Real-life murder sets podcast record

The killer is high-school student Adnan Syed; the victim, his former girlfriend Hae Min Lee. In 2000, he was convicted of first degree murder and given a life sentence plus 30 years. Ordinarily, the story would have ended there, but it did not.

This 15-year-old non-fiction murder mystery has been given a new lease of life through a podcast called Serial, which has become so popular, it is topping the charts in the United States, Australia, Germany and even Singapore.

It has also set the record as the fastest podcast to hit five million downloads and streams in iTunes history.

Those who have just discovered the programme - it began early last month and aired its ninth episode last week - are binge-listening to it, while others who are caught up discuss the minutiae on websites and social media.

Thursdays - the day it is released on - have also taken on a new meaning, as fans wake up early to download the clip, or look forward to listening parties where they can discuss the latest developments.

Ms Miranda Sawyer from London tweets at the crack of dawn on Thursday: "*whispers* If you go to the website, it's up #serial" Each podcast has titles such as The Alibi, The Breakup, Inconsistencies and The Case Against Adnan Syed.

Korean-American actor Daniel Dae Kim, from the series Lost, tweets: "I haven't been hooked on 'radio' like this in a long time."

Even the creators - the same people behind a popular public radio show, This American Life - seem taken aback by the runaway success. "We kind of expected to be in the sleepier realms of the podcast world," senior producer Julie Snyder told AFP.

The show is narrated by journalist Sarah Koenig, who spent a year looking into the case and continues to report as the episodes go out. She leaves no stone unturned as she questions whether the right man was put behind bars.

Ms Koenig admits her fascination with the case and digs into the lives of the two high-school sweethearts: Hae, who has South Korean roots, and Adnan, whose family comes from Pakistan.

Their romance ended about a month before Hae was killed on Jan 13, 1999. A few weeks later, she is found in a shallow grave in a Baltimore park. Ms Koenig interviews police officers, witnesses, and even speaks to Adnan, now 32, who calls her from jail twice a week.

She says in the initial episodes that she maintains these conversations hoping to catch him out on a lie, but he continues to profess his innocence, insisting he does not remember much from that day.

Ms Koenig also manages to track down Adnan's accomplice, Jay, whose side of the story gave the prosecution what they needed to sway the jury. He claims to have no part in the murder, but told police Adnan showed him the body, and they buried it together.

There are surveys online for people to vote on whether Jay or Adnan did it, chatrooms that discuss various theories, and there is even another podcast about the weekly podcast.

In San Francisco, Mr Raj Bhardwaj, 32, organises listening parties at work. The product manager at tech start-up Storehouse says he and his colleagues grab their lunch at noon and head into a conference room to listen to it.

As for how it will end, it seems nobody knows for sure, not even the producers themselves.

Ms Koenig tells The Guardian: "I don't know where it will end, actually... I'm trying not to freak out about the end right now - we'll get there when we get there."

This article was first published on November 25, 2014.
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