'Unbelievable': 5 Things You Might Not Know About The Real Case Behind The Hit Series

Facts about the heroic survivor and the detectives who brought a serial rapist to justice.

October 14, 2019
Mug shot of Marc O'Leary [Colorado Department of Corrections]

Photo by: Mug shot of Marc O'Leary [Colorado Department of Corrections]

Mug shot of Marc O'Leary [Colorado Department of Corrections]

By: Mike McPadden

The popular Netflix miniseries "Unbelievable" dramatizes the pursuit of convicted serial rapist Marc O'Leary. It doesn’t flinch when it comes to reporting the many mistakes made by police, parents, and other authority figures along the way.

The series creators based it on the 2015 Pulitzer Prize–winning piece, "An Unbelievable Story of Rape" by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong. Like the article, the show chronicles Marie, played by Kaitlyn Dever, who is an 18-year-old rape survivor whose account of the crime was reportedly used against her to the point that she recanted her allegations.

A pair of Colorado detectives, played by Toni Collette and Merrit Weaver, worked together on cases that proved not only had Marie told the truth, but she had fallen prey to a serial rapist identified by authorities as Marc O'Leary.

In 2011, a judge reportedly sentenced O'Leary to more than 327 years in prison.

Law Enforcement Reportedly Didn't Believe Marie & "Pressured" Her To Recant Her Story

In August 2008, an 18-year-old Washington state resident identified only by her middle name, Marie, called police to report someone had raped her at knifepoint in her apartment. Marie said the assailant wore a black mask, tied her up, and took photos of her.

Responding officers reportedly told Marie to recount the incident over and over again, leading to what they claimed were inconsistencies in her story. This, the lack of physical evidence, and the fact that two of Marie’s former foster parents purportedly told police they thought she was lying led to a charge of filing a false report.

"When the police began doubting Marie, they turned on her," journalist Ken Armstrong told NPR. "The focus of the investigation became her credibility. And instead of interviewing Marie as a victim, they began interrogating her as a suspect."

Authorities reportedly wore Marie down so much that she recanted her story, and faced a charge of filing a false report, for which she paid a $500 fine. Additionally, she accepted a deal wherein the charge would be dropped if she went to mental health counseling for lying and participated in supervised probation.

"Marie buckled under that pressure," Armstrong said. "It was the easiest way out for her. So she recanted. And the way she describes it, when she did recant, it came with this tremendous sense of relief. It was almost as though she had unburdened herself."

According to reports, Marie still carried the burden not only of surviving the rape, but also the knowledge that she’d told the truth. [NPR]

Marc O'Leary Allegedly Went On To Commit More Rapes

According to a timeline of the "Unbelievable" case at Refinery 29, an October 2008 rape of a 63-year-old woman in Kirkland, Colorado had similarities with the crime committed against Marie.

The following October, a masked rapist raped a 65-year-old woman in Aurora, Colorado. A similar attack occurred in Lakewood in July 2010, but because the victim escaped, police reportedly labeled it a burglary.

Rapes with a similar methodology reportedly took place in Westminster, Colorado in August 2010 and Golden, Colorado in January 2011. [Refinery 29]

Detectives Stacey Galbraith & Edna Hendershot Worked Together & Caught The Suspect

While investigating the Golden rape, Stacy Galbraith, then a detective with the Golden Police Department, reportedly emailed the Westminster Police Department to ask if they had any open sex crimes with elements such as a pink digital camera and masked assailant who had an egg-sized birthmark on his leg. Detective Edna Hendershot of Westminster reportedly replied in the affirmative.

Gailbraith later met with Hendershot and Detective Scott Burgess of the Aurora Police Department. Together, they reportedly connected the four Colorado rapes as possibly being the work of a single perpetrator.

Evidence of a white Mazda pickup truck at one of the crime scenes reportedly as well as DNA evidence implicating a male in his family led to the identification of Marc O'Leary as a suspect. While patting down O'Leary, Galbraith reportedly saw the birthmark on his leg. [Time]

A Search Of O'Leary's Computer Found Evidence That Proved Marie Told The Truth

Following O'Leary's arrest for burglary and sexual assault on February 13, 2011, investigators allegedly gathered numerous items of evidence from his home.

A police computer expert also reportedly searched O'Leary's hard drive and discovered photographs of his victims. Among them were shots of a bound-and-gagged young woman, and, in one photo, her learner's permit was visible. It reportedly identified the victim in the photo as Marie.

Authorities in Washington state reportedly contacted Marie and the lead detective on her case ended up apologizing to her. [Harper's Bazaar]

Marc O'Leary Received More Than 327 Years in Prison For His Crimes

In October 2011, Marc O'Leary reportedly pled guilty to 28 counts of rape and associated felonies in Colorado.

At his December 2011 sentencing, O'Leary reportedly told the court, "I'm standing here because I need to be in prison. I know that probably more than anyone in this room. I've known it for a while."

Judge Philip J. McNulty reportedly responded by sentencing O'Leary to 327½ years in prison. [Denver Post]

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