Every ‘Serial’ Theory, From Most to Least Plausible

On February 26. 2000, Adnan Syed was convicted of first-degree murder in the killing of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee. If Sarah Koenig has done anything in the first 11 weeks of “Serial,” it’s complicate that hypothesis. The podcast’s final episode probably won’t — and can’t — tie up every loose end once and for all, but that’s just made its legions of obsessed fans even more convinced they can crack the case on their own. (If you’ve already listened to the final episode, we’re talking about it now.) Here are their theories for what really happened the day Hae was killed, ranked from most to least plausible.

Adnan Killed Hae, Either Premeditatedly or in a Fit of Rage, and Jay Helped Him Cover It Up
Occam’s razor still says it’s the most likely explanation. Otherwise, Adnan Syed is the victim of a massively complex frame job in which every facet worked perfectly and every party involved kept silent for 15 years. The state’s case had plenty of holes, and it’s reasonable to conclude that Adnan shouldn’t have been convicted based on the evidence presented, but yeah, he probably did it.

Adnan and Jay Killed Hae Together
It’s a common theory that Jay and Adnan committed the crime together, with Jay later selling out Adnan in a version of the prisoner’s dilemma. This would explain why Jay’s story kept changing: At every stage in the interrogation, he was forced to admit more and more complicity. Only one problem: Jay doesn’t exactly have a motive.

The Police Had Jay Frame Adnan
This interpretation rests on a lawsuit brought against one of the detectives who worked Adnan’s case, as well as a working knowledge of The Wire. The police were under a lot of pressure to close murder cases, the theory goes, so they fingered Adnan as the most likely suspect and helped Jay massage his story until it fit the available evidence.

Jay Killed Hae and Framed Adnan on His Own
Adnan’s lawyer tried to hint at this, but it seems like the jury never bought it. This would explain the calls to Jay’s friends during the time Hae was killed, and if you squint a bit you can even find a way to get the Nisha call in there. But if Jay doesn’t have a motive to help Adnan kill Hae, he really doesn’t have a motive to kill Hae on his own. Some people concoct elaborate theories about Hae threatening to expose Jay’s cheating — or, in the memorable words of Cristina Gutierrez, “stepping out” — but everything from the cheating on down is entirely speculation.

Another Convicted Murderer Killed Hae
Obsessed “Serial” fans have dug up the case of Jada Lambert, a Woodlawn High alum who was strangled months before Hae was killed. The case went unsolved until 2004, when a man named Roy Davis was convicted of her murder. (In an odd coincidence, he’s currently in the same prison as Adnan.) Many aspects of the two murders line up, except for one: Lambert was sexually assaulted before her death, while most investigators agree Hae was not.

A Drug Dealer Killed Hae, and Jay and Adnan Are Covering for Him
Could one of Jay’s drug connections have killed Hae and intimidated Jay and Adnan into silence? Probably not. When people talk about “Serial” and white privilege, this is what they mean.

An Unknown Serial Killer Killed Hae
Likely inspired by the Chandra Levy case, a few “Serial” fans have speculated that Hae was actually murdered by a serial killer. But, as with all the theories that don’t pin the murder on Jay or Adnan, one question remains: How did Jay know where Hae’s car was?

Adnan Killed Hae in a Dissociated State and That’s Why He Doesn’t Remember
This doesn’t really happen.

Every ‘Serial’ Theory, in Order of Plausibility