A theory about Serial's killer

As for many people, Serial was the podcast that introduced me to podcasts. I thoroughly enjoyed all three seasons, though season one will always hold a special place.

After re-listening the series five or six times over the years, I think I finally came to a conclusion I'm happy with. My answer to the question "who killed Hae" has shifted throughout the years, but now I'm confident to say there's a theory I'm satisfied with.

If you haven't listened to Serial, I must warn you: there are spoilers ahead. Let's dive in!

Instead of focusing on call logs, timelines or possible murder sites — all of which are a mess whatever story you believe — I want to start with what Sarah, Dana and Julie ended in episode twelve: looping back to motive.

While it's clear that Jay must have been connected to the crime in some way — he knew where Hae's car was before anyone else — the reasons he gives for his involvement have always seemed a little flawed.

On the one hand he says Adnan threatened him to tell the police about his drug dealing. On the other hand — something Jay tells many people — is that he was genuinely scared for Stephanie's life; he says on several occasions that Adnan threatened to hurt or kill her if Jay told anything.

I don't know about you, but both these answers don't sound like good enough reasons to become an accomplice to a murder. I kept wondering if there might be any other reasons, other motives, for Jay's involvement.

Before going further down that line of thought, let's look at Adnan first. Let's imagine for a minute that he is guilty: what would his motive be?

He himself always claimed the breakup with Hae never bothered him that much. However, in episode twelve; Sarah, Dana and Julie put this theory back on the table anyway, just as a thought exercise.

They come to the conclusion that, because of the winter holidays and because Adnan was absent from school the first days of January; it might very well be possible he never realised he lost Hae for good, until only a few days before the murder.

So say Adnan is guilty; the most logical motive would be love, jealousy — no surprises there.

So here we have Jay on one side: clearly involved in some way, without a good enough motive; and Adnan on the other side: claiming he has nothing to do with it, with a motive that could actually make sense.

Over the years, my assumption was that either one of the two was lying. But, again in episode twelve, Sarah wonders if it would be possible both are lying instead.

[…] this whole story was either Jay’s lying or Adnan’s lying. But what if it’s not either or, what if it’s both and?

If both are lying, what would their reason, their motive be, for doing so?

In Jay's case it's pretty obvious: he's downplaying his role. All inconsistencies in his stories, together with the fact that he actually knew where the car was, point towards more involvement than he wants us to believe. As a matter of fact, it seems like it was a good strategy: he never served a day in jail.

What about Adnan though? Just like Jay, he tells inconsistent stories; he conveniently can't recall any details from that day. If he's involved in some way, why would he want to, what seems like, protect Jay?

Before answering that question, there's one more person we need to look at: Jennifer Pusateri.

Here's a little refresher: about a month after the murder, the cops decide to subpoena Adnan's call logs, in which they discover that Jenn was called six times that day. They decide to contact Jenn, and here's what happens next:

They explained they'd like her to come downtown to talk. Jenn is thoroughly wigged out. She says she can't right now, she's busy, maybe later. Then Jenn and a friend go see Jay. He's at work at a video store. She tells Jay, “the police want to talk to me. What do I do?” At trial, Jenn says, “he told me to go down there and tell them what I knew. Tell them enough to keep me out of trouble and tell them to go see Jay. Send them his way.

This has always stood out to me: Jenn knows a lot. She even goes back to Jay to get their stories straight.

Because of Jenn's connection with Jay, he has an advantage over Adnan. Jay can take the narrative into his hands, before Adnan gets a chance to tell his story. Jay even takes the time to try and get a cohesive story together with Jenn. Jay had the benefit of preparing a story that fit him best, a story which shifts all blame on Adnan.

So what's Adnan's involvement, you ask? Jenn hints at it first during her interview with the cops, when they tell her Jay is acting awfully suspicious for the little involvement he claims he has:

[…] Yeah. Well. It wasn't until today that I thought, I mean, I just don't think that Jay… I don't think that Jay would lie to me, first of all, and, like, I don't know – unless Adnan paid Jay a good sum of money, I really don't see Jay helping him.

"A good sum of money" ?

The cops ask Jay about this by the way. Notice how he's troubled to come up with an answer:

[Detective] Jay, what he has over you or your involvement in this is beyond belief other than you being afraid of the police. Either he has paid you something or…

[Jay] Like I said, he knows I sold drugs, I mean… that was, I mean, that's… he could get me locked up for that, I mean. I'm sure if I ratted him out for killing Hae, then he wouldn't hesitate to turn me over for selling drugs

So here's my theory: Adnan didn't kill Hae, Jay did. But Jay did it by order of Adnan.

Let me show you how this theory solves many problems.

When Jay hears from Jenn that the police are looking into her and him, the best thing to do is shift as much blame as possible on Adnan.

Adnan on the other hand, after being accused of the crime can't do anything else but to claim full innocence. It's not like he can say "I didn't kill Hae, I know Jay did it… because I ordered him to". The best thing Adnan can do is to keep maintaining his innocence, if he blames Jay, he know he's busted too.

But how did Adnan convince Jay to murder someone for him? It's probably a combination of many things, most of which we know. Adnan threatened Stephanie, something in the likes of: "You better do this Jay, if you don't want anything bad to happen with Stephanie".

Next, Adnan did threaten to report Jay to the police for dealing. If this happened before the murder instead of after, the threat makes a lot more sense.

Finally, Adnan probably paid Jay some money. Probably no huge amounts, these are teenagers after all. Remember that Adnan was able to go to motels together with Hae? He had a job and a steady income. He probably had a few hundred bucks saved. Together with the threats made to Jay, this would be enough reason for him to actually commit the murder.

It also explains why the timeline is such a mess: both Adnan and Jay benefit from not telling the truth. Jay mentioned he was afraid of camera's at the Best Buy — why would he be unless he's more involved? Adnan on the other hand could very well be at the library and at track, because it's only in the evening that Jay forces him to help bury the body.

So there it is: Adnan ordered Jay to kill Hae. It's the most satisfactory theory I've encountered thus far. I'll probably binge-listen Serial again soon, and try to listen from this point of view. I might encounter problems making this theory invalid, though I'm pretty sure I won't.

I've seen others also put this theory forward, so I'm definitely not the only one. What are your thoughts? Let's discuss them over on Reddit.

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