What Would a 'Serial'-Like Murder Investigation Look Like Today?
In 1999, cell phone technology was nascent—how has tracking technology (and the other digital trails we leave) changed investigations since then?
Image: Casey Fiesler/Flickr
*This post contains spoilers about the podcast Serial*
The first season of the ultra-popular podcast Serial is over, but lots of questions remain, in no small part due to the lack of evidence tying then-high school student Adnan Syed to the 1999 murder of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee.
Huge swaths of Sarah Koenig's longform storytelling (and reporting) experiment are dedicated to frustratingly minute details of what cell phone tower a certain call pinged, what certain high school students were doing at a certain time on a certain day, and whether or not someone had voicemail.
One of the most interesting things about Serial, to the Motherboard crew, was the fact that, yes, these high school students had cell phones, and they had email, but they used that technology in an entirely different way than we do today. Adnan checked his email, every once in a while, at the library, for goodness sakes.
So, we decided to explore what sorts of digital evidence a murder with similar circumstances would have today. Would Hae's time of death been narrowed down thanks to her last Instagram post? Would Adnan's Facebook have helped him remember what he was doing that day? And what's the deal with cell phone tower tracking, anyway?