The series was the popular podcast that truly launched true crime as an entertainment genre — and, as a direct result, changed the course of justice.
It may have started, but the series is far from the only show to take a true crime case and turn it into content for our listening and viewing pleasure – with dramatic results.
Here, we take a look at five shows that have changed the way we see the justice system – some have even led to criminal convictions or overturns – while enthralling viewers around the world.
Series: One Story Told Week After Week
From the podcast’s boisterous opening keyboard trill to the forensic analysis of the Sarah Koenig case, this show has captivated viewers since day one and became a word-of-mouth sensation back in 2014.
It brought the true crime podcast genre into the mainstream and spawned hundreds of similar actors. And, of course, his work is not done yet.
Eight years after the podcast was released, the man at the center of the case Adnan Syed was released from prison – his murder conviction was overturned after 23 years in prison.
He has the podcast to thank for breathing new life into his defense and calling into question his conviction for the murder of his then-girlfriend Hae Min Lee after she was found strangled and buried in a Baltimore park in 1999.
He has always maintained his innocence and spent years unsuccessfully seeking a conviction, but now a variety of evidence — including a handwritten letter from witness Asia McClain corroborating Syed’s testimony that he was in the library at the time of the murder, tainted cell phone data, and two others of potential suspects that were not revealed by his lawyer during the trial – mean that his case is being tried again.
Although he has not yet been found innocent, he has been released from prison and is currently under house arrest with a tracker placed on his ankle.
The prosecutor’s office now has 30 days to decide whether to retry the case. Hae Min Lee’s family is exploring options for adoption.
Regardless of the outcome, Syed finds himself back in the media spotlight.
Of course, the new Serial podcast is documenting his release, and the ongoing case is ready for listeners who want to pick up where they left off in 2014.
Teachers Pet: The Australian podcast that secured the conviction
The 74-year-old former rugby league player was convicted of murdering his wife – nearly 40 years after her death – thanks to a true crime podcast that rekindled interest in the cold case.
The Teacher’s Pet – a podcast created by journalists from an Australian newspaper – outlines the circumstantial case of Chris Dawson killing his wife Lynette Dawson, also the mother of his two children.
Lynette went missing on Sydney’s northern beaches in January 1982, but her body was never found.
He denied murdering the 33-year-old and claimed she had left the house to have some time for herself. There was no evidence that Mrs Dawson had contacted family or friends since her disappearance.
A 2003 inquest found Dawson had an affair with a 16-year-old female student who moved in with him days before his wife disappeared.
The hit podcast in 2018 detailed the troubled marriage that led to her disappearance and scrutinized the police response. It has been downloaded more than 30 million times and listened to by at least 60 million people.
Media reports, citing police sources, said the investigation was reopened after the podcast received publicity.
However, officers insisted the case had been reopened due to “new witnesses coming forward”.
Four months after the last episode of the podcast, police charged Dawson with murder, choosing to go to trial by judge rather than jury because of the publicity surrounding the case.
In August 2022, he was found guilty.
The judge said the totality of the small evidence, including contradictions in Dawson’s defense, was convincing and he was satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Dawson caused her death. He will be sentenced in November.
The Jinx: Hot mic ends up convicted of murder
New York multimillionaire and property heir Robert Durst was convicted of murder in 2021following the popular HBO documentary The Jinx.
The show focused on three crimes – the unsolved disappearance in 1982 of his first wife Kathleen McCormack, the 2000 murder of his longtime girlfriend Susan Berman, and the 2001 murder of his neighbor Maurice Black.
Although Durst was acquitted of Black’s murder in 2001, a conversation recorded on a microphone during the filming of the documentary shows him confessing to all three murders. Apparently, he did not know that he was still being recorded.
Durst, still wearing a live microphone after his interview, muttered to himself in the bathroom, “What the hell did I do?… Killed them all, of course.”
Although it was later revealed that these quotes were faked for dramatic effect, he was arrested on the eve of the final episode.
He was later convicted of fatally shooting Ms. Berman at her Los Angeles home in 2000, who prosecutors said had given him a false alibi in connection with his wife’s disappearance.
He was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Durst was charged with his wife’s disappearance shortly after his sentencing, but died in prison in January of this year before the trial in this case could begin.
The 78-year-old is believed to be worth $100m (£73m) and is the grandson of Joseph Durst, who founded the Durst Organisation, one of Manhattan’s biggest commercial property companies.
Lucky: The Adaptation of the Memoir That Led to the Overturning of a Rape Conviction
The man convicted of raping Lovely Bones writer Alice Siebold had his conviction is overturned after the producer of her 1999 memoir Lucky began to question why the first draft of the script differed so much from the book.
In 2021, Anthony Broadwater, who spent 16 years in prison, was acquitted by a judge of raping Sebold when she was a student, abuse she wrote about in her award-winning 1999 memoir Lucky.
Tim Mucciante, who owns a production company called Red Badge Films, signed on to executive produce the adaptation, but was skeptical of Broadwater’s culpability.
After conducting his own investigation, he eventually dropped out of the project and hired a private investigator.
Sebold’s memoir details her rape as a first-year student at Syracuse in May 1981, and months later she spotted a black man on the street who she believed was her assailant.
She then contacted the police, who suggested that the man she had seen was Mr Broadwater, who was subsequently arrested.
Siebold failed to identify him in a police line-up, but was nevertheless convicted of rape in 1982 – with forensic evidence used at the time in a case later described by his lawyer as “junk science”.
Broadwater was released from prison in 1999 but said the false conviction ruined his life.
Sebold later asked him for forgivenesssaying, “I am grateful that Mr. Broadwater has finally been acquitted, but the fact remains: 40 years ago, he was just another young black man who fell victim to the brutality of our vicious legal system. I will forever regret what was done to him.”
The film, based on Sebold’s memoir, was later cancelled.
Publisher Simon & Schuster and its Scribner imprint also stopped distributing Lucky in all formats, but said they were “working with the author to consider how it might be revised.”
Sebold’s 2002 novel The Magnificent Bones, about the rape and murder of a teenage girl seeking revenge on her killer, was turned into a 2009 hit starring Saoirse Ronan.
Don’t Fuck Cats: The Creepy Netflix Documentary That Puts Itself On Trial
A gruesome video of a man torturing and killing two kittens has prompted internet users around the world to spring into action to track him down.
The 2019 Netflix three-part documentary Don’t Fuck Cats: The Story of an Internet Serial Killer told this story by making the monster at its heart, Luca Magnotta, famous.
Not satisfied with killing animals, he continued the killing of Chinese international student Jun Lin. He also posted a video of the killing on the Internet.
The show has captivated viewers since its release, but has also sparked talk that the streaming giant has given a platform to a man who shared videos of his gruesome acts online to gain fame. This was something he achieved in a huge amount thanks to the documentary.
The creators of the show were well aware of this dilemma and addressed it in the interview.
Director Mark Lewis later told the BAFTA audience: “We came to what we felt was a comfortable way of looking at complicity with everyone who reads a crime story in a newspaper and who reads a crime novel.
“Crime and murder is something we’re all fascinated by, and in a way it’s been part of the story that we’re all — whether filmmakers or viewers — kind of complicit in that fascination with true crime and murder.”
Although viewers were not actually shown the naturalistic footage at the heart of the documentary, the reaction to the footage gave a good idea of its traumatic content, with one senior police officer breaking down in tears on the programme.
Critics of the series – arguably the most high-profile and moving cat film ever made – said it was a sensationalist story that only increased Magniotta’s fame. This is an accusation that cannot be denied.
Still, as a documentary about the public’s power to investigate a crime through time-by-time study of video and tireless detective work on items seen in the perpetrator’s home, the film somehow redeems itself.
The documentary also features the family of the student he went on to kill, showing the escalation of his crimes.
Magnotto was convicted of Jun Lin’s murder in December 2014 and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 25 years.