Netflix's heartbreaking true crime miniseries Unbelievable tells the story of an 18 year-old girl called Marie (Kaitlyn Dever), who was coerced by the police into recanting her story of being raped - after her own former foster mother told the police she believed Marie was lying to get attention. The two foster mothers depicted in Unbelievable, Colleen (Bridget Everett) and Judith (Elizabeth Marvel), are based on the real Marie's former foster mothers, Shannon and Peggy. As shown in Unbelievable, both of them doubted Marie's story because they felt she wasn't behaving the way they would expect of someone who had been raped. Marie was subsequently pressured by the police to say that she made up the story, and charged with false reporting.
Unbelievable is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning article An Unbelievable Story of Rape, by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong, and the story was also the subject of an episode of This American Life titled "Anatomy of Doubt." Marie is the middle name of the woman who was coerced into saying she falsely reported her rape, though her full name is not Marie Adler. She was attacked in her apartment by a man called Marc Patrick O'Leary, who threatened her with a knife, bound her with her own shoelaces, and raped her for hours before finally taking photos of her with her ID, telling her he would release the photos if she went to the police. It was these photos that ultimately vindicated Marie when O'Leary was finally apprehended by Detectives Stacy Galbraith and Edna Hendershot (played by Toni Collette and Merritt Wever in the show).
The final episode of Unbelievable, in which Marie learns that her rapist has been caught and her story has been irrefutably proven true, takes place three years after the original attack, when she is living on her own again. We don't see either Colleen or Judith in this episode, so we don't get to see their reactions upon learning that her story was proven to be true. The earlier scene in which Colleen sees a news report about another attack and notices the similarities to Marie's story did happen in real life, as Shannon explained in "Anatomy of Doubt":
"Right away, I thought, I'm wrong. It actually happened. She was raped because this is too similar. So I immediately went in and called the Kirkland Police Department and asked to speak to the lead detective on the rape case. And I explained the whole situation about what had happened to Marie and that the Lynnwood police didn't believe her."
Unfortunately, as depicted in Unbelievable, Shannon's tip to the Kirkland police ended up going nowhere because of Lynnwood PD's insistence that Marie had falsely reported and the case was closed. "I was upset," Shannon recalled. "I thought there should have been more investigation, that it was just too similar." She tried to persuade Marie to go to the police a second time, but Marie was already embroiled in false reporting charges and was "terrified" of talking to the police again.
After Marie's name was cleared, both Shannon and Peggy apologized to her. Shannon recalled:
"I didn't want to say I was sorry over the phone, that I wanted to do it in person. So she came up. And we went for a walk. And I just took her shoulders, and I said, I want to look in your eyes and tell you from the bottom of my heart, I am so sorry I doubted you and I didn't believe you and we didn't support you. And she said that was OK, gave me a big hug. And I was just so shocked that she would be willing to forgive me for that because it was such a huge thing. And it went on for so long."
Peggy regretted her role in Marie being doubted by the police, saying, "The worst, horrible part of this whole thing for me is that I did talk to the police." However, she also said that Marie needed to "take responsibility" for the way she acted after her rape:
"She needs to realize at some point, and I think she does now, that-- OK, I hate to say this. But you know, I mean-- OK, now this is going to sound really bad, like I'm blaming the victim. But some of the way that she was acting was part of the reason why it had the outcome that it did. And I am not the only person that didn't believe her."
As depicted in Unbelievable, Marie received a $150,000 settlement after suing the city of Lynnwood and its police officers. One detail left out of the show was that she also sued the managers of Project Ladder's Cocoon House, the program that housed her during her transition out of foster care. Marie had asked Project Ladder to help her get a lawyer when she was first accused of lying about her rape, which they did not do. They also threatened to take away her housing unless she sat in a circle with other young people in Cocoon House and "confessed" to lying about the rape. In response to the lawsuit, Cocoon House issued a statement: "We strongly believe that Cocoon House and its employees acted appropriately on behalf of the client." Cocoon House settled the lawsuit out of court.
Using the money she gained from her settlement with the city, Marie moved out of Lynnwood, though Shannon and Peggy remained a part of her life. She is now 28 years old, married with two children, and has a job as a long-haul trucker.