An Imaginary Life – A Story Script

Have you ever wished you could live a different life? Assume the identity of someone who’s living a life much more exciting and interesting than the life you’re living currently? Just like the Jack Nicholson character in that 1975 film The Passenger. Perhaps you could have been born with or developed many more skillsets that would open new worlds of opportunity for you. Imagine the renewed sense of purpose you’d have and the respect and admiration people would have for you – if only you could be someone else.  
Most of us, at some point in our lives, have wished we were someone else or had the sense of fulfilment and glamorous lifestyle of people who are more successful than we are. It all seems so much easier for them, doesn’t it? 
“The imagination,” according to the Irish writer George Bernard Shaw, “is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine, and at last, you create what you will.”  
But as you’ll hear, this story gives a sinister twist to the Shaw quotation.  
As the parents of two smart boys, the Haldersons had a lot in their lives to be thankful for. They lived a life that, compared to most Americans, was wonderfully normal. They’d raised their two boys in DeForest in Wisconsin. It’s a suburb of Madison located in Dane County and one of the best places to live in Wisconsin. It’s sparsely populated – with just over 10,000 people – and is nice, spacious, and green, with lots of parks and above-average schools. It’s a perfect place for families and young professionals.

Like most of the folk in DeForest and most of their neighbours, Bart and Krista owned their own home. 50-year-old Bart was the main breadwinner. For years, he’d run his own accounting firm, servicing mostly small businesses, and had built up a reputation as a hardworking, money-savvy, and successful businessman. Krista was 53 and had always been there for her boys. She was a stay-at-home mum for them when they were growing up, and it was only long after the boys had both moved out and gone to college that she decided to get back into the workforce as a receptionist at a car company.

To their many friends and to all their neighbours, Bart and Krista were the dictionary definition of next-door-neighbourly wholesomeness. Both of them were kind, polite, and decent people. Bart was a stand-up kind of man who worked his whole life to provide the best for this family. He had a good head on his shoulders. He was always thinking long-term, working according to plan, cutting back on unnecessary expenses, and doing the right thing.  
His wife, meanwhile, was the heart of the home, and for many of their neighbours, the heart of the community. She was a helicopter mum. She loved her boys, and she made it a point to always be there for them. Even after they moved out to go to college, she texted them both at least once a day, insisting they keep in touch and let her know what was going on in their lives. And outside of the home, she had a reputation for being someone who really cared. At work, she went out of her way to help resolve any customer issues. In her neighbourhood, she was known for always trying to make the lives of other people better in some way. And she loved to communicate and share. There was rarely a decision or event in her and her family’s lives that she didn’t discuss with her family and friends. If she was going shopping, she’d ask if friends or family members wanted her to pick something up for them. If she was going to travel and do something new, she’d let her friends know. Krista was a people person, and she loved to help others. 
That’s how things appeared to Bart and Krista’s friends and neighbours. They were the ideal mum and dad, and everything was hunky dory at home with them. But for those living inside it, life in a wonderfully normal household is maybe not so wonderful. It can often seem downright stifling. Chandler Halderson knew that both his parents loved him in their way and that he was lucky to have an older brother like Mitchell, but sometimes, as with all families, they were all an enigma.

His dad was gone at work for so long he sometimes seemed like a stranger. And when he was at home, he was stern and serious. He made them do chores and constantly spoke about responsibilities. He wanted his sons to do well in school and had high expectations for them. Growing up, Chandler sometimes felt tension in the house because his father seemed to hold him and his brother to tough standards of honesty, hard work, respect, and good character. More than anything, Bart wanted them to make something of themselves.

Friends of the family were impressed by how well his dad handled money, but to Chandler, it seemed like he was overdoing it. His dad’s mind was always on the future, calculating, paying for the schooling of him and his brother, saving for retirement, planning for the future, fixing up the house. Everything had to go according to plan. Everything for him had to be cost-effective, but maybe his dad was just plain cheap.  
As for his mum, she was loving, gentle, and supportive. But she was the classic smothering, busybody mum, often far too involved in the boys’ everyday lives. But Chandler and his brother knew it was because she cared deeply for them. She was a stay-at-home mum, so she saw to it that her boys were raised right. And from the time they were young, she insisted on open communication. The boys were always encouraged to share their feelings and what was going on in their lives.

Chandler’s brother Mitchell was 18 months older. After graduating from college in computer engineering, Mitchell had gone on to a high-salaried position in the tech industry. He got engaged to his long-time girlfriend, and they bought a house together. That had put some pressure on Chandler. He couldn’t wait to launch out on his own and make his mark in the world. In 2018, after graduating high school, he went off to college at Madison Area Technical College (MATC). He moved out of home and into an apartment with some friends from high school.

But due to plain bad luck and circumstances far beyond his control, by 2020 Chandler was back living with his parents and the family’s two dogs. This was upsetting to him. He found it hard not to compare his situation with his brother’s and the independent life he was leading. And now his parents – well, his dad really – were charging him a small amount for rent. They also – again, it was mainly his dad – imposed their rules on him. To Chandler, it seemed so unreasonable. Since he was a 23-year-old adult, he ought to be allowed to come and go when he pleased. But his dad ended the argument by saying since he was living under their roof, he had to obey their rules.

Nevertheless, Chandler soon learned to see this setback as just a temporary blip on his path to success. In fact, after some time, he started to do very well for himself. He’d gotten a salaried position at a big insurance firm called American Family. It was paying so well he’d soon be able to move out. He’d also found a way to use his superior swimming skills: he was working as a volunteer with the Department of Natural Resources and the local police in their Search and Rescue scuba team, helping to search for bodies and missing persons. At the same time, he was back at MATC again; he was in an IT program in Renewable Resource Engineering and taking a course in Solar Panelling. And then, outstanding news: he got hired by Elon Musk’s SpaceX. He had started working remotely, but in June he planned to move down to Florida, where they were based. His girlfriend Catherine or Cat was going to join him. They’d buy their own home, and he’d finally be on the same level as his brother Mitchell.

But once again, Chandler had some bad luck. One night, on his way to the bathroom in the dark, he fell down the stairs. His father had heard a slight thud at the time. The accident had lasting repercussions on Chandler’s life. The doctors’ initial diagnosis was that he’d suffered some bruises and what appeared to be a mild concussion. But later on, it seemed that Chandler’s condition had worsened. He started losing feeling in his legs and wasn’t able to stand up for long periods of time or lift heavy objects. Evidently, there was severe nerve damage. And not only that: Chandler had brain bleed and an aneurysm, which could would need surgery. It was likely that due to nerve and spinal damage, he’d eventually become paralysed and have to be fitted with a colostomy bag.

Almost overnight, Chandler had lost everything. His physical condition affected his ability to do his work accurately at SpaceX, and they fired him. His intense migraines prevented him from focusing on his studies, and American Family was close to letting him go. He had to wear a neck brace and sleep on the couch at his parents’ house indefinitely.

Sometimes bad things seem to happen in a sequence. A couple weeks or so before, Chandler’s brother Mitchell had been hospitalised for type 1 diabetes. The parents had dropped everything to be there for Mitchell. Krista stayed by his side to look after him. She’d weep on the phone with her best friend as she revealed how worried she was. His mum had also recently got the news that she had skin cancer. And now, just when she’d digested that news and when his brother seemed to be out of danger, Chandler had his accident.
He felt frustrated and depressed. It felt so unfair to have the bright prospects of his life shattered like this. Fortunately, he was able to talk to Cat his girlfriend. She loved Chandler and would do almost anything for him. He could also talk to Cat’s mother Dulce and Dulce’s lover Cres. They understood his tense living situation with his parents, and just like Cat they wanted to take care of him. In fact, Cat’s mum had even offered to let him move into her house. But in spite of tensions with his parents, Chandler was a devoted son. 

Chandler knew his mum and dad were under a lot of stress and that they were trying to keep it all together. That’s why it didn’t surprise him when his dad blew up at him that day on July 1st. He’d been in the den with his father and the two dogs. He started playing catch with one of the dogs, and while they were playing with the ball, the glass in front of his parents’ fireplace got broken. It was obviously an accident, but for Chandler’s dad it was the last straw. Chandler got a cut on his foot, and Bart also got cut. He was furious. Even though Chandler apologised and offered to clean up the glass, Bart yelled at him and sent him to his room: he’d clean it up himself.  
Later, Chandler heard his dad talking with his mum about taking a short, much-needed vacation to their cabin up north. They’d already been making plans to carpool with another couple on the 4th July weekend. But why not go up a day earlier on Friday instead of Saturday? To Chandler, that seemed like a pleasant change. His parents were always so punctual and reliable. He was glad to hear they’d both play hooky and be a bit irresponsible for once.  

He helped his mum and dad pack their things. He noticed they were bringing a large load of booze and lots of cash. He figured they planned to really let loose up there in Langlade County. But after his dad’s uproar the night before, Chandler kept his mouth shut. When he woke the following morning, they were gone. His mum had left a note reminding him to call their next-door neighbour if he needed help.  

Chandler didn’t hear from his mum until the 4th July: she sent a text saying they’d got there safely and were going to a parade in town. It was a bit unusual for her to send just one text message after several days: she sometimes texted him and Mitchell several times in one day. But then again, the cellphone service was quite patchy up there near Sawyer Lake.  
That was the last message Chandler, Mitchell or anyone else ever got from Krista’s phone. After July 4th, Krista and Bart were never heard from again. They never came back from their trip up to their cabin. In fact, police investigations would reveal they never even made it to their cabin. By the end of July, the remains of Chandler’s parents were found scattered at different locations around Wisconsin.  
The mystery of what happened to Bart and Krista after they left their home on July 2nd shocked and perplexed everyone in the Deforest community. There were questions about why Krista, who was normally such an open book about all her comings and their goings, had been so secretive about this trip. There were questions about why Bart and Krista took such a large quantity of alcohol and cash with them on their trip. And there were questions about the mystery couple who’d picked them up that Friday morning. Who were these people? And what could have transpired that resulted in the body parts of Bart and Krista being found at various locations around Wisconsin? 
“The imagination is the beginning of creation,” as George Bernard Shaw said. These savage crimes had their origin in one person’s imagination. Fuelled by unreasonable desires, an unlikely person concocted these crimes in the imagination. And that same person created the evil that they had willed. In fact, almost everything I’ve just recounted to you about the days leading up to the murder of Bart and Krista Halderson is a complete fabrication, a lie…the product of that one person’s perverse imagination. They were the lies that Chandler Halderson told to his girlfriend and her mother, his brother, his family, friends, neighbours, the media, to the police, to the world, and probably to himself. 
All of these crimes began with a simple lie. When Chandler flunked out of college and moved back in with his parents, he suffered an almost unbearable loss of face. Many young people have experienced something similar: they leave home and taste independence for the first time, together with all the temptations that life at college offers. And they go off the rails. Later, chastised by their parents and humbled by experience, they get their lives back on track, and become more disciplined and focused.  
But for Chandler, the move back home was an unacceptable failure. While he was back at his parents’ house, submitting once more to their rules, his brother Mitchell had scored a salaried position in a tech firm and had moved into his own house with the girl of his dreams. Chandler, by contrast, felt like a loser – looked down on by the world and disrespected by his parents. He felt he had to keep up some semblance of a front at least.  

He told his parents, Cat, and the people around him he was still in college. That thing that happened at MATC the year before, that had nothing to do with him – just bad luck. And now he was doing just great. He made up fake online course schedules – just to make sure that Cat and all the others would believe he had his stuff together. He was going places. Sometimes he told Cat he couldn’t hang out with her; he had a project due, he said, and then, just to make his lie even more convincing, he created an entire fake school project. That’s how dedicated he was to the lie. 
Another of Chandler’s lies was his claim that he had a salaried position at American Family Insurance. His dad, being an accountant, would ask him questions everyday – “Why don’t you ever have any money?” “Why haven’t you paid any rent?” And Chandler would tell him a lie to cover up his initial lie: “Well, I’m a salary guy, but they were accidentally paying me hourly, so they just held my pay checks until they fixed it.” Then, it was, “I gave them the wrong direct deposit info.” And later: “They were going to pay me so much money that when they deposited it in the bank, they thought it might look fake.” 
Having an imaginary job can solve a lot of hassles in your life and prevent a lot of awkward questions. But a problem arises when your dad works from home too and he’s a conscientious, early rising accountant. To keep his dad off his case, Chandler had to get up early too and pretend to log into his imaginary employer’s account. There are documented email exchanges between Chandler and his dad with Bart asking, “Hey, are you up for your meeting?” and Chandler replying, “Yeah!” over and over again. And what did Chandler do after he got up early for his pretend job? Why, he sat on his computer all day playing video games with gamers from around the world. 

Something had to give though: Chandler was working all day at a job that didn’t exist, his father was asking uncomfortable questions, and so he had to figure out something else. Eventually, he hit on it: the best way out of one fictional job is one that’s even more fictional. And so, around May 2021, Chandler told his parents that the job at American Family wasn’t going so well. He’d decided to get a new job: he was going to join Elon Musk. “I work at SpaceX,” he wrote to Cat his girlfriend. “I have a follow-up interview for Florida tomorrow.” And then, “Shoot, I got the job. I have training next week over the computer, leave June 11 and start June 14.” 
But the other lie – the one about college got beyond Chandler’s control. He’d first enrolled at MATC in the spring of 2018, so by 2021 he was supposed to be approaching the date for a graduation he would never have. And so, when his dad demanded to see his transcripts and college receipts for tax purposes, Chandler had to come up with something. With his home computer, he created an email account for an imaginary college advisor he called Daniel Speith. He then sent emails to himself from this fake account, offering help and informing himself that the college was in the process of upgrading its entire computer network and service would likely be disrupted. Later on, Chandler would write emails to Speith complaining of the difficulty he was having obtaining his transcripts and demanding a meeting. He’d show his father the email chain to confirm that there was a failed system within the college’s computer network. Bart demanded to be included in the email chain, and after he demanded a meeting with the imaginary advisor, Chandler bought a burner phone and gave his dad a fake number for Daniel Speith. After Bart spoke with Speith, he sent an email to Krista saying that the advisor sounded a lot like Chandler. But Bart still hadn’t cottoned on to his son’s game. Chandler created other imaginary college advisors – Alyssa Brandt and Aaron Hoover.  
Bart’s correspondence with these fake college advisors – really with his own son – continued for more than a year. Until one day, he’d had enough: on June 29th, he phoned MATC and pretended to be Chandler to try and finally get some info on what was going on.

WI v. Chandler Halderson Trial Day 9 – Omar Jobe – Enrollment Coordinator 

IN: “I’m trying to get an appointment…” 
OUT: …online and request it.”

Bart spoke with Omar Jobe, an enrolment coordinator at MATC. Bart’s manner with Jobe was blunt and combative. That’s because he believed that he and his son had been given the runaround for over a year by MATC as they’d tried to get Chandler’s transcripts, clarify exactly what degree program he was enrolled in, and find out why he hadn’t been allowed to graduate yet. 

0:42 -0:51:  
IN: “Yeah, I tried requesting… 

OUT: …not willing to do that again.”  

Towards the end of the call, the pieces started to come together. Omar Jobe’s answers revealed that Chandler wasn’t even enrolled in any program. Finally, Bart asked for the people whose names he’d seen so often in Chandler’s email correspondence: Daniel Speith, Alyssa Brandt, and Aaron Hoover.

IN: “Do you know or have an Alyssa Brandt…” 
OUT: …you’re welcome.”  

You can hear the gradual shifts in emotion in the father’s voice, as he goes from righteous anger, at what he believes is the college’s bungling, to the realisation that his son had led him up the garden path.  

These words, recorded on Tuesday, June 29th 2021, were the last recorded words of Bart while he was still alive. Shortly after, Bart sent a text message to his son: “I spoke with Omar Jobe.” That text message ultimately sealed the fates of Bart and his wife Krista. 
The events of the next 24 hours are a bit murky. But detectives obtained the records of Chandler’s phone and computer, the security cameras of the Halderson’s neighbours in DeForest, and the sworn testimony of Cat, her mother Dulce, Dulce’s lover Cres, and numerous others. 
After his phone conversation with MATC enrolment coordinator Omar Jobe, Bart’s calendar shows that he made an appointment for himself and his son to have an on-campus meeting with the college officials whose names his son had given him on Thursday July 1st at 3 pm. Of course, none of those college officials were real. Bart knew that, and the appointment that he made for himself and his son makes it clear that Chandler knew that Bart knew. The jig was up, and there was no way for Chandler to wriggle his way out.  
At 7:26, on the morning of Thursday July 1st, Chandler sent a desperate text to Cat: “I hardly slept.” And then at 7:27: “Stuff hasn’t been going well for me lately. Just trying to plan for the next thing to fuck me over.” 
At 7:51 a.m., he wrote, “I had a great future planned; it’s falling apart.”  
He sent no more texts to Cat until hours later at 1:04 pm: “I overheard they [his parents] might go to the cabin with their friends, but I don’t know.” 
At about 2:15 pm, Bart Halderson was evidently getting ready to go with Chandler to their 3 o’clock meeting at MATC. He sent this text message to his son: “I’m ready whenever you are.”  
Bart’s phone was never used again. No ever saw him again. The neighbourhood where the Haldersons live, in which there are security cameras at every house, never saw Bart again. 
At about 3 pm, when he was supposed to go with Chandler to their meeting at MATC, Bart was shot by his son several times in the back with a high-powered rifle.  
After shooting his dad, Chandler texted his mum at work: “Dad’s phone died. Text or call me. And get soda on your way home. I have an extra hour of work.” 
Of course, Chandler didn’t have an extra hour of work; he didn’t actually have a job. But this extra hour allowed him to prepare for what he was about to do next.  
His mother responded to Chandler’s text in her usual upbeat, loving way: “Okay, I can. [Smiley Face].” Those were the last words of Krista alive. Shortly afterwards, at about 5 pm, neighbourhood security cameras showed Krista pulling up in her car, getting out, and walking into the Halderson house. She was never seen alive again. 
Investigators aren’t exactly sure how Chandler murdered his mother, whether he used the same rifle he used to shoot his father; or whether he shot her in the back, bludgeoned her to death, or simply strangled her.  
But they have a note that Chandler created on his phone, in which he lists his weekend chores: “H202 Lemon, door handles, move your shit upstairs, get a job, and clean the floor.” H2O is the chemical name for hydrogen peroxide, a household cleaner used to clean up blood.    
He spent the rest of the day cleaning the house, and then he took a shower and Facetimed Cat from the shower. Afterwards, they said their good nights, but Chandler didn’t go to bed. Instead, he went to a gas station to buy several large bags of ice. He needed the ice to store his parents’ bodies. 
Later that night, the evidence shows, he used hand-saws, an axe, and scissors from around the house to decapitate his parents and cut up their limbs. He stored their dismembered bodies in the house’s freezers. After this bloody business, he cleaned up the house as best he could. But police would still find blood spatter all around the house. 

Chandler’s initial plan to dispose of his parents’ bodies was to burn them piecemeal in the fireplace. Late that night and over the next night, neighbours smelled what they thought was someone having a barbecue. The burning went on all night. A distant neighbour’s security camera caught the light from the Halderson fireplace flickering throughout the night. At one point, Chandler lost control of the fire and tried to cool it with water. There was evidence of an explosion which shattered the glass in the fireplace. And police would later find remnants of human skulls in the fireplace’s ash trap. 
Over the weekend of July 3rd to 4th Chandler spent time with his girlfriend, but at certain times when he’d told her he’d be at home, his phone records show that he was out by Wisconsin River dumping his mother’s remains.  
On Sunday the 4th July, Chandler sent a message to himself using his mother’s phone, announcing that Krista and Bart had arrived safely at their cabin. Later that day, Chandler and Cat visited the farm belonging to Cres, the lover of Cat’s mother. Cres has a swimming pool on her property, and under the pretext of the benefits for his health, Chandler asked if he could come back and use it. 
Cres was surprised when Chandler showed up the following day, on Monday to use the pool, but she allowed him to use it. When she went to check on him, she saw him instead walking out of the woods. Police would later find the body parts of his father buried in these same woods. 
On Wednesday 7th July, Chandler walked into the Dane County Sheriff’s to report his parents missing. Detectives interviewed him later that night, and he told them the story that I’ve already recounted to you. The detectives noticed that Bart and Krista’s cars were still parked in their garage.  
On Thursday 8th July, the police found Bart’s body parts on Cres’s farm in the area where Chandler had been seen. They also found a pair of scissors, a saw blade and bolt cutters hidden in a nearby water tank. In the meantime, Chandler had been growing increasingly alarmed by the large police presence outside his home. He did a Google search for the terms “body found Wisconsin” and “dismembered body found.” Later, he asked a neighbour if their Ring doorbell might have captured video of the road or the Halderson home. That night, Detectives Brian Shunk and William Hendrickson of the Dane County Sheriff’s Office took Chandler in for further questioning.

Chandler Halderson Interrogation Police Interview

0:18 – 0:27 
IN: “What’s going on…?” 
OUT: …a little bit more, okay?”

Chandler said that he was still feeling the effects of concussion from his imaginary injury, but over the next hour and 40 minutes or so, he fabricated another story about the sequence of events that began on Wednesday, 30th June.

4:39 – 6:16 

IN: “I was with my dad…” 

OUT: “…I believe so, yeah.” 

As the interview progressed, the detectives took down pages of notes and appeared to allow themselves to be led by Chandler. Their apparent gullibility made Chandler increasingly more confident as he embellished his story with more details.

18:06 – 18:29 

IN: “That’s where they told me…” 

OUT: “…talk while he eats.” 

Chandler’s addition of these tiny mundane details of his parents’ every day habits showed how confident he’d become. It seemed as if he himself believed the story he was telling. At one point, the detectives asked why his parents’ blood was found spattered about the house, and Chandler provided them with a stunning answer.

1:23:37 – 1:25:24 

IN: “Well, my dad scratches his psoriasis…” 

OUT: “…can’t feel it anymore.” 

The detectives flipped through their pages of notes without speaking for a minute or so. Chandler suddenly became uncertain. The detectives asked several questions about his parents’ cabin. And then they turned the tables on Chandler.

1:32:44 – 1:32:58 

IN: “We got all the background, I think.” 

OUT: “…the truthful version.” 

Stunned, Chandler looked from one detective to the other. For a moment, it seemed as if the thought of jumping up and running to escape crossed his mind. But how could he? Where would he go? He was trapped.  
For the first time, perhaps, in many years, he would be forced to face up to the consequences of his lies.

1:32:59 – 1:33:54 

IN: “So, we have like 20 pages…” 

OUT: “yeah, okay…”

Chandler shook his head in denial, hung his head down, then looked up, then twitched and fidgeted like a trapped wild creature. His entire imaginary world had come crashing to a halt.

1:34:20 – 1:35:12  

IN: “You’re under arrest.” 

OUT: “…and I think you know that.” 

The detectives arrested Chandler for giving them false information about his parents’ disappearance. He offered to tell them everything. “You don’t know the full story.” Then he said he didn’t feel bad about what he did.  
He was charged with 8 counts including his parents’ murders, mutilating a corpse, hiding a corpse, and providing false information about a missing person. He plead not guilty.  
The defence did not call any witnesses; neither did it bring Chandler to the stand. They reasoned that because he was a noted liar the jury would not be inclined to believe a word he said. The prosecution’s case against Chandler had been built over eight days of testimony and dozens of witnesses, and in the later days of the trial, the more substantial evidence of DNA and fingerprints.  
Yet, for all this, the defence still claimed in their closing argument there was no proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Chandler had in fact committed these horrific crimes.  
Everybody lies, they said. Everybody fabricates the world according to their desires, the world they want to live in. “And what does it matter?” Did Chandler’s lies provide a motive for his crimes? Did the mere fact that he lived within his imagination necessitate murder?  
There are plenty of reasons to doubt that a first-degree intentional homicide occurred, they said. Yet oddly, they could provide no substantial reasons for this doubt. They wished to question the assumptions behind the accusations against Chandler, but they refused to call him to refute those assumptions.  
The defence raised the big question as to why someone would commit crimes of such primordial brutality – the murder and desecration of one’s own parents. Of course, the prosecution was under no obligation to prove a motive. But yet it’s a question that lingers with us still, long after the trial and sentencing.  
Chandler was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

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