Goodbye, "Serial": A comprehensive guide to the case's baffling twists and turns

The journey ends tomorrow, so here's a refresher course on everything we know so far


Anna Silman
December 18, 2014 5:15AM (UTC)

The final episode of Sarah Koenig’s runaway smash hit podcast "Serial" airs tomorrow, and it has been one hell of a ride. Here’s a not-so-quick refresher course on the many ups and downs, red herrings, shifting allegiances and nagging questions we’ve been confronted with over the past 11 episodes. Mail Kimp 4 ever, guys.

Episode 1: The basics 

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What’s it about: Sarah establishes the fundamentals of the case and introduces the main players.

Evidence: “The Asia letters” — i.e., letters from an acquaintance of Adnan’s named Asia McLean, who says she saw Adnan in the school library around the time when the prosecution alleges Hae’s murder took place. Curiously, Adnan’s defense attorney never calls Asia to testify.

Key quotes: “This is a Global-Tel link prepaid call from Adnan Syed an inmate at a Maryland Correctional facility …”

“Someone is lying … and I really wanted to find out who.” --Sarah Koenig

Notable supporting characters: Asia, Rabia

Nagging questions: Why didn’t Adnan’s defense lawyer call Asia to testify?

“I just hope that Adnan isn't some sick bastard just trying to manipulate his way out of jail,” Asia writes to Koenig, who responds: "Believe me, I'm on exactly the same page.” But is he!?!?

Wait, would I be able to remember where I was six weeks ago if somebody questioned me?

Who looks bad: Too soon to tell, but that guy Jay sounds a little fishy.

Episode 2: Teenage love story

What’s it about: The prosecution alleged that Adnan killed Hae because he was furious about the breakup. Using Hae’s diary and testimony from friends, Koenig attempts to establish the nature of Hae and Adnan’s relationship at the time.

New evidenceHae’s diary and testimony from high school friends and from Adnan’s parents. Most people say that Adnan took the breakup pretty well. He was seeing other girls, including a girl called Nisha from Silver Spring.

Key quotes: "No one at the time described Adnan as acting obsessed or menacing in any way. Not even Aisha. And in her diary, Hae never expresses any concerns about Adnan’s post breakup behavior … At this point, I’m going to say flat out that I don’t buy the motive for this murder.” -- Koenig

“I’m not a detective but I consider this a red flag. What I don’t know is is this a teeny tiny red flag like he just got confused and so what? Or is this like a great big flapping in the breeze red flag?” -- Koenig, on Adnan changing his story about the ride

Notable supporting characters: Adnan’s mother Shamim, Hae and Adnan’s friends -- including Aisha Pittman

Nagging questions: The night before Hae disappeared, Adnan called her cellphone three times, allegedly to give her his new number. That's a lot of times. Why??

We also learn a detail that “doesn’t look good for Adnan,” which is that some of their friends recall Adnan asking Hae for a ride, even though Adnan claims he didn’t ask her for a ride. And, damningly, on the day of Hae’s disappearance, Adnan told the cops that he was supposed to get a ride with Hae. Why would he change his story?

Who looks bad: Jay, still, and Adnan too. So, everybody.

Episode 3: Pee-gate: Mr. S and Leakin Park

What’s it about: We meet Mr. S, the man who found the body in Leakin Park, under some potentially shady circumstances.

New evidence: The Brandy bottle near the body (which proves to be irrelevant … Mr. S doesn’t drink Brandy), and Mr. S’s polygraph test (he fails the first one and passes the second).

Key quotes: From an unidentified Baltimore man Koenig speaks to: “While you’re digging in Leakin Park to bury your body, you’re gonna find somebody else’s. That’s Leakin Park.”

Notable supporting characters: Mr. S, detectives Bill Ritz and Greg MacGillivary.

Nagging questions: Why did Mr. S walk so far from his car to pee? And how was he able to notice the body, when it was very camouflaged? Could Mr. S really just be a random creepy streaker who went to pee in Leakin park coincidentally near Hae’s dead body, who isn’t involved in this story at all?

Also, Detective MacGillivary tells Koenig briefly “beyond question, he did it,” about Adnan. Why is he so sure?

Who looks bad: Mr. S, at first, then not as much.

Episode 4: Jay’s very inconsistent story

What’s it about: We learn how the case against Adnan began, in the form of testimony from Jay and his friend Jenn Pusateri. We hear about Jay’s shifting and inconsistent testimony, which Koenig feels the police don’t scrutinize enough.

New evidence: Jay’s ironclad — sorry, terrifyingly inconsistent — testimony. Ditto Jenn.

Key quotes: On Jay and Adnan’s relationship, we get this from Koenig: “It’s not like there was some secret feud between Jay and Adnan, at least not that I know of. There was no drug deal gone wrong. Neither had bad-mouthed the other or stolen the other's girlfriend. To hear Adnan tell it, it sounds like they didn't even know each other very well.”

Jay says Adnan would have called him to help because, quote: “I’m the criminal element of Woodlawn.”

Koenig on Jay: “He's the biggest mystery of this whole case for me.”

Notable supporting characters: Jay, Jenn Pusateri.

Nagging questions: Ugh, so many.

- Who made the initial anonymous call to detectives that led them to get Adnan’s cell records?

- Why did Jenn say she picked them up at Westview mall, when Jay said he got dropped off at her house? (And what is Jenn’s deal anyway?)

- Why did Jay help Adnan bury the body at such a great risk to himself instead of going to the cops? Why did Jay reach out to Adnan? They aren’t even friends!

- Why did Adnan give Jay his car and his cellphone?

- Why isn’t Adnan more mad at Jay???

- Why does Jay keep changing his story? What happened to the trip to Patapsco State Park? Why did he say that they both smoked weed, and then say that it was just him? Why did he initially say Adnan only mentioned killing Hae that day, then he later said Adnan had started talking about the murder days before?

- And the biggest one of all: Where did Adnan first show Jay Hae’s body in the trunk? In interview No. 1, Jay says Adnan called at 3:45 to pick him up at Edmonson Avenue. Later, he will say that Jay called him to pick him up at Best Buy, just as Jenn had said originally. He says he lied about the location because he figured there were cameras at Best Buy (turns out there were none) and that someone had seen the murder go down, and that he was afraid because he was associated. How does this even make sense?

…AND, if Jay is lying, how did he know where Hae’s car was?

Who looks bad: Jay. Why does that guy keep changing his story? But then again, if Jay’s story was so inconsistent, why did cops end up believing it — nay, hinging their entire case on it? So also: the criminal justice system.

Episode 5: Cell logs, so many cell logs

What’s it about: This episode deals mainly with the cell tower log and is perhaps the most intricate and technical episode so far. In it, Koenig and producer Dana Chivis attempt to re-create the state’s timeline.

New evidence: The cellphone logs. Particularly damning is the two incoming calls to Adnan’s phone at 7:09 and 7:16 that ping a cell tower in Leakin Park, where the body was being buried. It seems highly likely that the cellphone was in Leakin Park at that time. As Koenig says, “That looks pretty bad for Adnan. Also: The Nisha call.

Key quotes: This banter between Koenig and Chivis: “Isn’t that sort of tantamount to saying ‘I think Jay’s telling the truth?’” “I’m saying I think the cell phone was in Leakin Park.”

Jay:  "‘I told them the truth, I did not show them a location that was true.’” Koenig: “As oxymoronic as it sounds, I think I see what he is saying. Yes, I told some lies, but I told the truth. Overall, I told the truth. There are parts of Jay’s story that make no sense, where it seems like there must have been more going on than he’s saying. But here’s what’s also the truth. You can say the same thing about Adnan’s story too.”

Dana: “There’s a shrimp sale at the Crab Crib.”

Notable supporting characters: Dana, the cellphone expert guy

Nagging questions: Could Adnan really have gotten from Woodlawn to Best Buy and committed murder by strangulation between 2:15 and 2:36?

- What is the deal with the 2:36 call (the “come get me, I’m at Best Buy” call)? Not only does Adnan have an alibi for that, with the Asia letters, but that call time is based on nobody’s testimony. Jay says the call happened around or 3:45, but there’s no call around this time, so the state goes with the closest one. And how did he make the call if there’s no phone booth at Best Buy?

- How the hell did the jury stay awake through this cellphone part of the trial?

- Sure, the state’s timeline matches up with the cell towers after 6:07 p.m. But what about the entire day before? The state’s is logistically very problematic, and based on site tests that prosecutor Casey Murphy and a cell expert did at the time, from about 12:07-6:07, Jay’s story does not line up with the cellphone calls.

- And that said ... If he was innocent why was Adnan's cellphone in Leakin Park that night?

Who looks bad: Adnan. The combo package of the Nisha call and the Leakin Park cell tower do not look so good.

Episode 6: Maybe Adnan actually did it?

What’s it about: Koenig investigates everything else that looks bad for Adnan.

New evidence: The letter from Hae that Adnan and Aisha were writing notes on, that says in pen “I’m going to kill.”

- A guy named Dave tells the cops that a “neighbor boy” told his daughter he had seen the body of an Asian girl in a car trunk. Koenig talks to Dave’s daughter, Laura, who says the neighbor boy said the friend who showed him the body was named Adnan. But later she speaks to the neighbor boy and he denies the whole story and says he has never seen a dead body.

- Cathy’s testimony that Adnan was acting very suspicious at her house.

- THE NISHA CALL (again)

Key quotes: Adnan gets a call while at Cathy’s, during which Cathy remembers him saying, “What am I going to do? What am I gonna say? They’re gonna come talk to me. What am I supposed to say?”

Says Koenig: “I see many problems with the state’s case. But then, I see many problems with Adnan’s story too. And so I start to doubt him, I talk to him and talk to him, and I start to doubt my doubts. And then I worry that I’m a sucker, that I don’t know. That’s the cycle.”

Notable supporting characters: Nisha (and Nisha’s invisible answering machine), Cathy

Nagging questions: If Adnan wasn’t with Jay at the time, why was there an outgoing call to Nisha, somebody only Adnan knew? Could it have really been a two and a half minute butt dial?

- Wouldn’t Adnan remember more about this day, seeing as he got a call from the police on this day, just making it not just another average day?

- Why did Adnan never once call to try and locate Hae once he knew she was missing?

- Where did the “I’m going to kill” note come from?

- What’s the deal with this neighbor boy?

- Why is Cathy so convinced that Adnan was acting fishy at her place if he wasn’t indeed acting fishy at her place?

Who looks bad: Adnan. Yikes.

Episode 7: The Innocence Project

What’s it about: Koenig talks to Deirdre Enright, who runs the Innocence Project at the University of Virginia School of Law, about Adnan’s case.

Evidence: The insights of Deirdre Enright, who has years of experience in cases like this. As she puts it: “I look at this as, this is just a case that wasn’t ready to be brought. You don’t have enough to put Adnan away.”

Key quotes:  Could Adnan be a sociopath? It seems unlikely. Enright says: “In my 26 years of doing this, I pray for a sociopath, because I never get those guys. I get the innocent ones and I get these dumb “so me and my friends smoked crack for three days and drank five bottles of whatever and then we got a plan.” That’s who I get. All. The. Time. So, I think the odds of you getting the charming sociopath, you’re just not that lucky.”

Notable supporting characters: Deirdre Enright and her pro-government right-wing Republican operative, Mario

Nagging questions: Why DNA was so underused in the initial case?

- Why was the liquor body found near Hae’s body never tested for DNA, and why weren’t the fibers found underneath Hae’s body tested against a rope found nearby?

- Was racial profiling a factor?

- How did Adnan get convicted with such scant evidence?

Who looks bad: Jay. Also, kind of Sarah Koenig. Also, the detectives on the case who could have used a little CSI …

Episode 8: What’s up with that guy Jay 

What’s it about: Koenig investigates what made Jay a credible witness, and tries to demystify the human cipher at the heart of this case.

Evidence: Juror testimony and testimony from Jay’s friends and classmates, Koenig and Snyder’s instincts about Jay when they meet him. Plus: Detective Trainum’s expertise.

Key quotes: As Koenig says: “You gotta wonder whether moments like this hurt Adnan’s case rather than helped it, because Jay seems like the underdog. It’s Baltimore. Half the jury is black, seven out of 12, actually. Jay probably comes off as a nice young man and this white lady is yelling at him.”

When asked why the image of Hae in the trunk stuck with him, Jay says: “I’ve never seen anyone dead before, and the first thing I thought was how fragile Stephanie was.”

“He was like the Rodman of our social world,” says one of Jay's classmates. “He was the one black kid that had a lip ring and listened to Rage Against the Machine," says another.

Julie Snyder on Jay, after meeting him: “You know, you’re face to face, he’s right there, he’s a person. He’s saying it. He seems like he really means it."

Notable supporting characters: Julie, Jim Trainum

Nagging questions: Why is Cristina Gutierrez so damn annoying?

- Could Jay actually be telling the truth? And in that case, where does that leave us?

- What happened in the interrogation room with Jay before the videotape was turned on?

- if Detective Trainum thinks this is a “pretty sound investigation,” then what does an u-sound investigation look like?

- Is "Serial" racist?

Who looks bad: Adnan again, sort of?

Episode 9: OK, so maybe Adnan didn’t do it?

What it's about: After revealing some new bits of evidence, most of this episode focuses on what Adnan went through during the trial.

Evidence: A friend of Adnan and Hae called Laura tells Koenig that there was definitely no pay phone at Best Buy, which makes the 2:36 call seem increasingly unlikely. Meanwhile, Hae’s co-wrestling team manage Summer says she was with Hae at school at 3 p.m. Also, Koenig reveals it may have been Aisha who made the call to Adnan at Cathy’s, after which she thought he seemed rattled.

Key quotes: The judge says to Adnan: “You used that intellect, you used that physical strength, you used that charismatic ability of yours that made you the president or the- what was it?- the king or the prince of your prom? You used that to manipulate people and even today, I think you continue to manipulate even those that love you, as you did to the victim. You manipulated her to go with you to her death.”

Notable supporting characters: Krista, whom Adnan wrote to while he was in jail initially

Nagging questions: If the 2:36 call isn’t the “come get me, I’m at Best Buy call,” then how can we trust the prosecution’s timeline at all?

Who looks bad: Laura the record thief (at least she admitted her guilt, unlike everyone else in this story)

Episode 10: Gutierrez — Not a good lawyer

What’s it about: This episode focuses on the criminal justice system. Was the system biased against Adnan because he’s Muslim? And did Gutierrez bungle the case?

New evidence: We learn about the unraveling of Cristina Gutierrez, how her behavior got increasingly unusual and erratic during the second trial and kept asking Adnan’s family for money, while failing to pay expert witnesses what they were owed.

We also hear testimony from Adnan’s mother, Shamin Rahman, who thinks that the family was discriminated against because they are Muslim.

Key quotes: The prosecutor’s racist remarks: “He is unique because he has limitless resources, he has the resources of this entire community here. Investigation reveals that he can tag resources from Pakistan as well. It’s our position, Your Honor, that if you issue a bail, then you are issuing him a passport under these circumstances to flee the country. We do not want another Sheinbein situation your honor.”

Koenig: “I don’t want to overdo it here, but it’s possible that had this bench conference not happened, Adnan’s whole life could have been different."

Koenig: “I wish I could complain to a judge every time someone called me an asshole.”

Nagging questions: Would Adnan have got off if not for Gutierrez? What caused her to unravel like this? Did she mess up the case on purpose?

Did Adnan suffer discrimination?

- Why did the prosecutor get Jay a lawyer when it’s so clearly against the rules?

Notable supporting characters: Cristina Gutierrez, aka the “pitbull on the pant leg of justice."

Who looks bad: Gutierrez, the judicial system

Episode 11: Adnan Syed, golden child

What’s it about: Koenig continues to interrogate Adnan’s personality by speaking to an expert on psychopathy, and by looking at testimony and rumors from within Adnan’s close-knit Muslim community. We also hear a lot from Adnan himself.

Evidence: Adnan stole money from the mosque.

Key quotes: Koenig talks to Charles Ewing, a forensic psychologist and frequent expert witness in murder trials, who says it's unlikely that Adnan is a psychopath: “Most psychopaths aren’t killers and most killers aren’t psychopaths,” he says.

Adnan: “The reality of it is I’m just a normal person.”

Adnan, to Koenig: "You go from my savior to my executioner on a flip-flop flip-flop, like Mitt Romney ... You’re publicly shaming me for something I never denied, and what does it have to do with the case?"

Key supporting characters: A bunch of anonymous callers

Nagging questions: What was the big rumor that Koenig mentions but doesn’t explain?

- OK, but why are there so many psychopath killers on TV if there aren’t that many in real life?

- Is all Adnan’s past shadiness just because he didn’t want to mess with his upcoming appeal? As Koenig says, “there’s another factor I haven’t mentioned, and that is, as a defense attorney’s explained to me, no good can come, and in fact only harm can come, from Adnan attempting to contact or influence people on the outside who are connected to his case.”

- Was listening to this podcast totally unethical on our part?

Who looks bad: Sarah Koenig, sort of. Also, us, for being complicit in this whole thing.


Anna Silman

MORE FROM Anna SilmanFOLLOW annaesilman

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