For the record, on the evening of January 13, 1999, I was nowhere near Leakin Park. I was probably driving my grandfather’s old Ford Taurus to ski team practice. Or maybe I had to work that night, teaching lessons, also at the local ski hill. Or possibly I had homework. Or Girl Scouts. Either way, between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., I was in Massachusetts. Not Maryland. And definitely not Baltimore. I’m sure of that. I could probably find someone to attest to it. But proof? Proof might be hard to come by.
Also, for the record, like Sarah Koenig, I’m a reporter. And I definitely just structured that sentence to liken myself to Sarah Koenig, of whom I am in awe.
It is perhaps because of these two facts–that I am almost exactly the same age as the people involved in this case and that I’ve chosen the same job as the producer of the story–that I fell so hard for Serial. Or it’s because the 12-part series is one of the best-told stories I’ve heard. Ever. Or because I listened to a very large portion of the episodes all at once, on a plodding 22-mile run, my last training session before my first marathon.
Whatever the reason, I joined the masses. I listened with bated breath. And I tried to answer the question Koenig was trying to answer, the question she got us all desperately interested in answering: What the hell happened that night? And, when it happened, where was Adnan?
Also for the record, I have done absolutely no reporting in developing the theory I’m about to lay out for you. In complete opposition to Koenig’s high standards, I’m about to engage in pure, unsubstantiated speculation. You’re welcome to come along, but are under no obligation to take me seriously. When I refer to a specific point that Koenig has reported, I cite it. Otherwise, it’s just me thinking things. I have no inside line. No special scoop. Remember, I was in Massachusetts that night. Probably skiing. Or else, not skiing.
But too many pieces didn’t fit. Inspiring as it was to listen to Koenig’s persistent, if unfruitful, search for the truth, I wasn’t willing to let it lie there. My brain kept chomping on it. I couldn’t let it go.
So, here’s my theory:
Adnan did have Hae’s body in the trunk of the car and Jay did help him bury her in Leakin Park. But neither of them killed her.
We know Jay was a small-time drug dealer. We know Adnan smoked a lot of pot. It’s not a huge leap to guess he might have dealt a few dime bags himself. Could Hae have been involved in some way? Not involved, but knew about it? My theory is that however Hae was connected, she ran afoul of the wrong guy. Not Adnan. Not Jay. Someone else. Someone bigger. Someone further up the chain.
Lots of high school kids deal lots of drugs, especially pot. Very few of them have any power. They are often on the bottom rung of incredibly intricate crime syndicates. They don’t know anyone important and no one important knows them. They are mostly ignored by both the more serious gangsters and the cops for this reason. But sometimes they are not.
In 2003, when I was a college student, there was a case of a college-kid dealer in Boston named James Cassidy who’d gotten in over his head. His roommate later told The Boston Globe, anonymously, that three armed men entered the apartment after a quiet knock shouting, “Where’s the weed?” Cassidy was then shot three times in the leg by one masked gunman, while his roommates were tied up with duct tape in the other room. They were not harmed. Cassidy died.
I think Hae somehow got mixed up with whatever Jay and Adnan had going on. Maybe she had some minor role herself and something went wrong? Maybe she got romantically involved with someone too old and too bad for her? Maybe she wasn’t involved personally, but knew too many names and faces? Maybe she wasn’t involved at all. Maybe, like the roommates in Boston, she just knew the wrong people (Adnan and Jay) and someone wanted to prove something to them by killing her.
I’m a former middle school teacher and an education reporter. I talk to a lot of teenagers. Adnan’s convoluted story and even Jay’s are not as crazy coming from teenagers as they would be coming from adults. But there are holes. Huge, unexplainable holes. And, to quote Sarah Koenig, “there’s this:” In that last episode, we learned that one of the cell phone towers that got pinged that day wasn’t anywhere near the school, the Best Buy or Patapsco State Park (where Adnan and Jay allegedly hung out and got reflective after the murder). Instead, it was in a rough neighborhood on the other side of town. The kind of neighborhood where drug dealers hang out. Serious drug dealers. The kind who murder people. People like Hae Min Lee.
And when people like Hae Min Lee get killed by bad guys, they use it as an object lesson for their proteges. People like Adnan and Jay, who were called to come collect her body, dispose of it and ditch the evidence. Shakily, they did it. They made sure someone else (“Cathy”) saw them together that evening so they’d have an alibi. Jay dumped the clothes and cleaned the shovel. It was done.
But then Hae’s body was found. Things were about to fall apart.
If the police figured out who’d actually killed her, both Jay and Adnan would have their lives to worry about. So maybe they pulled straws for who would take the fall. More likely, they figured Adnan had a way better chance of getting off. He was the straight-laced kid from the good home that everyone liked. Jay had a record. Jay was wild. But everyone said he and Adnan were whip smart. And don’t forget, they were 18-ish. Invincible. I think they thought they could beat the system. Maybe Jay thought that if he changed his story often enough, they’d throw him out as a witness and have no case against Adnan and they’d be free and clear and no one in the higher rungs could accuse them of not taking the heat.
It would explain why they express almost no rancor towards each other. It would explain why they were so near (in…) Leakin Park together and how Jay knew where Hae’s car was and why he was so scared when he called Jenn to tell her about his clothes and his boots and his shovel. It would explain why there was a guy in a van in the Amtrak parking lot across from the porn store that Jay was terrified of. Maybe there really was someone in that van. Not Adnan. Not family of Adnan. The Family?
It would explain why Adnan, a goodie two-shoe kid in a very serious prison, has had such an easy time of it. Protection. For taking a fall.
And it would explain why the one thing Adnan is furious about is that people thought he might have done it. That’s what eats him up at night. Because: He. Thought. He’d. Get. Off. That was the plan. Jay would throw suspicion on him, but then everyone would see how silly that was, how obviously innocent the golden boy of Woodlawn was and he’d get off. And this seemed plausible because they were teenagers. And because ‘life’ didn’t register as a possible sentence. And because they were actually innocent.
They did not kill Hae.
They just buried her.