Where is Marie Adler now? The true story behind Unbelievable on Netflix

16 September 2019, 17:23 | Updated: 16 September 2019, 17:31

By Sam Prance

Unbelievable is inspired by the heartbreaking, real story of Marie Adler.

WARNING: This article could contain triggering descriptions of sexual assault. If this could affect you, please read with caution.

Unbelievable, which debuted on Netflix on Friday (Sep 13) to critical acclaim, is based on a heartbreaking true story. People are calling it the most "infuriating" true-crime drama of all time.

The true-crime drama tells the real story of Marie Adler, an 18-year-old girl from Lynnwood, Washington, who was wrongfully charged with a gross misdemeanour in 2008 after police believed that she lied to them about being raped. Three years later, two female detectives from Colorado, Stacy Galbraith (Karen Duvall in the show) and Edna Hendershot (Grace Rasmussen in the show), validated Marie's case, after working to catch a serial rapist and learning that he'd raped Marie too.

The entire series is harrowingly candid portrayal of Marie's story and the horrific injustice she experienced.

How accurate is Unbelievable?

Where is Marie Adler now? The true story behind Unbelievable on Netflix
Where is Marie Adler now? The true story behind Unbelievable on Netflix. Picture: Netflix

Bar name changes for certain characters, Unbelievable is an incredibly loyal interpretation of the award winning The Marshall Project article which inspired it: An Unbelievable Story of Rape. Just like in the Netflix series, Marie was a foster child, with a troubled upbringing. The piece states: "[Marie] does not know if she attended kindergarten. She remembers being hungry and eating dog food. She reports entering foster care at age six or seven."

In the foster system, Marie experienced physical abuse, sexual abuse and was exposed to drugs. However, at the age of 18, Marie's foster mum, Peggy Cunningham, enlisted her in a program called Project Ladder, which allowed Marie to move into her own one bed flat, help her get a job and become self-sufficient. Here she was raped though and the stability she was beginning to establish in the Project Ladder system fell apart.

As we see in the series, Marie "reported being raped in her apartment by a man who had bound and gagged her." However, the police were suspicious of her story and Peggy was too. Peggy actually told the police that she believed Marie was lying about the rape. "Then, confronted by police with inconsistencies in her story, [Marie] had conceded it might have been a dream. Then she admitted making the story up".

In doing this, the police ignored the fact that research shows that victims of trauma struggle to remember specific details about their experiences. They treated Marie like a suspect instead of a victim and, in doing so, they unwittingly coerced her into saying she lied. Marie was then charged with a gross misdemeanour for lying and lost friends, family and work after her story made the news.

When Detectives Stacy Galbraith and Edna Hendershot found Marc O'Leary (Christopher McCarthy in the show) guilty of raping 27 women, only then did they learn that one of those women was Marie. They then informed Lynwood police, who informed Marie and Marie sued the city and received a settlement of $150,000. Marie also confronted the police who handled her original case and they apologised to her just like in the series.

What happened to Marie Adler?

The Marshall Project article reports that "Marie left the state, got a commercial driver’s license and took a job as a long-haul trucker. She married, and in October she and her husband had their second child. She asked that her current location not be disclosed."

Discussing whether Marie was involved in making the series, Kaitlyn Dever, who plays Marie, told Good Housekeeping that she wasn't. She explained: "She's incredibly strong and she's been through so much, so everyone on the team wanted to respect her privacy."

We have no doubt that Marie's story will inspire many viewers and hopefully encourage police departments to have more rigorous training when it comes to dealing with rape victims. No one deserves to be treated like Marie was.

If you - or anyone you know - needs help, please contact the following: If you're in the US, the National Sexual Assault Hotline is available 24/7 at 800-656-HOPE and you can also visit RAINN. If you're in the UK, you can visit Rape Crisis or call 0808 802 9999.