Five International Whodunits ‘Serial’ Should Tackle in Its Next Season
The mysterious death of Yasser Arafat, the purge of Lin Biao, and three other mysteries for the world's favorite radio sleuths to investigate.
What will become of Thursdays? Tomorrow, Serial — the non-fiction, murder mystery podcast that in weekly increments has investigated the story of a real-life 1999 murder — will release its 12th and final episode. Combining elements of narrative storytelling, investigative journalism, and a police procedural, the show has become an international sensation, and, according to Apple, is the world’s most popular podcast.
Serial follows reporter Sarah Koenig as she reinvestigates the murder of a teenage girl, Hae Min Lee. Relying primarily on the testimony of a single eyewitness, a Maryland court convicted the victim’s ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, for the killing and sentenced him to life in prison. To this day, Adnan maintains his innocence, and each episode of Serial chronicles an element of Koenig’s quest for the truth — from documenting trial evidence to deconstructing the very nature of an alibi.
But all good things must come to an end. Sort of. When the final episode goes live, much of the mystery is likely to remain unsolved — chiefly who killed Lee. But there is one thing Serial fans can hold on to: The podcast will be back for a second season after quickly raising funds following an online appeal.
So far, Koenig hasn’t commented on next season’s subject. In fact, the show may not even tackle another crime. With all due respect to the show’s editorial instincts, this would be a mistake. Together with Koenig’s transparent reporting style, it was the crime — specifically, the fascinating uncertainty over its perpetrator — that made the show so engrossing.
As Serial’s producers plan for their next season, we here at Foreign Policy have some ideas about whodunits the world’s favorite podcast should tackle next:
The Death of Yasser Arafat
In November 2004, Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and an icon of Middle Eastern politics, died in a French hospital at the age of 75. Doctors said the Palestinian leader suffered from a strike caused by a blood disorder. But after his death, theories emerged that Arafat had been assassinated, possibly by poisoning. In November 2013, a team of Swiss scientists released a report claiming that tests “moderately support the proposition that the death was the consequence of poisoning with polonium-210,” a highly toxic substance. Weeks later, however, French investigators found that, despite traces of polonium, Arafat died of natural causes. Today, the cause of death remains hotly contested.
The Purge of Lin Biao
During the Communist Party’s decades-long fight for power in China, Lin Biao was considered one of the Red Army’s most successful commanders. But the man who would become Mao Zedong’s perhaps closest ally is now known less for his military prowess than the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death. In 1971, Lin died in a plane crash in Mongolia. Or at least that’s what the Chinese government claims. An official government announcement, which was not released until months after the crash, alleged that Lin — Mao’s likely successor — had tried to organize a coup and assassinate the chairman. After the plot failed, he fled for the Soviet Union but perished when his plane went down, according to the Chinese government’s account. Little evidence was released to support that claim.
The Suicide of Shane Todd
In June 2012, the body of American engineer Shane Todd was found hanging in his Singapore apartment. A suicide note was left at the scene. Though the Singapore coroner concluded that Todd took his own life, his family maintains that he was murdered and that his suicide was staged. Todd’s family contends he was killed after refusing to divulge high-tech secrets to a Chinese company. At the time of his death, that company, tech giant Huawei, was discussing a joint project with Todd’s employer, Singapore’s Institute of Microelectronics. According to experts sought out by the family, Todd did not write the suicide note. Moreover, DNA evidence belonging to two unknown individuals was found at the scene of his death. Authorities in Singapore ultimately destroyed that evidence — the noose used to carry out the suicide and a towel — without fully testing to determine to whom the DNA belonged.
The Disappearances of Canadian Women
According to official estimates, 18 women — 17 of whom are indigenous — have disappeared along Highway 16 in Canada. Not a single case has been solved. But the problem is not confined to the 435-mile stretch of road. According to a May report by Royal Canadian Mounted Police, “aboriginal women are over-represented among Canada’s murdered and missing women.” Since 1980, there have been roughly 1,200 cases of missing or murdered indigenous women in Canada.
The Indictment of a U.S. Marine
Not all crime stories require a mystery. Take, for instance, the case of a U.S. marine facing murder charges in the Philippines. Marine Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton acknowledged killing Jennifer Laude, a transgender woman, in a Manila hotel room in October. Though the perpetrator has been identified, the case offers plenty of material for Koenig — from the vulnerabilities of transgendered individuals to the history of American imperialism in the Philippines to the possible motivations behind a brutal crime.