How Reddit Theories About Adnan Syed & Serial Actually Changed The Case

Photo: Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun/TNS/Getty Images.
True crime stories existed long before Serial brought us the case of Adnan Syed and Hae Min Lee — look back at the coverage of Jack the Ripper and Black Dahlia in their time. Amateur detectives followed mysteries long before there was Reddit (sometimes they even met IRL!). But when combined, Serial's first season and the message board community proved to be quite a match.
By the time of the season one finale, the Serial podcast subreddit as full of theories and had 700,000 unique views a month, according to The Guardian. Today, it still has almost 58,000 subscribers. People came at first just to discuss what they had heard on the podcast. Some shared memes making fun of their obsession. There were remixes of the theme song and links to the SNL parody.
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Then there were the people who went deep. They started digging for information beyond what the show was providing. They seemed determined, through the power of the internet, to solve the mystery of who killed Hae Min Lee. They unearthed old news reports and created maps more detailed than Serial's. They read the court documents to get full names of all involved searched for more information about them. Before the moderators decided to impose some basic privacy rules, at one point they posted Jay's address, and one Redditor admitted to driving to his house and lurking outside in his car.
Some people who knew Syed and Lee began to participate in the conversations, too. Rabia Choudry, the lawyer and family friend who initially contacted host Sarah Koenig about the story, participated for a while. Some anonymous users wrote in claiming to have stories about Syed, and his older brother Tanveer added his denial that he had ever called Adnan a "masterful liar."
Most notably, Lee's brother Young posted a message reminding everyone that she was a real person with a real, grieving family.
"To you listeners, it's another murder mystery, crime drama, another episode of CSI," he wrote. "You weren't there to see your mom crying every night, having a heart attack when she got the new that the body was found, and going to court almost everyday for a year seeing your mom weeping, crying and fainting. You don't know what we went through. Especially to those who are demanding our family response and having a meetup."
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Sobering messages like that are probably why the subreddit eventually set up a scholarship fund for Woodlawn High School in Lee's name. (In the end, they raised $11,400.)
They did not, however, stop investigating the case. Their collective work proved so fruitful that Redditors reported being disappointed in the Serial finale, mostly because they had already discovered most of the last-minute revelations Koenig and her producers revealed. They had already unearthed the proof that there was a pay phone at Best Buy, for instance. They also apparently beat Innocence Project lawyer Deirdre Enright to the theory about a serial killer and rapist in the area named Ronald Lee Moore. Moore, who died in 2007, was found through DNA evidence to be the killer of a young woman named Annelise Hyang Suk Lee in December 1999 by blunt force trauma and strangulation.
Some other theories floated on Reddit include alternate suspects for the murder: Roy Davis, who was convicted in 2002 via DNA evidence of the 1998 strangulation death of Jada Denita Lambert, 18, who also went to Woodlawn High School; Jay Wilds, who listeners well know; Lee's new boyfriend Don, whose timecard alibi at Lenscrafters is suspect, since his mom was the manager. Theories also included one that Adnan did kill Hae, and all of Serial was biased.
Unfortunately, amid all of their sleuthing and speculation, some Reddit users also reportedly behaved, well, like anonymous people on the internet. The Daily Beast reported in 2015 that users who disagreed with Susan Simpson, a lawyer with a Serial blog she started as a hobby, began to harass her in real life, threatening her work. They also had a reputation for bashing other women, including Koenig, Chaudry, and Natasha Vargas-Cooper (the Intercept writer who interviewed Wilds).
Now that the HBO series is reviving interest in the case again (even with the Maryland Court of Appeals ruling 4-3 that Syed should not get a new trial on March 8), activity on Reddit is heating up once more with new and old debates. If you missed it the first time around, that rabbit hole is surely big enough to fit newcomers, too.
The Case Against Adnan Syed is available on Sky Atlantic and Now TV from 1st April
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