Like many people, I’m sure, I was intrigued by the Netflix series ‘Unbelievable’, and am pleased that I had the chance to read the book before sinking into the series. Unbelievable: A True Story of Doubt and Betrayal has been written by two detectives, T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong, on their ‘relentless hunt for justice’. For the article entitled ‘An Unbelievable Story of Rape’, which preceded this book-length investigation, the authors received a Pulitzer Prize.
Unbelievable follows a true crime case from its beginning. In August 2008, an eighteen-year-old Lynnwood, Seattle resident named Marie reported that she had been raped by a masked man, who had broken into her bedroom. Marie had been living in foster care for some years, and her vulnerability was exploited by those who first interviewed her. Ultimately, they pushed her into saying that she had made the story up, as there were too many inconsistencies.
Miller and Armstrong noted that they had ‘heard from people in Marie’s life who had doubts. And when the police had confronted Marie about those doubts, she had wavered, then buckled, saying she had made the story up – because her foster mom wasn’t answering her calls, because her boyfriend was now just a friend, because she wasn’t used to being alone.’ She was consequently charged with making a false report, and faced criminal prosecution.
In 2011, two female detectives, Stacey Galbraith and Edna Hendershot, were working in Colorado. They realised that a serial rapist was on the loose, ‘one whose calculated method suggested experience in the army – or the police’, and noted the strong similarities with Marie’s case. He had a very particular modus operandi, which allowed them to link the cases together. They decided that Marie’s “false report” ‘seemed worthy of a second look’. She soon became newsworthy, and was spoken about nationally. Miller and Armstrong write: ‘In Washington and beyond, Marie’s story became an exhibit in a centuries-long argument about credibility and rape.’
The prose of Unbelievable is absorbing and accessible, and statistics have been woven in throughout, which constantly remind the reader that Marie’s experience is far from unique. The tone throughout feels just right with regard to the story; it is not wholly journalistic, but is easy to read whilst still being accurate, hard-hitting, and insightful. Miller and Armstrong detail how the subsequent investigation panned out, and just how much work actually goes into getting to the bottom of a crime.
Unbelievable is incredibly moving, and highlights the huge injustices which exist in the justice system, not just in the United States, but all over the developed world. Marie’s story is just one of many important cases in which the most vulnerable people are not believed, or are coerced into retracting their stories for whatever reason. Unbelievable is a highly compelling book, and one which I would wholeheartedly recommend.