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‘Serial’ podcast theories: The wildest conspiracies on the Internet
Who really killed Hae? Is Jay a criminal informant? Is Adnan Syed a psychopath? And how long has Sarah Koenig been involved?
Warning: This post contains spoilers for Serial episodes 1 through 6.
Admit it: The podcast Serial has taken over every aspect of your waking life. You hum the interstitial music when you’re on the train. You’ve withheld sex from your significant other until they catch up to where you are on the podcast. You have an ongoing chat called “Serial Box” with your coworkers, where you raise your suspicions about the neighbor boy and make fun of the MailChimp ads that play before every episode. And you’ve definitely, at more than one point, tweeted the hashtag #FreeAdnan.
But no matter how obsessed you are with Serial, and no matter how much you look forward to Thursday rolling around, you’re probably not as obsessed as the amateur sleuths on r/serialpodcast, the subreddit devoted to Serial conspiracy theories where redditors discuss everything from Jay’s inexplicable absence from the podcast to that pesky Nisha call.
Put on your Sherlock Holmes hats and cue up the NPR studio music, because we’ve rounded up some of the best (and worst) Serial conspiracy theories out there.
Redditor u/aeslehcssim surmises that Jay, Adnan’s weed-dealer friend who testified that he helped Adnan dispose of Hae’s body, is actually a criminal informant for the Boston police, for the following reasons. (Potential spoiler alert: U/aeslehcssim says most of this information is based on court documents, and has not been revealed on the Serial podcast itself.)
- During his taped interrogation he claims to be a big criminal element and references times he has been picked up/had negative interactions by police (could have traded info for not being arrested, etc) AND the police insinuate he isn’t much of anything (perhaps to cover for his involvement in CI program and keep him from being discovered once the tapes got out at trial).
- It appears his family was mixed up in a lot of drug related stuff, so he could have knowledge he was feeding to cops.
- He was provided a lawyer free of charge (one that was arranged by the prosecution, something that was noted as being a VERY rare, almost strange, thing to occur).
- He had a private meeting with his plea judge and lawyer that no record of can be found.
“Could explain why they [the police] believed him so much?” Aeslehcssim asks. Sure—but it could also mean that you’ve been watching too much of The Wire.
2) Hae’s body was in the trunk for a few weeks before the peeing streaker (Mr. S.) found it
This would explain why the neighbor boy saw the body in the trunk, and came forward later – reporting it as if it had just happened to his friend. And it would make sense, if he was a hang-on, for Jay to show him the dead body and use it as leverage for the neighbor boy to use Adnan’s name. The other thing: the neighbor boy could’ve helped dig the grave.
The problem with this theory? According to Jenn’s testimony, Jay threw his clothes away the following day, which would imply that he was telling the truth about when Hae was buried. And while an autopsy can’t exactly pinpoint the time of death or how long a body has been buried, it can make a pretty accurate estimate based on, among other factors, information about the deceased’s whereabouts and when rigor mortis set in. Plus, why are we still giving the neighbor boy’s story any credence? Have we not already established he was just a kid who wanted to get some attention? He’s no more reliable an authority on the location of dead bodies than Vern from Stand by Me, and he’s a fictional character.
3) The murderer is another guy Sarah Koenig hasn’t talked about
The Serial subreddit is brimming with speculation that Hae’s murder was in fact committed by Roy Davis, who in 2003 was convicted of raping and strangling a woman named Jada Danita Lambert in northeast Baltimore back in 1998, approximately six months before Hae’s body was found. At the time of his conviction, Davis was incarcerated on an armed robbery charge.
Some redditors have speculated that Davis was also responsible for Hae’s death, based on the fact that Davis lived six miles away from Woodlawn High School, or right near the early learning center where Hae was headed the afternoon she died. U/superfluity15 thinks the “Davis as killer” theory explains the mysterious gas station credit charge from the day of her murder:
The fact that Hae’s credit card was charged $1.71 at Crown Gas in far NE Baltimore on the day she died is still one of the biggest puzzles in this case. Crown Gas was a good 30 minute drive away from both Woodlawn and Campfield Early Learning Center. I’ve been turning over this issue since we learned it is in the appellate briefs: How did Hae’s card end up that far away?
Now that we’ve learned about Roy Davis the would-be serial killer, maybe we have our answer. Not only did Roy live on the way from Woodlawn to Campfield, but his victim was dumped in Herring Run Park in NE Baltimore. That park is on the same street as Crown Gas, less than a mile away.
Others have speculated that a 1996 marijuana possession charge on Davis’s record links him to Jay, a.k.a. the self-described “criminal element” at Woodlawn. (Because it’s impossible for there to be more than one low-level pot dealers in a sprawling urban area like Baltimore.)
But as other redditors have pointed out, there are a number of holes in the Davis-as-murderer hypothesis. For starters, as Koenig notes in the podcast, Hae wasn’t sexually assaulted before she died, which is not in line with Davis’s established M.O.; further, if Davis committed the murder on his own, then it’s tough to make sense of Jay’s elaborate testimony to the police, which as Koenig has pointed out, is spotty, but is largely corroborated by cellphone records.
4) The “Adnan is a psychopath” theory
Last week, a thread surfaced on the r/serialpodcast subreddit with the absolutely not inflammatory title of “ADNAN IS A PSYCHOPATH,” in all caps. The thread was authored by u/sachabacha, who claimed to have been a member of the tight-knit Muslim community in Baltimore and was friends with Adnan in high school.
As one of Adnan’s friends from many years ago, I (and some other good friends) have to say that I wasn’t surprised that he was convicted. Many of us strongly believe that he did it for a number of reasons. He had always used his charm and grasp of logic to manipulate others. He was a master of creating doubt, where he couldn’t be proven wrong or right.
In the thread, u/sachabacha claims that Adnan had a history of criminal behavior. Some of these behaviors, such as drinking alcohol, smoking weed, and frequenting prostitutes, aren’t so egregious. (In fact, Adnan himself had copped to many of them on the podcast.) Others, however, are more sinister, such as the claim that Adnan had stolen from the local mosque’s donation box:
Adnan used to stand in front of the masjid [Arabic for “mosque”] collecting money after weekly jumah namaz [Friday prayers], cementing his image as a good, devout young man. Adnan, however, used to steal money from the donation box regularly, often boasting about it. This is when some of us had started fearing the sort of person he was becoming. It’s one thing to shoplift a candy bar, but to steal from the house of worship that you claim to be a devout adherent of is just plain sick…[he] used to go through people’s winter jackets hung on a coat rack at the Johnnycake masjid, while they were engaged in prayer.
In his original post, sachabacha also claimed that Adnan had stolen from his friends; that contrary to his testimony, Adnan knew where Leakin Park was (“some of us had been with him to smoke”); and that Adnan had, on several occasions, “talked about various ways he would kill someone.” (He did not, however, mention strangulation, which is how Hae died.) Sachabacha ended his post with a plea to Serial viewers to take a more balanced view of Adnan, and to Adnan’s friends to come forward with their own accounts of his poor character: “Let’s stand for humanity over loyalty.”
The post was pretty shocking to Serial fans, particularly those who were already leaning in favor of Adnan’s guilt. While none of the allegations directly proved Adnan’s involvement in the murder, if true, they do complicate the portrait of Adnan as all-American boy next door that Koenig has been painting throughout the podcast.
However, there are a few reasons to doubt the substance of sachabacha’s claims. For starters, athough redditors and r/serialpodcast moderator Jakeprops begged sachabacha to provide verification of his identity and his relationship with Adnan, as of this writing, he hasn’t done so yet. But it’s pretty clear that sachabacha does have some relation to the Syed family and to the Baltimore Muslim community at large, if the violent responses from family friends Rabia and Saad Chaudry, who have both appeared on the Serial podcast and are active on r/serialpodcast, are any indication:
From there, the thread basically devolves into a melange of smears and accusations on both sides of the “Is Adnan guilty?” debate. It’s a bit difficult to sift through the allegations, but in short, the Chaudrys clearly believe u/sachabacha is or is somehow connected to someone named “Bilal,” who they claim is a gossip in the Baltimore Muslim community, and who may or may not have been accused of molesting some “Kosovo refugees” at the mosque.
At one point, Adnan’s brother Yusef even comes forth, defending his brother while confirming some of the allegations against Adnan, such as the claim he stole from the mosque collection box:
According to a previous deleted post, Yusef also believes that the mysterious Bilal is also the “anonymous caller” mentioned in the fourth episode of the podcast.
Sachabacha denied that he was Bilal, and also defended himself against Rabia and Saad’s allegations that he was trying to smear Adnan’s good name:
He also claimed he had not come forward with this information prior to the Reddit thread because he was concerned about being shunned by the tight-knit Muslim community, which has largely come out in support of Adnan and loudly defending his innocence. Regardless of sachabacha’s actual identity, judging by the virulent response from those in the Muslim community who have advocated for Adnan’s innocence, that doesn’t seem like a totally unfounded fear.
The Daily Dot has reached out to u/sachabacha to see if he can verify his identity to us. We’ll update if we receive a response.
5) Jenn and/or Jay’s girlfriend Stephanie did it, because lady-to-lady aggression
Most die-hard Serial fans have their suspicions about Jay’s involvement in Hae’s murder, in large part due to the gaping holes and inconsistencies in his story. But a few have also implicated Jenn, Jay’s friend who told detectives that Jay told her Adnan killed Hae, in Hae’s murder.
Given how hazy the details of their accounts of the murder are, it’s not so much of a stretch to think Jenn and/or Jay know more than they’re telling. But redditor L_Ruggiero has taken the Jenn hypothesis one further, arguing that maybe Jenn and Jay’s girlfriend Stephanie were responsible, because of “woman-to-woman aggression”:
Hello everyone! I know that many people here have speculated about Jen and Stephanie’s possible involvement, but has anyone else thought that MAYBE Jen and/or Stephanie had some beef with Hae and one of them killed her? My initial thought was Jen, like, if Jay was actually an accomplice to Jen and just frames Adnan for everything that Jen committed. I know it is far fetched, but it is something to think about. Bad feelings/arguments/jealousy, etc. can get very heated between girls in high school. Young women TEND to display more relational aggression than physical aggression, but it is not out of the question that a girl could strangle another girl, right?
TL;DR: Ladies be fighting over the mens, and stuff.
6) Sarah Koenig hired Jay to kill Hae
Yes, there’s actually a theory on r/serialpodcast that Serial host Sarah Koenig hired Jay to kill Hae and frame Adnan. Via thylacine222:
Think about it. How else could she know so much about the crime?
Sarah was working as a newspaper reporter, an industry that she could tell was well on its way to dying. She had heard rumors of a buyout, and that’s never good news. So what is she going to do? Turn to the brave new frontier of journalism: Public radio.
But first, she needed leverage: a story that could catapult her career forward.
So how did Koenig decide on Adnan as the perfect patsy for the perfect crime? Don’t worry, Thylacine222’s figured that part out too: Sarah is actually a double for Nisha, the recipient of the smoking-gun “Nisha call”:
Sarah = Nisha. She inserted herself into Adnan’s life, and he told her the story of his breakup with Hae. And so an idea was born.
She convinced Adnan to get a cellphone so “he could always be in contact with her.” Cellphone technology was still relatively new at that time, so she figured that aspect of things would make the case exciting. She secretly met up with Jay a few days before and plotted out all of the details of the crime, adding the perfect amount of mystery and confusion.
The police would never suspect a random girl Adnan was hooking up with to be involved, and as long as Jay followed Sarah’s intricately detailed plan, the detectives, eager to solve the crime, would be led straight to Adnan.
TL;DR: Sarah Koenig is a cold-blooded murderer, and Thylacine222 just solved this murder and possibly all others throughout the course of human history. Shut it down, NPR. Your work here is done.
Still, one question remains: How, exactly, was MailChimp involved? That “Mail… Khimp?” lady is clearly hiding something.
Photo of Adnan Syed via serialpodcast.org
EJ Dickson is a writer and editor who primarily covers sex, dating, and relationships, with a special focus on the intersection of intimacy and technology. She served as the Daily Dot’s IRL editor from January 2014 to July 2015. Her work has since appeared in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Mic, Bustle, Romper, and Men’s Health.