‘Unbelievable’ story of Lynnwood teen’s rape retold on Netflix

She told police she was sexually assaulted in her room. Detectives said she lied. She didn’t.

By Zachariah Bryan and Evan Thompson

In 2008, a Lynnwood teen told police that she had been raped. They didn’t believe her.

They were wrong.

Now her story will be retold in a new Netflix series debuting Friday.

“Unbelievable” recounts how the teenager reported to police that she was raped at knifepoint by a masked intruder in her apartment, but later retracted her claim under pressure from male investigators and even her foster mothers, who suggested she made up the story for attention.

Lynnwood police then found out about an ongoing investigation of a pair of eerily similar cases in Colorado, led by female detectives tracking a serial rapist.

The miniseries melds the true crime genre with the traumatizing experiences of rape victims. The eight-episode series is written by Susannah Grant, Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman. The first three episodes are directed by Lisa Cholodenko, who was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 2015 with the film “The Kids Are All Right.”

The show is based on a Pulitzer-Prize winning investigative story published in ProPublica.

The Daily Herald has covered the story since the Lynnwood woman, then 18, first reported her rape to police.

In “Unbelievable,” a teenager is charged with lying about being raped. (Beth Dubber / Netflix)

In “Unbelievable,” a teenager is charged with lying about being raped. (Beth Dubber / Netflix)

The investigation had gone awry early. Lynnwood detectives said they noted inconsistencies in the teen’s story and, according to her, they bullied her into admitting that she lied. She was charged and then convicted for false reporting. A judge ordered her to pay $500 and undergo mental health counseling.

The fact that a 63-year-old woman in Kirkland was raped in her home shortly afterward, in almost the exact same way, didn’t cause detectives to reconsider — even when Kirkland police called asking about the similarities.

It would be another three years before their rapist, Marc Patrick O’Leary, was arrested in Colorado for attacking four more women. He had taken more than 400 photographs depicting the sexual assaults. Among them were photographs of the Lynnwood woman. One of them showed her identification card, with her name and date of birth visible, placed on her bare chest.

O’Leary was sentenced to 325 years in prison for the Colorado assaults. Then, in 2012, he was sentenced to 28 years for raping the Lynnwood and Kirkland women.

Vindicated, the Lynnwood woman filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Lynnwood, which ended in 2014 with a $150,000 settlement.

The woman also sued Cocoon House, an Everett-based nonprofit youth advocacy agency. The woman had received services from the organization, but she said employees threatened to take those services away if she lied to police. She was forced to tell other program participants that she made up the story about being raped, according to the lawsuit.

Cocoon House also settled, for an undisclosed amount of money.

The Lynnwood woman’s false reporting conviction was expunged and the fine refunded after O’Leary’s arrest. Lynnwood police have since received additional training about sexual assault investigations.

Zachariah Bryan: 425-339-3431; zbryan@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @zachariahtb.


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Merritt Wever (left) and Toni Collette star in the drama “Unbelievable.” (Beth Dubber / Netflix)

Merritt Wever (left) and Toni Collette star in the drama “Unbelievable.” (Beth Dubber / Netflix)

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