What The Real-Life Rape Victim Whose Story Inspired Netflix's 'Unbelievable' Has To Say About The Series

She was raped at knifepoint by a masked man at the age of 18, but it would take years for police to believe her. She says seeing her story play out on screen has brought her some measure of closure.

By Jill Sederstrom
Unbelievable Netflix

More than a decade ago, an 18-year-old named Marie was raped at knifepoint inside her Washington apartment by a masked man.

It would take several years for authorities to believe the teen had really been attacked, but now viewers across the country are watching her story unfold in the new Netflix series “Unbelievable” –– and Marie has been watching too.

She called the eight-part series starring Toni Collette, Merritt Wever and Kaitlyn Dever “excellent.”

Marie told Ken Armstrong—one of the reporters who first told her story in a Pulitzer Prize-winning piece in Pro Publica—that she decided she wanted to see how the story was re-told, even though re-living the trauma on the small screen was difficult.

“I did cry quite a bit,” she said, according to a series of tweets Armstrong posted describing their conversation.

Marie, who goes by her middle name in the media instead of revealing her first name, told Armstrong she was particularly moved by a scene in the first episode of the series where police confront her about whether the attack really happened. After feeling pressure from investigators, she recanted her story.

Putting her own feelings into words has always been a challenge for Marie, but she said Dever, who portrays her in the series, was able to accurately capture her real-life struggle.

“It was, like, perfect,” she said of the scene.

After she recanted, Marie was charged with filing a false report and forced to pay a $500 fine—but the charge was later expunged from her record after investigators realized she had been telling the truth.

Although the series is a dramatized adaptation of the Pro Publica article, both Marie and Armstrong praised the producers’ re-telling of the harrowing tale, which ends with the arrest of serial rapist Marc O’Leary.

“I got lucky: Unbelievable’s cast and crew, it turned out, were protective of the story, too,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong admitted that initially he had been protective of Marie and the other real-life people portrayed in the series and hoped producers would do the story justice.

“That’s why I say that to me, Marie is not a character. Jeff Mason, the detective who charged Marie with lying, is not a character. He is a cop who sat with me and owned his mistakes as horrific as they were,” he said.

But as he watched, Armstrong said he was pleased to discover that series showrunner, Susannah Grant, was able to capture how a rape investigation can ultimately become its own form of trauma.

This was evident, he said, in another scene in the series’ first episode when Marie reports her rape and has to undergo a sexual assault examination at the hospital.

“In the scene, we learn how many swabs are taken. Where they’re taken from. And what Marie is told after—that she might start thinking of killing herself,” he said. “Each detail is accurate.”

After attacking Marie, O’Leary went on to rape other women in Washington and Colorado until two detectives in Colorado tracked him down; he's is now serving a sentence of more than 300 years behind bars, according to KCNC-TV.

Marie said she was also moved by the scenes that showed those detectives in Colorado diligently working to solve the case and find justice for her and the other victims.

“I felt like they were my guardian angels, looking out for me,” she told Armstrong.

As the Colorado detectives began to close in on their suspect in the re-creation, Marie told Armstrong she also found herself feeling something else: closure.

“Seeing him get put away, that was closure for me,” she said.  

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