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Theories About What Actually Happened To Hae Min Lee From 'Serial'

Updated June 22, 2021 106k views8 items

The Serial podcast, the story of Adnan Syed and the death of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee, captured the interest of millions after it aired on NPR. Adnan was convicted of killing Hae in 1999, and after serving 16 years in prison he was granted a new trial thanks, in part, to the publicity and popularity of the show.

The world has become obsessed with this case ever since. Journalist Sarah Keonig was the first to dive into Adnan's claims of innocence, his possible alibi on the day of Hae's murder, and questioned the credibility of the state's main witness in the case. She unearthed a trove of unsolved mysteries surrounding the case, making some question whether Adnan was to blame. 

The Serial podcast inspired a host of other podcasts, including Undisclosed and The Serial Dynasty (later renamed Truth and Justice), which continued to investigate the case after Serial season 1 ended. These podcasts have unearthed tons of information that have inspired new theories about the case.

With Adnan's new trial, the millions of Serial fans who believe in his innocence are thrilled. But a very important question still lingers: who killed Hae Min Lee? Was she killed by Adnan? Was there another force at play? Did the police compromise the investigation? 

Let's go through the prevailing theories of what happened to Hae.

  • Adnan Killed Hae

    Let's start with the possibility Adnan actually killed Hae. At Adnan's trial, the prosecution argued Adnan got a ride from Hae after school and they drove to Best Buy where he killed her in the parking lot. He then called his friend Jay Wilds and told him to meet him at Best Buy, moved Hae's body to the trunk, and then left. From there the two meandered around town for a while with Hae in the trunk before eventually burying her body in Leakin Park in the evening.

    To support their case, the prosecution relied on Jay's testimony and on AT&T records of which cell phone towers pinged when Adnan phone received a call. They claimed Adnan's motive for killing Hae was he was angry with her for breaking up with him and was jealous she was dating someone else.

    This theory is supported by the analysis of former FBI profiler Jim Clemente, who was interviewed by Bob Ruff on his podcast, Truth and Justice. Clemente said the killer was mostly likely someone young and someone who had a known relationship with Lee, and that the two most likely motives for her murder are rage or revenge.

    However, if you've listened to the entirety of the Truth and Justice podcast, and to the Undisclosed podcast, you know there is also very strong evidence Adnan did not commit this murder. Most important fact is Adnan has two alibi witnesses for January 13, the day of the murder: Asia McClain and Coach Sye.

    If you have listened to Serial, you already know about Asia McClain. But it did not discuss Coach Sye as an alibi witness. Coach Sye told investigators Adnan was definitely at track practice on time on a day during Ramadan when the temperature was over 50 degrees. Looking at the calendar and weather records from 1999, you can see that January 13 is the only possible day that fits that description.

    In March 2018, Maryland's second-highest court ruled that Syed deserved a second trial. The court felt the defense at his first trial was deficient, especially given they had failed to contact both McClain and Sye as potential witnesses. While it's possible prosecutors will appeal the ruling, Syed may get a second chance in court. 

  • Jay Killed Hae

    Many people who believe Adnan is innocent believe Jay was the real murderer. According to the detectives on the case, Jay knew the location of Hae's abandoned car. Jay also fits Agent Clemente's profile of someone who is young and had a known relationship with Hae.

    People have suggested different motives for Jay killing Hae. The two most popular are: Hae threatened to tell the police Jay was dealing drugs (or that one of his family members was dealing), or Hae caught Jay cheating on his girlfriend Stephanie, a friend of hers. Either way, the theory is Jay killed Hae to shut her up.

    If Jay is the culprit, he may have taken advantage of the fact Adnan had loaned him his car and cell phone and used the phone to frame Adnan for the murder. Jay calling Nisha - Adnan's new love interest - would have been a way to suggest Adnan had the phone on the afternoon Hae was killed. After Hae's body was found, Jay pinned everything on Adnan and made himself seem like he was just an accessory after the fact.

    Some people have even suggested Adnan actually hired Jay to kill Hae, and then Jay turned on him. This theory might explain why Jay's has changed his story so many times: He is lying in order to downplay his role in this murder, and he can't keep track of all the lies he's told.

    The problem with this theory is that it's all speculation - there's no evidence for it.

  • Jay And Jenn Killed Hae Together

    A lot of people have suggested that Jay's friend Jenn was heavily involved in Hae's murder, either helping to kill her or helping Jay dispose of the body after he killed her.

    Because Jay and Jenn were extremely close, many have suggested they were secretly dating behind Stephanie's back. If Hae caught the two of them together after school on January 13, they may have killed Hae together to keep her quiet. It's also possible Hae caught them together on an earlier date, and Jay or Jenn lured Hae somewhere (perhaps the Best Buy parking lot) after school and ambushed her. Perhaps they intended just to threaten her, not kill her, but the altercation escalated to murder.

    Once Jay and Jenn killed Hae and disposed of the body, they planned that if they were ever questioned they would pin the murder on Adnan. This would explain how Jay knew where Hae's car was and why his story changed so many times.

    The theories that Jay did it alone or with Jenn have two major problems: 1) Jay and Jenn didn't really have a close relationship with Hae and 2) there's a possibility that Jay didn't actually know where Hae's car was. In Episode 3 of Undisclosed, Susan Simpson lays out a very compelling case that Jay was coached by the police when he was interviewed. There is no recording of Jay's pre-interview, at which time the police could have told him where the car was found.

  • Don Killed Hae

    Hae's boyfriend at the time she was killed, Don, is a very strong suspect in her murder. Don was dismissed at the time of the investigation because he had an alibi, but Bob Ruff and his Truth and Justice podcast completely blew holes in that alibi.

    Don's alibi is that he was working from 9 am to 6 pm on January 13, and this was proven by his January 13 time sheet provided by his employer Lenscrafters. But the time sheet is it has a completely different employee ID number from the one Don usually used. On the day of Hae's murder, Don was apparently working at a different store than his usual one, but dozens of Lenscrafters managers have said your employee ID number stays the same no matter where you're working. Did Don falsify his time card?

    Don also fits Agent Clemente's suspect profile for this case: he was young and he had a known relationship with Hae. If Don suspected Hae still had feelings for Adnan (or even was still seeing him behind Don's back), he may have killed her out of rage or revenge - the likely motives Clemente gave.

    Multiple friends of Hae have said on January 13, she said she had to go do something after school that seemed urgent. That something could have been going to talk to Don. Don could have demanded to see Hae because he suspected she still had feelings for her ex-boyfriend, flew into a jealous rage and killed her.

    There is no physical evidence linking Don to the crime, but there's no physical evidence linking Adnan to it either. Don certainly seems to be a likely suspect.