The True Story That Inspired ‘Unbelievable’

The Netflix miniseries Unbelievable is based on the true story of a series of assaults on women that occurred between 2008 and 2011 and the detectives who solved the case. And while the show is fascinating, the twists and turns of the actual story are engrossing all on their own. The incidents were initially reported in a Pulitzer Prize-winning article that traces the story of Marie, who was assaulted in her Lynwood, WA, apartment in 2008 and was manipulated by local authorities into recanting her claim.

A few years after Marie’s assault, similar incidents started occurring in suburban Denver, CO. The M.O. and the description of the suspect were the same, but it took a lot of legwork and long nights to put the man who was doing these terrible deeds behind bars. This is a tragic and upsetting story of the authorities refusing to believe a woman's claims, and a detective who would stop at nothing to bring an offender to justice.

  • Marie Reported Her Assault In 2008, But Changed Her Story Multiple Times

    Marie Reported Her Assault In 2008, But Changed Her Story Multiple Times
    Photo: Netflix

    On August 11, 2008, a girl calling herself Marie was assaulted in the early hours of the morning. The next day, she reported the incident to the Lynwood police, but after an investigation of her apartment, the authorities became suspicious of the 18-year-old. They questioned her multiple times about the incident and noted that each time she told her story, there were minor inconsistencies

    Police believed that because Marie altered her story about how she got out of her restraints - a pair of shoelaces - she was making up the entire story. The incident happened early in the morning, rousting her from sleep, so it's not out of the question that her memory of the events would be off. Aside from the inconsistencies in Marie's story, the police received phone calls from people close to the girl who believed that she wasn't acting appropriately for someone who had just been assaulted. 

  • Marie Came Under Fire And Admitted To Lying 

    Marie Came Under Fire And Admitted To Lying 
    Photo: Netflix

    Marie was put through the wringer after reporting that she was tied up and assaulted, and that the offender threatened to publish photos of her online. Following a brief investigation, the Lynwood authorities turned their spotlight on Marie and had her write multiple statements about the incident. 

    In Marie's initial statement, she claimed that she was tied up and assaulted around 8 am on August 11. Three days later, however, she was told to write a new statement, in which she stated that she may have dreamt the entire event. Police still weren't happy and had her write a third statement. In this final statement, she wrote that she made a false claim, saying, "I have had a lot of stressful things going on and I wanted to hang out with someone and no one was able to so I made up this story and didn’t expect it to go as far as it did... I don’t know why I couldn’t have done something different. This was never meant to happen."

  • Marie Accepted A Plea Deal To Avoid Gross Misdemeanor Charges

    Marie Accepted A Plea Deal To Avoid Gross Misdemeanor Charges
    Photo: Netflix

    After falsely admitting to lying to police on August 14, 2008, Marie was viewed as an offender. She was charged with filing a false report and ordered to pay a $500 fine. In addition to the fine, Marie's residency at her apartment complex for at-risk youths was put into question when the managers ordered her to recant her story in front of the other residents. 

    Marie says that she was pushed into counseling following the event, and that she was forced to falsely admit that she made up the entire story. Marie later sued the managers of Project Ladder's Cocoon House and settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.  

  • In 2011, Detective Stacy Galbraith Investigated A Case In Denver

    In 2011, Detective Stacy Galbraith Investigated A Case In Denver
    Photo: Netflix

    Nearly three years after Marie was forced to recant her story, an investigation into a new case was underway in the Denver area. In January 2011, Detective Stacy Galbraith began looking into an assault in the Denver suburb that played out nearly identically to Marie's assault. 

    Not only was her description of the offender similar - he was around six feet tall, wore a mask, and chastised her about her doors and window - but his M.O. was also similar. According to Galbraith, the woman said that she remembered the man using a pink Sony digital camera to take photos, as well as a birthmark the size of an egg on his leg. This final detail proved more important than anyone could imagine. 

  • Galbraith's Cop Husband Realized The Case Sounded Hauntingly Familiar

    Galbraith's Cop Husband Realized The Case Sounded Hauntingly Familiar
    Photo: Netflix

    Stacy Galbraith was married into a police family. She and her husband were both cops, and while they didn't serve in the same precinct, they usually discussed the cases they were working on while at home in the evenings. When Stacy told her husband David about the case she was investigating - how the intruder made sure to erase his DNA from the scene, and how he told his target how to keep her sliding glass door from being opened from the outside - her husband noted that his precinct was working on a similar case

    David worked at the Westminster Police Department, where Detective Edna Hendershot was investigating a case almost identical to the one Stacy was working. In this instance, a 59-year-old woman was assaulted by a large man wearing a mask and using a pink Sony Cyber-shot digital camera. The mysterious intruder also made sure that she cleaned herself of all DNA. 

  • Galbraith Teamed Up With Hendershot To Solve A Series Of Similar Cases

    Galbraith Teamed Up With Hendershot To Solve A Series Of Similar Cases
    Photo: Netflix

    Gailbraith followed up on her husband's hunch that the two Colorado police departments might be dealing with the same offender and got in touch with Detective Hendershot at the Westminster station the next morning. In this instance, the two departments handled the cases completely differently than the way the police in Seattle handled Marie's situation. 

    The two detectives corroborated their evidence with an FBI database and noted how many of the cases paralleled one another. During the investigation, Galbraith applied her methods for handling assault cases: "A lot of times people say, 'Believe your victim, believe your victim'... But I don’t think that that’s the right standpoint. I think it’s listen to your victim. And then corroborate or refute based on how things go."