Spoilers are ahead. On the surface, Netflix’s new documentary Why Did You Kill Me looks like the simple story of a woman who tracked down her daughter’s killer using Myspace. True crime and ‘00s nostalgia are a seemingly perfect pair. But when you start to dig into the Netflix documentary, including the uncomfortable portrayal of law enforcement as the more reasonable and compassionate force in a case that involves racial profiling and stereotyping, the true crime story becomes about something else entirely.
Crystal Theobald was mistakenly killed in 2006, shot in the head by a 5150 gang member who fired shots directly into her brother’s vehicle one evening. Looking for justice, Crystal’s teenage cousin Jaimie McIntyre set up a fake Myspace account for a girl named “Rebecca” who befriended as many of the gang members as possible — most of whom were young as well — and learned as much as she could to track down which ones were in the car when Crystal was shot. Things got more complicated when Crystal’s mother and McIntyre’s aunt, Belinda Lane, suggested they create a second Myspace account using the late Crystal’s photos and the name Angel. Ultimately, McIntyre was able to identify one of the young men involved: the driver, William Sotelo, who provided information to the police that ultimately led to gunman Julio Heredia’s arrest several years later.
But Lane did not stop at catfishing for intel. She continued to use the Angel MySpace account to stir up gang rivalry and violence in Riverside County, an oft-overlooked and poorer county bordering Los Angeles County. She stalked members of the gang that had nothing to do with her daughter’s death, threatened them, called Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on them in an attempt to get their families deported, and even made a plan to carry out a mass murder of her own. Why Did You Kill Me exposes how easily amateur detective work can become vigilante justice. The police investigating Crystal’s murder seemed rightfully worried that the Lane-Theobald family would take the law into their own hands — also known as lynching. In a way, they did.
Why Did You Kill Me also exposes the way racism manifests across generations of white women. The persona McIntyre initially created on Myspace, using an anonymous woman of color’s photos and carefully selected slang, is a clear example of cultural appropriation. Lane’s implicit bias is also an issue. She is shown racially profiling a young kid at the very beginning of the doc, and the detective later reveals that she misidentified a child as her daughter’s killer.
Her apparent racial bias become more obvious when the documentary draws parallels between Crystal’s grieving family and the family of the 5150 gang member that took Crystal’s life. Both Lane and Heredia's mother were addicts. Heredia’s sister, who is interviewed in the documentary, shares memories from her childhood that aren’t all thato different from Crystal’s. The men in both families were roped into violence and substance abuse at very young ages. Crystal’s older brothers served jail time, and her younger brother got into a gang after her death. Why Did You Kill Me strives to show the human cost on both sides of this devastating case.
“My boys,” Lane says in the documentary. “They’re boys. They’re going to have their problems, and they like to fight, and whatever they do.” Not only is that pretty much the textbook definition of toxic masculinity, but it’s also textbook hypocrisy.
Lane, who has served time for dealing drugs, does appear to turn over a slightly new leaf at the end of the documentary. She admits to taking a look in the mirror and realizing that her sons could have just as easily been killed or killed others as part of a gang. She cites that breakthrough as the reason why she eventually moved to have the death penalty taken off of the table for the young man who shot her daughter. However, even with the shooter in custody, Belinda continued to track down William Sotello — the driver on the scene who worked with the police in 2006 — a second time, leading to his arrest in 2020. Sotello had started over and become a chili farmer with a family in Mexico, likely fearing retaliation from his former gang more than the police. This time, Lane turned to another aging social media platform and got a tip as to his whereabouts on Facebook.
While Why Did You Kill Me may be billed as a curious true crime story about how a defunct social media platform helped solve a crime, it ends up highlighting just how easily anonymity on the internet can enable people’s worst instincts and implicit biases. The filmmakers don’t really take sides, but what the doc does make clear is just how little it took for an unconventional search for justice to spiral.