Content Warning: The following article contains descriptions of sexual assault that some may find triggering.
Netflix’s latest true crime limited series, Unbelievable, tells us two different stories at once. The first follows a girl named Marie (Kaitlyn Dever), who is raped one night in her home and when she goes to the police about it, they question if she’s telling the truth, later determining that she’s lying about the attack (spoiler alert: she’s really telling the truth). The other story follows two detectives, Grace Rasmussen and Karen Duvall (played by Toni Collette and Merritt Weaver), who are tracking another series of rapes which eventually leads them to Marie’s. Unbelievable’s timeline jumps around a little bit as we move between the past and present for these stories, and later how they all intersect in the end.
Luckily, Unbelievable is actually based on a true story about a girl referred to as Marie (that’s her middle name), chronicled in The Marshall Project’s “An Unbelievable Story of Rape.” The Netflix show follows the same story, with some dialogue lifted right from the long-form read. Moving from page to screen though, some dates get a little jumbled even though they’re all true. Here’s what happens when so you can follow along with Marie, Karen, and Grace’s story.
One note before we dive in: In this true version, we’re dealing with Sgt. Edna Hendershot (who inspired Rasmussen) and Detective Stacy Galbraith (who inspired Duvall).
August 11, 2008: Marie's Rape
Marie is raped in her apartment in Lynnwood, Washington. She explains that she was tied up with shoelaces and when her attacker left she somehow managed to call others for help with her phone before untying herself. Immediately, police doubt if she’s telling the truth because they find little physical evidence at her apartment, and considering the fact that Maire is in shock there are inconsistencies in her story.
August 12, 2008: Marie's Story Is Questioned
Peggy, one of Marie’s former foster mothers, calls the police to question if she’s telling the truth. While Peggy is just trying to help, this unfortunately plants a seed of doubt in the detectives' minds considering they’re also questioning Marie’s story.
August 13, 2008: Marie Delivers Her Written Statement
Marie gives a written statement to the police, and the detectives continue to only focus on the inconsistencies in her story.
August 14, 2008: Marie (Wrongly) Admits To Lying About The Rape
The detectives confront Marie over her story, still believing that she’s lying. She writes another statement, this time saying that she dreamed the rape, but verbally stays that she still believed that it happened. She later confesses that she made up the whole thing entirely because she was lonely.
August 18, 2008: Marie Loses Her Housing After Saying She Lied
Marie and two people from the housing location where she lived, Project Ladder, go to the police station to try and sort this whole thing out once and for all. Marie says, once again, that she was raped, and the detectives do not believe her and threaten to get her in trouble, and cause her to lose her housing. Marie tells the people at Project Ladder that she wasn’t raped and they make her apologise to her entire apartment complex.
Late August 2008: Marie Is Charged With A Crime For Lying
Marie is charged with filing a false report and is fined $500 for police fees.
October 2008: A Rape Similar To Marie's Happens In Colorado
A 63-year-old woman is raped in Kirkland, Colorado. Many of the similarities between this rape and the one Marie reported are similar. Her other foster mother, Shannon, reaches out to Marie to alert her to the story and suggests that Marie contact the police about it. She doesn’t.
However, word got around to the Kirkland police anyway, and they call the Lynwood department. The detectives in Lynwood explain that there is no victim and Marie had made the whole story up.
Oct. 4, 2009: It Happens Again, In Another Colorado Town
A 65-year old widow is raped in her home in Aurora, Colorado. She is tied up with a ribbon and the rapist wears a black scarf over his face. During the rape, he accidentally knocks a yellow teddy bear off her desk in her bedroom, and DNA is later pulled off of that.
July 2010: A Third Colorado Woman Is Attacked
A 46-year old woman is attacked in Lakewood, Colorado. He tried to tie her up but when her assailant looked away for a second she jumped out the window and the fall broke some of her ribs and punctured a lung. At the time, the Lakewood police label it as a burglary. While looking over the crime scene, the police find “honeycomb marks” on a window, but don’t consider it useful evidence.
August 2010: The Fourth Victim With A Similar Story Emerges
A 59-year old woman is raped in Westminster, Colorado. The woman is tied up and raped, and the rapist steals her pink Sony digital camera. He tells her to take a shower and uses a kitchen timer to tell her when to get out. This kitchen timer is later used to collect DNA.
January 5, 2011: A Fifth Victim Is Raped In Golden, Colorado
A 26-year old woman is raped in Golden, Colorado. He takes pictures of her and the woman remembers that he did so with a pink Sony digital camera. Before he leaves he makes her shower. He also leaves with all of her bedding to try and hide the evidence. The woman later tells the police she noticed a dark mark on his left calf the size of an egg.
Returning home that night, Stacey Galbraith’s husband informs her that his police district had a rape just like that and that she should reach out to his department.
January 6, 2011: The Two Detectives, Galbraith & Hendershot, First Compare Notes Between Cases
Galbraith emails Edna Hendershot in Westminster about the rape, and the two begin to draw similarities between their cases.
Middle of January 2011: The Detectives Begin To Find Links In The Cases
Galbraith, Hendershot and Aurora Detective Scott Burgess meet in person for the first time to discuss the possible links between their cases.
End of January 2011: The Detectives Connect Four Of The Rapes
The detectives manage to connect all four rapes together using similarities found at each scene, including the honeycomb marks and the pink Sony digital camera. But they still don’t know who they’re looking for, aside from the fact that he has an egg-sized mark on his leg.
February 9, 2011: The Suspicious 1993 Mazda Truck Emerges
Detectives working on the case gather in Westminster to discuss their findings and the future of the case. They don’t have a whole lot, considering that the little DNA they’ve managed to collect isn’t enough to run through any database. However, a young crime analyst mentions that there had been reports of a suspicious 1993 white Mazda belonging to Marc Patrick O’Leary, and they decide to investigate. A white card had been seen on surveillance cameras at some of the crime scenes.
February 11, 2011: The Detectives Have A DNA Breakthrough
The detectives manage to get some of O’Leary’s DNA while he’s out at a diner. However, it’s not really his DNA because surprise, Marc O’Leary lives with his brother, Michael O’Leary. The detectives actually collect Michael’s DNA from the diner but it can still be used to determine if the DNA from the crime scenes is from the same family.
The DNA from the cup diner matches DNA from the O’Leary family, which proves that the detectives are on the right track and can hereby narrow their search down to these two brothers (their father is ruled out since he lives out of state).
February 13, 2011: The Detectives Arrest O'Leary & Find Loads Of Evidence
A search warrant is granted for O’Leary’s house. Marc O’Leary opens the door and Galbraith immediately looks at his leg and finds an egg-shaped mark there. He is arrested and the detectives search his house.
Inside, they find honeycomb gloves and a pink Sony digital camera, all pieces of evidence that had been reported prior. While looking through his computer files, a photo of a young woman not from their current cases is found, and while she’s unfamiliar to them O’Leary had taken a picture of her learner’s permit which had her address. You probably know where this is going, and the woman in the photo is Marie, linking her crime to the more recent ones.
December 9, 2011: The Serial Rapist Is Sentenced
O’Leary pleads guilty to the rapes in Colorado and is sentenced to 327½ years in prison.
June 2012: Marie's Verdict Is Overturned, Her Fine Is Refunded
O’Leary is charged with Marie’s rape and the rape in Kirkland, and is sentenced to 28 ½ and 40 years, respectively. Marie is later refunded the $500 she gave the Lynwood police department.
January 2015: Marie Takes The Lynwood Police To Court
If you have experienced sexual violence of any kind, please visit Rape Crisis or call 0808 802 9999.