Serial & Undisclosed - True Crime



Serial season one, is a non-fiction podcast about the murder of an American high school student, Hae Min Lee. Her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, is convicted and jailed for the murder. His family, believing in his innocence, have written to many people in an effort to get help. Journalist Sarah Koenig responded with the first season of Serial.

Koenig tries very hard to be impartial. Sometimes she is sure Adnan is innocent, particularly when she has been talking to him and he seems so innocent, and other times she looks at the evidence and feels that he must be guilty. Rather than go down a rabbit hole, though, of trying to find out for sure one way or another, she puts a time limit on the research and when she gets to the end of the series she stops.

However, Serial, Season one, spawned a lot of interest, leading other people to blog about different aspects of the case, and leading to a sequel podcast called Undisclosed, in which the makers do not bother trying to be impartial, but say up front that they believe Adnan is innocent and go from there.

The story is roughly that in 1999, Hae, on her way after school one winter’s day to pick up a young cousin from daycare, disappeared. Six weeks later she was found dead.

In Serial, Koenig’s concern is the fluidity of memory. Six weeks after Hae disappeared, her high school friends were called upon to remember a bunch of details about what happened that day. (Say what? Who can remember yesterday?) Sometimes they recalled incidents around a sporting event, something that happened at practice, or when they played another school. Sometimes these memories could be proven wrong because the date is wrong: the school didn’t play against that other team that day, or even that week or month. There is a calendar of events to check against. Often there is nothing to check against. To top it off, the students, including Adnan, were hiding their involvement in drugs; finding alibis got complicated.

Then a young man told the police a story about Adnan murdering Hae and hiding her body in the trunk of his car.

Serial was interesting because it showed the law in practice, as opposed to theory, but it drew no conclusion about Adnan’s case.

The cew of Undisclosed take a harder look. At first it seems exciting: it turns out that the reason Hae’s disappearance was taken seriously by the police from the very first, rather than waiting a day or two, was that there was not one but two serial killers out of jail and in the vicinity when she disappeared. One had form for killing Asian girls, the other high school girls. One of them was in a house opposite a bank teller that Hae might have used on her way to pick up her cousin. Despite the police concern, they apparently didn’t think to put out a request for sightings of her car. Consequently, traffic police in a neighbouring district noted the presence of the abandoned car but didn’t know to advise anyone of it.

Episodes of Undisclosed describe ineptitude after ineptitude, and yet don’t seem to go anywhere in the end.

PS: I saw in the newspaper a few days ago that Syed's case is going to be retried. It seemed from the article I saw that the main reason for this was that there was a witness chatting with him in the school library at exactly the time the police believe the murder was committed. If you listen to Serial, you'll find there is an episode w here it turns out that the witness herself had not realised what the timing of that chat signified. So the story continues.