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Top 10 Things Netflix's Unbelievable Got Factually Right

VOICE OVER: Emily Brayton WRITTEN BY: Savannah Sher
First it was an article, then it was a book, and now the story is getting widespread attention on Netflix. Welcome to MsMojo and today we're counting down our picks for the Top 10 Things Netflix's Unbelievable Got Factually Right.

For this list, we're looking at all the things in Netflix's “Unbelievable” miniseries that are absolutely true. A spoiler notice for the show is definitely in order.

Transcript
First it was an article, then it was a book, and now the story is getting widespread attention on Netflix. Welcome to MsMojo and today we're counting down our picks for the Top 10 Things Netflix's Unbelievable Got Factually Right.

For this list, we’re looking at all the things in Netflix’s “Unbelievable” miniseries that are absolutely true. A spoiler notice for the show is definitely in order.



#10: It’s Based on an Article


In 2015, T. Christian Miller, Ken Armstrong, along with ProPublica and The Marshall Project, published a shocking article titled “An Unbelievable Story of Rape.” It told the shocking story of a young girl who was brutally assaulted and who subsequently had her story doubted by those around her. The article was adapted into a full non-fiction book called “A False Report: A True Story of Rape in America” written by Miller and Armstrong, and was published in 2018. Now, it’s a series on Netflix, which uses a similar narrative structure as the original article, being told in a somewhat non-linear fashion.




#9: Marie Is Real


All of this is based on a very true story that did take place in Lynnwood, Washington in 2008. Marie is actually the woman’s middle name, and her real first name is not revealed in the article. All of the details of the crime as they appear on the show are like they happened in real life. Marie’s backstory, her history in the foster care system and the abuses she suffered as a child, are also all real, as are the two women who are involved in her life who were her former foster mothers.



#8: Rasmussen & Duvall Are Based on Real Detectives


On the show, the two female detectives who end up collaborating on the case are named Grace Rasmussen and Karen Duvall, played by Toni Collette and Merritt Wever respectively. Their names were changed for the show, and in real life they are Edna Hendershot and Stacy Galbraith. Though some details of their lives and stories were changed for the show, all the essential information is accurate- namely that they worked together to solve the case by piecing together similar stories in their jurisdictions that Lynnwood police department let fall through the cracks.



#7: Marie’s Foster Mom Told the Police She Didn’t Believe Marie


On the show, Marie’s foster mom is named Judith,though in real life her name is Peggy Cunningham. She doubted Marie’s story because she found her reaction to be out of step with what she expected from someone who had just gone through such an ordeal. Her other foster mom, known as Colleen on the show and whose real name is Shannon McQuery, also doubted Marie, and the story about them shopping for sheets and Marie losing her temper did actually happen. Peggy told the police about her doubts, and that’s when their opinions started to shift on the truthfulness of Marie’s story.



#6: The Male Detectives Charged Her with Filing a False Report


After the police begin to see the case differently when they speak to Marie’s foster mom, they start to interrogate Marie about the details of her story again, leading to her becoming frustrated. They end up convincing her to go back on her claims and say that she isn’t sure the rape actually happened. She eventually ends up saying she’s sure she made it up. When she has to give a written statement however, she says that she thinks she dreamt the assault, but thought it was real. She ends up being charged with filing a false report and has to go on probation as well as paying a fine for the resources used.


#5: Detective Parker Is Based on a Real Police Officer


On the show, Detective Parker is one of the men in charge of Marie’s case. He is based on the real figure Jeffrey Mason, who was actually new to the department at the time, having recently been transferred from narcotics. He had very little experience with rape cases, which colors the case. In an interview with This American Life, Mason responded to hearing that he had been incorrect in not believing Marie, saying, it "was so shocking that this has been the one thing where I seriously step back and question if I should continue doing what I'm doing."



#4: Marie’s Beach Photo Was Important to Her


On the show, there are several brief flashbacks to Marie playing in the water at the beach, as well as glimpses of a photo of her that same day in the apartment. In real life, the memory of that day ended up being one tinged with sadness, because although Marie remembers being happy while practicing photography with a friend on the beach, that same friend ended up turning on her because of her alleged false accusation, going as far as making a slanderous website that revealed Marie’s full name and identity.



#3: The Way They Caught the Criminal


By the end of the series, the two detectives have collaborated on their respective investigations, realizing they have a serial rapist on their hands. And the seemingly remarkable way this all unfolds is totally true to life. One thing that the show adds is the scrutiny put on male police officers because of how meticulous the rapist was in cleaning up the crime scenes before leaving. The rest is all accurate though, from the footprints to the DNA sample to the trove of photos found on the suspect’s computer - which included one of Marie- absolving her of her so-called crime.



#2: Marie Sued Lynwood


After the truth was revealed, the city of Lynwood offered Marie a paltry $500 (to cover what she had been ordered to pay) as an apology for her ordeal. Since that was clearly unacceptable however, she eventually sued them just like on the show, eventually coming away with $150,000. In real life though, she also sued Cocoon House, the organization that managed her housing situation, and won. This is because they threatened to take away her subsidized housing if she didn’t formally apologize to the group and go for counselling because of the lies she had supposedly told.



#1: Marie Thanked the Detective


At the very end of the finale, after visiting the Lynwood police department, Marie calls Duvall to thank her for closing the case before driving away to her fresh start. This really did happen, with Marie calling Detective Galbraith after everything was finally over. In real life, Marie had already moved away from Washington state at this point, and was married with two children. She and Galbraith only spoke briefly, discussing the fact that they were both mothers of two now. While this story was a dark one, at least in the end justice was served.

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