The star-studded adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning report "An Unbelievable Story of Rape" hits Netflix this month with a cast helmed by Emmy winners Merritt Wever and Toni Colette. The pair play two detectives, Karen Duvall (Wever) and Grace Rasmussen (Colette) who team up to solve a string of rapes across multiple Colorado and Washington state jurisdictions, including one in which its teen victim was manipulated into recanting her story. Viewers may be wondering more about who the real Grace Rasmussen is, since Netflix changed some of the details, including the detectives' names.
Grace is based on Westminster, CO Detective Edna Hendershot. She was first contacted by Golden, CO Detective Stacy Galbraith (Duvall in Unbelievable) in 2011, according to the ProPublica report. Galbraith had just investigated a horrifying rape scene in which the victim claimed her attacker had broken into her home, jumped on her back wearing a mask, tied her hands behind her, and raped her for four hours, successfully cleaning up most of his DNA evidence afterward. The 26-year-old rape victim told Galbraith that the intruder seemed practiced, as if he had carried out this attack before. When Galbraith shared the story with her husband, a Westminster police detective, he let her know they had a case just like that in their jurisdiction.
Hendershot was the one to intercept the email from Galbraith and she immediate realized the two departments had rapes with similar M.O.s in their midst. ProPublica reported:
Cops can be protective about their cases, fearing that information could be leaked that would jeopardize their investigations. [...] But Hendershot right away recognized the potential in collaborating and in using every tool possible. “Two heads, three heads, four heads, sometimes are better than one, right?” she said. So did Galbraith. Her department was small — a little more than 40 officers serving a town of about 20,000. It only made sense to join forces. “I have no qualms with asking for help,” Galbraith said. “Let’s do what we can do to catch him.”
The two detectives, both of whom had had quite a bit of experience with rape investigations, met up a week later and formed a task force of sorts, pooling their information and creating a profile of the apparent serial attacker. Hendershot and Galbraith wound up connecting four rapes across the Denver suburbs and eventually caught their suspect Marc O'Leary.
In O'Leary's belongings, Galbraith discovered photos of his victims, including one she didn't recognize from the cases she and Henderson had assembled. The victim, an 18-year-old Lynnwood, Washington resident named Marie Adler, was posed with her learner's permit on her chest, so Galbraith was able to track her down. Galbraith later discovered that Lynnwood police had doubted Adler's story to the extent that they charged her with filing a false police report after manipulating her into recanting. After learning her rapist had been caught — and linked to another rape in nearby Kirkland, WA — Adler sued the city and settled for $150,000. O'Leary is serving a 327-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to 28 counts of rape; he will never be released.
Unbelievable is now streaming on Netflix.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit online.rainn.org.