On Friday, September 13, Netflix released a new limited series that truly adopts the definition of its title. Unbelievable is the story of a girl known as Marie who, in 2008, was victim-blamed and coerced into falsifying her own rape story.
Played by Kaitlyn Dever in Unbelievable, Marie was forced to move on with her life, carrying the trauma of her attack and the associated lies, until two years later, when she was randomly approached by police. They informed her that multiple other women were assaulted in the same exact fashion, and evidence was found to prove her innocence.
The entire investigation and Marie's perspective were published in "An Unbelievable Story of Rape," a Pulitzer prize-winning report from ProPublica and The Marshall Project. The in-depth piece considers every disturbing detail, most of which were studied and implemented (many times word for word) into the story's TV rendition. A dive into either version serves as a testament to how sexual assault survivors are often dismissed by the people they're supposed to trust the most.
So, what really happened during Marie's case? Here are eight important details you should know about the true story that inspired Unbelievable.
Marie grew up in foster care and was a regular victim of abuse.
Marie—which was the real victim's middle name—lived in Lynwood, Washington, where she bounced around from foster home to foster home and endured physical and sexual abuse, according to ProPublica. Even after everything she had been through, Marie still found her happiest years when she was 16 and 17.
At 18, Marie moved into her own subsidized apartment for young adults transitioning from the system to the real world through a program called Project Ladder. "It was just nice to be on my own and not have all the rules that I had had being in foster care," Marie told ProPublica. "It was just like, freedom."
In August 2008, she was attacked at knifepoint and raped in her apartment.
According to the ProPublica report, Marie spent most of the night on the phone with her friend Jordan before finally dozing off. She was jolted awake by a masked man with a knife who tied her up with her own shoe strings, blindfolded, gagged, and raped her. After the attacker left, Marie was able to get a drawer open with her feet and cut herself free using a pair of scissors. She then called a neighbor, who called 911.
Police discovered that the back sliding door was left slightly ajar and a wooden porch that was covered in dirt, except for one area "where it looked like maybe someone had brushed the surface while climbing over," the report stated. They also found one of Marie's kitchen knives next to the bed and her learner's permit—oddly removed from her wallet—on the bedroom windowsill.
Her foster mom invalidated her story to police, leading detectives to coerce her into rescinding the report—twice.
Marie spent time with two former foster moms in the days following her rape—Peggy Cunningham and Shannon McQuery. They both developed doubts about the assault. McQuery's began when she took Marie to buy new bedding—the old had been taken as evidence, per the report—and Marie insisted on purchasing the same set she had before. "Why would you want to have the same sheets and bedspread to look at every day when you'd been raped on this bed set?" she asked, per ProPublica. When Cunningham received a call from a crying Marie, she recounted that "it sounded like a lot of drama."
According to the report, Cunningham called Sgt. Jeffrey Mason, a detective on the case, the day after the assault occurred to report that Marie had a "past history of trying to get attention" and she was unsure whether or not the attack actually took place. Two days later, Marie was questioned further by the detectives and persuaded to write not one, but two counter statements. The first one wasn't good enough because it claimed that she dreamt her rape.
"Why didn't you write that you made the story up?" Detective Sgt. Jerry Rittgarn asked Marie, according to the report. Crying, said she was "pretty positive" the rape occurred, and that wasn't affirmative enough for the cops. Both Rittgarn and Mason then asked her to write out the actual truth. Marie realized that surrendering to a lie was her only way out, and wrote the following statement:
"I have had a lot of stressful things going on and I wanted to hang out with someone and no one was able to so I made up this story and didn't expect it to go as far as it did. … I don't know why I couldn't have done something different. This was never meant to happen."
After leaving the station, Marie told her case managers that the police accused her of lying and decided to go back and refute it. While her managers waited outside, Marie insisted with Rittgarn that her attack did happen, and that she wanted to take a lie detector test to prove her innocence. He told her that if she failed, she could be jailed, and her housing assistance pulled. Marie conceded and later told her case managers that she, in fact, had not been raped.
She was charged with filing a false report, mental health counseling for "her lying," supervised probation, and a $500 fine.
Marie struggled to regain normalcy after admitting to making up her attack. And to make matters worse, she received a letter stating that she was wanted in court and being charged with false reporting, punishable by up to a year in jail. She attended the hearing with only a public defender and no one else, where she was offered a plea deal of counseling, supervised probation, and $500 in court costs. In an effort to close and lock the lid on the event forever, she accepted. Her lawyer assumed Marie was faced with the charge merely because she wasted the detectives' time.
In January 2011, a rape similar to Marie's was reported. It was found to be linked to four other attacks.
Detective Stacy Galbraith (portrayed as character Karen Duvall in Unbelievable, played by Merritt Wever) sat on the couch across from her husband, also a cop, and described her work day in detail. A woman had been attacked at knifepoint, tied up, and raped in her home in Golden, Colorado. "We have one just like that," he said, perturbed. He worked for a police department 15 miles northeast of Galbraith's. She called its authorities the next morning, and was immediately paired with Westminster Detective Edna Hendershot (portrayed as character Grace Rasmussen in Unbelievable, played by Toni Collette).
Hendershot told her about a 2010 Westminster rape case that was eerily similar to Galbratih's in Golden. A black-masked man jolted awake a 59-year-old woman, tied her up, and took pictures of her. Hendershot also knew of a 2009 case that occurred in Aurora—the attacker's methods were identical. The dots were connecting themselves, and amidst their search for more, they uncovered another victim who had escaped a similar attack around the same time. She jumped from her bedroom window before she was raped in her home in Lakewood.
Evidence from multiple crime scenes under different Colorado jurisdictions pointed to the same perpetrator, who was eventually identified as Marc O'Leary.
Matching evidence collected from two separate crime scenes confirmed to Galbraith and Hendershot that they were connected. Additionally, DNA samples obtained from three of the linked crimes pinpointed a paternal family line to question. Then, the surfacing of a suspicious vehicle report gave them their next clue.
Three weeks prior to the Lakewood victim's attempted rape, a 1993 white Mazda containing a mysterious man was parked near an empty field diagonal from her backyard. The vehicle was registered under Marc Patrick O'Leary. And although the attacker always masked his identity, one of the victims could specifically recall a distinct birthmark on his calf—the final piece to the puzzle that would ultimately expose him. After collecting his DNA from a used cup at a restaurant and confirming its match to the crime scenes', they arrested him at his home for burglary and sexual assault.
Marie's linkage to the investigation wasn't discovered until after O'Leary's arrest.
Authorities searched O'Leary's home and found all corroborating evidence: the camera stolen from a victim and used to photograph multiple women, various ropes and belts used to bind them, and a collection of women's underwear. Most of it didn't take them by surprise, except for one photo of an unidentified, bound teenage girl. A learner's permit was placed on her chest. It was Marie.
Marie's record was expunged, she was refunded the $500 fee, and she sued the city of Lynwood for $150,000.
Two years after her attack, Lynwood police found Marie and informed her of O'Leary's arrest. Her record was cleared and her fees returned. Both former foster moms apologized for mistrusting her. She experienced so many emotions at once, but mostly, she wished she would have never been swayed by those detectives. "Because I feel that if I would have shut my mouth," she said. "They would have done their job."
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Netflix's 'Unbelievable' Reveals the True Story Behind a Horrifying Sexual Assault, Source:https://www.prevention.com/life/a29040314/netflix-unbelievable-true-story-rape-case/