On July 13, 2019, 57-year-old teacher Denise Hallowell was found dead with an axe in her head by her adopted son Carlos Hallowell. When 17-year-old Carlos called the police he told them that he and his mother had attended a funeral that day, and returned home between 2 and 3 p.m. and that he had discovered her body after their barking dogs woke him up from a nap.
At first, he told police that his relationship with his mother had been “great,” but soon he opened up about alleged abuse in the home. He stated that he had moved out of the home several times because his adopted mom had been so controlling. Just a few months before her death, Denise had found out that Carlos had been expelled from school for a while and had kept it a secret from her.
Three years prior Denise had been arrested for child abuse for keeping a 12-year-old boy locked up in her house with a cot and a bucket to use the toilet. The boy in question was Carlos’ younger brother. Carlos’ room at the time was fully furnished. Carlos had been adopted from Guatemala, and the younger boy had been adopted from Honduras.
At the time Denise had admitted to spanking the younger boy and nailing his windows shut to prevent him from sneaking out. She denied allegations of beating him in the groin or making him do chores without clothes on. Carlos told police that he had participated in the boy’s abuse by holding him down while Denise beat him, which Denise also denied. The child abuse arrest led Denise to lose her teaching job.
The axe that killed Denise belonged to the family, and Carlos told police that he had recently used it to chop down a tree. However, no evidence of a felled tree on the property was found. A neighbor’s cat had recently been “sliced in half,” which raised fears that there may be an axe killer on the loose.
Denise’s cellphone was missing, and there were no security cameras at the house although Denise had told her friends she had three that she could access from her home. Police later found the wires where the cameras had been uninstalled. Her cellphone and three security cameras were found in the lake behind the house. Although they had been submerged in the lake, the electronic devices still had data that proved Carlos was lying about taking a nap before and during his mother’s murder.
After Carlos was confronted with this evidence that contradicted his story, he confessed that he had murdered his mother after an argument. He said he usually would chop wood to get out his anger after an argument, but on this day he used the axe on his mother instead.
Prosecutors argued that the murder was premediated because he had spent an hour-and-a-half getting the axe and sharpening it. Carlos’ defense team tried to reduce his charge to manslaughter by arguing that he had not intended to kill his mother, but had been driven to the violent act because of her abuse of him.
Carlos was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for first-degree murder in 2021. He was not eligible for the death penalty because he was a minor when he killed his mother.