Netflix’s latest true-crime series, Unbelievable, follows a group of detectives who try to get to the bottom of a string of rapes in the mid and northwest, along with figuring out if one girl who’s reported a rape is telling the truth or not. The story’s called Unbelievable because at first, the detectives don’t believe the story Marie (Kaitlyn Dever) is telling them and dismiss her, before charging her for filing a false claim. But she’s actually telling the truth; she really was raped. And what might be the most unbelievable part of unbelievable is that the detectives who believed Marie was lying weren't reprimanded whatsoever, even though they deeply damaged this young woman emotionally.
Unbelievable is based, almost word for words at times, off of The Marshall Project’s An Unbelievable Story of Rape, published in 2015. It explains the background and ins and outs of the case concerning Marie (who’s identified as Marie in the story was well — it’s the real victim's middle name), along with other rapes in the area of Lynwood, Washington. The (male) detectives Marie goes to see after she’s raped believe she’s lying and get a coerced confession out of her recanting what she’s already reported. This, undoubtedly, turns her life upside down. Elsewhere in the country, two other female detectives are also tracking an influx of rapes and are working together to try and catch the guy, who ends up being the same one who harmed Marie.
These female detectives (whose names are changed to Grace Rasmussen and Karen Duvall, played by Toni Collette and Merritt Weaver, in the Netflix series) actually do their job, and work to uncover the truth behind the rapes. As for the people Marie initially deals with, in the series they are Detectives Parker and Pruitt. In real life, they are Sgt. Jeffrey Mason and Jerry Rittgarn.
As The Marshall Project article specifies, Manson (who was the lead investigator), had previously only worked on patrol and in narcotics, but had recently been promoted and transferred to the Criminal Investigations Division and had been in the position for only six weeks when Marie’s rape happened. He had only investigated one rape before working with Marie. Rittgarn, on the other hand, had been a detective for 11 years, but had a background in helicopters and the aerospace industry. So let’s just state the obvious: Neither one of these men was the best man for the job as neither of them were all that qualified to work on a rape case.
This led to them completely mismanaging Marie’s case and caused them to believe that she had made up the whole story for attention. Of course, they weren't the only factors: The case wasn’t helped by the fact that Marie’s foster mothers called to tell the police they also believed Marie was lying about the rape.
Knowing all of this — including the fact that Marie was telling the truth — you’d tend to think both of these detectives would be suffer some consequence for the whole ordeal. But nope. Neither one of them received any sort of formal punishment, even after an internal investigation was launched.
Rittgarn left the police department before Marie’s rapist was caught in 2011, while Manson simply moved back to his position at narcotics. He actually met with Marie again after the truth came out and later told The Marshall Project, “It wasn’t her job to try to convince me. In hindsight, it was my job to get to the bottom of it — and I didn’t.”
The current commander of Lynnwood’s Criminal Investigations Division, Steve Rider, told The Marshall Project that the handling of this case was a “major failing” and believes Marie “was victimised twice” — once by her assailant and another by the police station she believed she could trust.
While no good came out of this for Marie at the time, her case has since helped shape how rapes are now processed, with Rider explaining, “We learned a great deal from this. And we don’t want to see this happen to anybody ever again.”
If you have experienced sexual violence of any kind, please visit Rape Crisis or call 0808 802 9999.
Unbelievable is on Netflix now