Like many Americans his age, 23-year-old Chandler Halderson spent the past year or so living at home with his parents. His father, Bart Halderson, and his mother, Krista Halderson, believed he was working remotely for a Wisconsin insurance company while finishing up his community college coursework from his room, according to authorities. His life appeared poised to head in a more promising direction, especially after Halderson announced in June 2021 that he’d been hired by Elon Musk’s SpaceX and would be moving to Florida later that month. His girlfriend planned to go with him. He told her he’d already rented an apartment and bought a car.
The problem, authorities say, is none of it was true. According to prosecutors, Halderson was hanging out in his room playing video games all day, waking up early for meetings that didn’t exist so that his accountant father — who was also working remotely during the Covid-19 pandemic — would not suspect the ruse. Then, when Bart discovered the truth about his son’s fake life, prosecutors say Halderson shot him to death, and killed his mother when she arrived home a few hours later. He then dismembered their bodies, scattered their remains around Southern Wisconsin, and reported them missing almost a week later. Halderson is now on trial in Dane County for his parents’ murders, as well as charges of mutilating a corpse, hiding a corpse, and providing false information about a missing person.
Halderson pleaded not guilty to all charges. The defense says he didn’t do it, and described him in their opening statement as “a normal kid” who enjoyed video games, playing with his dogs, and spending time with his girlfriend. Public Defender Catherine Dorl seemed to confirm that Halderson lied about his jobs and schooling, but suggested the deception was not a motive for murder. “You’re also gonna not know how Bart and Krista would’ve reacted to these lies,” she said, referring to the state’s case. “That’s never going to be explained to you, how lying turns into murder.” She also said it was even possible that Halderson will be convicted of some of the lesser charges he faces. “But what evidence do you have of murder?” she said.
In the prosecution’s opening statements on Tuesday, Dane County Deputy District Attorney William Brown said Halderson “spun an amazing web of lies” trying to prop up his claims that he was holding down a job and studying renewable energy engineering, when in truth he’d flunked out after about one semester. He fabricated dozens of email exchanges between himself and college administrators and even posed as an adviser on a call with his dad, using a burner phone he’d purchased. When his accountant father would ask him why he wasn’t getting paid by his employer of almost a year, he made up excuses about errors in his salary and direct deposit information, eventually creating a fake paper trail of emails with HR to show his dad.
With pressure mounting from his father to pay rent, Brown said Halderson doubled down on his lie. “The best way out of your pretend job is an even more pretend job,” Brown said. “He’s gonna be an astronaut.” He told his family and his girlfriend he’d been hired by Space X. He and his girlfriend made plans to move to Florida together.
Then, Brown claimed, lacking a current or future job, a pending degree, or any money to make the move to Florida, Halderson stalled. Prosecutors allege he faked a head injury, saying he’d fallen down the stairs and suffered a terrible concussion — which Brown said a doctor will refute on the stand — along with spinal damage and nerve damage that put him in a neck brace and rendered him unable to travel.
Around the same time, Halderson’s dad Bart allegedly finally placed a call to Madison Area Technical College asking questions about his son’s transcript and discovered that none of the administrators Halderson had supposedly been emailing existed. “That’ll be it then,” Bart said on the recorded customer service call. Brown said Bart’s calendar showed that on Jul. 1, 2021, he and Halderson were scheduled to go MATC for a meeting, a meeting the prosecution contends must have been fake. That afternoon, Bart texted Halderson, “I’m ready whenever you are.” It was Bart’s last recorded communication.
Brown claimed that rather than going to the college for the nonexistent meeting, Halderson had shot his father with a rifle, and killed his mother a short while later when she returned home, dismembered their bodies, tried to burn them in their home fireplace, and then scattered their remains on public land, farms, along rivers, in ditches, and in trash cans.
Brown previewed some of the evidence that he said will prove Halderson’s involvement. Investigators found remains of a human skull in the Haldersons’ fireplace. The owner of Halderson’s girlfriend’s family farm said he’d come by acting strangely after Jul. 1: he asked if he could swim in their pool, but they soon spotted him out in their field with the hatch of his car open. That’s where police later discovered Bart’s torso, along with saw blades, scissors, tree loppers, and a tarp covered with Bart’s and Krista’s blood. Brown also said cops found the murder weapon, an SKS rifle given to Halderson by one of his online friends, in the barn on the property. The morning after Halderson allegedly killed his parents, he told his girlfriend he was doing chores, but she captured a screenshot of his location in a wooded area by the Wisconsin River, thinking it was unusual. Police went there and found Krista’s disembodied legs. In the early evening of Jul. 1, after allegedly murdering his parents, Halderson wrote a list using the Notes app on his phone. It included hydrogen peroxide, lemon, and the directives: “clean floor” and “get a job.”