According to previous testimony, this was the timeframe where Halderson told his girlfriend she couldn’t stay over that night because he had “chores” to do.

Dane County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Scott Kuntz, a video analysis expert, took a look at the video and conducted an experiment as part of the investigation to determine where exactly in the house the flickering light was coming from. Kuntz had another deputy wave a light wand in front of several windows in the Halderson home that would have been visible in the security video. Matching the images, Kuntz was able to determine the flickering light in the July 2 security video did indeed come from the Haldersons’ family room.

Examination of the Halderson family room fireplace

Special Agent William Boswell of the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation was eventually called by the Sheriff’s Office to take a closer look at the Halderson family room fireplace. Boswell works in DCI’s arson bureau and says he has frequently investigated fatal fires where human remains were burnt.

Boswell testified one of the things that stood out to him as he inspected the fireplace was the smell — the same smell of pork that Greiber had described in his testimony earlier in the day Tuesday. Boswell says his experience has taught him that burning or burnt human remains often smell similar to a pork barbecue.

RELATED: Blood stains, bone fragments, and a bloody axe: what investigators say they found inside the Halderson home

As first mentioned in the trial Monday, human bone fragments were found in the fireplace. Boswell testified that standard fires don’t typically burn at a temperature that would incinerate all human remains, and even crematoriums frequently have bone fragments left behind after the process.

As part of the investigation into the fireplace, authorities also followed the ash trap to where ashes would have been deposited in the basement. Boswell said that area was cleared out by investigators, with teams of people sifting through the debris and ash. Boswell also said more bone fragments were found.