Serial: A Rumpus Roundup


This American Life spinoff Serial is a nonfiction podcast told over multiple episodes. Premiering back in October, Serial explores the case of Adnan Syed, who has been sentenced to life in prison for the murder of ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee. Much of the intriguing drama around the story stems from the fact that many aren’t convinced Syed actually murdered Lee—or at the very least, that the prosecution didn’t prove him guilty.

In 1999, 18-year-old Hae Min Lee was killed in Baltimore county. Several weeks later, police arrested 19-year-old Syed for her murder based on the testimony of Jay Wilds, a local pot dealer and friend of Syed’s.

Shortly after the podcast launched, the Internet set out to find for the real killers. Reddit launched a dedicated subReddit. Adding to the hype surrounding the podcast were headlines proclaiming Syed might yet be proved innocent.

Amateur detectives had plenty to examine. Huffington Post collected pictures of the victim, the crime scenes, and Syed. Serial assembled timelines of the events of the day the murder. Rabia Chaudry, the lawyer who first brought Syed’s case to Serial producer Sarah Koenig, analyzed each episode on her personal blog.

Missing from the Serial podcast was an interview with Jay Wilds, the prosecution’s key witness whose testimony helped convict Syed. Wilds has now finally spoken out, granting an interview to The Intercept. Wilds now says he lied to police.

Nevertheless, Syed has very limited options for appealing the case under Maryland law. Still, The Innocence Project will continue to pursue legal remedies.

Syed’s case might have been botched from the beginning, but the renewed attention is in large part due to the wild success of Serial. The podcast reached the 5 million download mark faster than any other. That popularity, though, has raised moral and ethical questions about using a real life murder case for pop culture entertainment. For instance, a user claiming to be Lee’s brother took to Reddit to chastise the sensationalism surrounding Serial.

Meanwhile, Serial has been renewed for a second season.

Ian MacAllen is the author of Red Sauce: How Italian Food Became American (Rowman & Littlefield, April 2022). His writing has appeared in Chicago Review of Books, Southern Review of Books, The Offing, 45th Parallel Magazine, Little Fiction, Vol 1. Brooklyn, and elsewhere. He tweets @IanMacAllen and is online at More from this author →