Serial was the hit podcast that truly launched true crime as an entertainment genre — and changed the course of justice as a direct result.
That may have gotten the ball rolling, but Serial is far from the only show to take a true crime case and turn it into content for our listening and viewing pleasure – with spectacular results.
A look back at five shows that changed our outlook on justice – some even leading to criminal convictions or their overturning – while shocking audiences around the world.
Serial: “A story told week after week”
From the podcast’s opening keyboard trill to Sarah Konig’s forensic dissection, this show captured audiences from day one, becoming a word-of-mouth sensation in 2014.
It propelled the true crime podcast genre into the mainstream and spawned hundreds of like-minded casts in its wake. And of course, his work is not yet finished.
Eight years after the podcast first aired, the man at the heart of the matter, Adnan Syed, was released from prison – his murder conviction overturned after 23 years in prison.
He has the podcast to thank for breathing new life into his defense and casting doubt on his conviction for the murder of his then-girlfriend Hae Min Lee after she was found strangled and buried in a park. of Baltimore in 1999.
He has consistently protested his innocence and unsuccessfully appealed his conviction for years, but now various pieces of evidence – including a handwritten letter from witness Asia McClain corroborating Syed’s account that he was in the library at the time of the murder, faulty cellphone data and two other potential suspects who were not disclosed to his attorneys at the time of trial – mean his case is being reviewed again.
Although he has not yet been declared innocent, he has been released from prison and is currently under house arrest with a tracker fitted to his ankle.
Prosecutors now have 30 days to decide whether to retry him. Hae Min Lee’s family explores options when it comes to attractiveness.
Regardless of the outcome, Syed once again finds himself in the media spotlight.
Of course, a new Serial podcast is documenting its release, and the ongoing affair is ready for listeners eager to pick up where they left off in 2014.
Teachers Pet: Australian podcast that got a conviction
A 74-year-old former rugby union player was convicted of murdering his wife – nearly 40 years after his death – thanks to a true detective podcast that reignited interest in the cold case.
The Teacher’s Pet – a podcast produced by journalists from The Australian newspaper – exposed a detailed case that Chris Dawson had murdered his wife Lynette Dawson, also the mother of his two children.
Lynette disappeared on Sydney’s northern beaches in January 1982, but her body was never found.
He denied killing the 33-year-old woman and claimed she left the house to take time for herself. There was no evidence that Ms Dawson had contacted family or friends since her disappearance.
A 2003 investigation found that Dawson had begun an affair with a 16-year-old college student who had moved in with him days before his wife disappeared.
The 2018 hit podcast detailed a troubled marriage that led to her disappearance and examined the police response. It has been downloaded over 30 million times and listened to by at least 60 million people.
The media, citing law enforcement sources, suggested the investigation was reopened after the publicity generated by the podcast.
However, officers insisted the case had been reopened due to “new witnesses coming forward”.
Four months after the last episode of the podcast, police charged Dawson – who had opted to try by judge rather than jury due to the publicity surrounding the case – with murder.
In August 2022, he was found guilty.
The judge said a combination of small pieces of evidence, including inconsistencies in Dawson’s defense, was compelling and he was satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Dawson caused his death. He will be sentenced in November.
The Jinx: Hot mic ends with a murder conviction
Multi-millionaire and New York estate heir Robert Durst was convicted of murder in 2021following HBO’s hit documentary The Jinx.
The show focused on three crimes – the unsolved 1982 disappearance of his first wife Kathleen McCormack, the 2000 murder of his longtime friend Susan Berman, and the 2001 murder of his neighbor Morris Black.
Although Durst was acquitted of Black’s murder in 2001, a conversation caught on the microphone during the filming of the documentary appeared to show him confessing to all three murders. He apparently didn’t know he was still taped.
Durst, who was still carrying a live microphone after his interview, was heard saying to himself in the bathroom: “What did I do?… I killed them all, of course”.
Although these quotes were later revealed to have been manipulated for dramatic effect, he was shut down on the eve of the final episode.
He was later found guilty of shooting Ms Berman – who prosecutors say gave him a false alibi for his wife’s disappearance – at close range in 2000 at his Los Angeles home.
He was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Durst was charged with his wife’s disappearance shortly after being convicted, but died in prison in January of this year before his trial for this case can begin.
The 78-year-old was worth $100m (£73m) and was the grandson of Joseph Durst, who founded the Durst Organisation, one of Manhattan’s largest commercial property companies.
Lucky: memoir adaptation that led to the overturning of a rape conviction
The man convicted of raping Lovely Bones author Alice Sebold had his conviction overturned after a producer who was turning his 1999 memoir Lucky into a movie began to wonder why the first draft of the screenplay differed so much from the book.
In 2021, Anthony Broadwater – who spent 16 years in prison – was cleared by a judge of the rape of Sebold when she was a student – an assault she wrote about in her award-winning 1999 memoir Lucky.
Tim Mucciante – who owns a production company called Red Badge Films – had signed on as executive producer on the adaptation but became skeptical of Broadwater’s culpability.
After conducting his own investigations, he finally abandoned the project and hired a private detective.
Sebold’s memoir details her rape as a freshman in Syracuse in May 1981, after which she spotted a black man on the street months later who she was sure was her attacker.
She then turned herself in to police, who suggested the man she saw was Mr Broadwater, who was later arrested.
Sebold failed to identify him in a police queue, but he was nonetheless convicted of the rape in 1982 – with forensic evidence used at the time in the case described later by his lawyer as “junk science”.
Broadwater was released from prison in 1999 but said the bogus conviction ruined his life.
sebold later apologized to himsaying: “I am grateful that Mr Broadwater has finally been found guilty, but the fact remains that 40 years ago he became another young black man brutalized by our flawed justice system. I will be still sorry for what was done to him.”
The film based on Sebold’s book memoir was later cancelled.
Publisher Simon & Schuster and its publisher Scribner also ceased distribution of Lucky in all formats, but said they were “working with the author to consider how it might be revised”.
Sebold’s 2002 novel The Lovely Bones about the rape and murder of a teenage girl seeking revenge on her killer was made into the hit 2009 film starring Saoirse Ronan.
Don’t F*** With Cats: Horrible Netflix Documentary That Goes On Trial
A horrifying video of a man torturing and killing two kittens has people across the world springing into action to find him.
Netflix’s 2019 three-part documentary Don’t F*** With Cats: The History Of An Internet Serial Killer told that story – making the monster at his heart – Luka Magnotta – famous.
Not content with killing animals, he continued to murder of Chinese international student Jun Lin. He also posted a video of this murder on the Internet.
The show captivated viewers upon release, but also opened up conversations about the streaming giant giving a platform to a man who had shared video of his horrific deeds online in order to gain notoriety. It’s something he achieved in buckets thanks to the documentary.
The show’s creators were well aware of this dilemma and addressed it in interviews.
Director Mark Lewis later told a BAFTA audience: “We’ve come to what we thought was a comfortable position looking at complicity with anyone reading a crime story in the newspaper and reading a crime novel.
“Crime and murder is something that fascinates us all, and in a way it’s part of the story that we’re all – filmmakers or viewers – in some way complicit in this fascination with true crime and murder. “
Although viewers didn’t actually see the graphic video at the heart of the documentary, reactions to the footage gave a good sense of its traumatic content, with a senior contributing police official reduced to tears in the programme.
Critics of the series – perhaps the most high-profile and heartbreaking film about cats ever made – said it was a sensationalized story, which only increased Magnotta’s fame. . It is an accusation that cannot be denied.
However, as a documentation of the power of the public to investigate a crime through frame-by-frame examination of video and tireless detective work on items seen at the perpetrator’s home, the film manages to redeem itself. .
The documentary also features the family of the student he murdered, which clearly shows the escalation of his crimes.
Magnotta was convicted of murdering Jun Lin in December 2014 and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for 25 years.
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