Hae Min Lee: who was Adnan Syed’s ex girlfriend, what happened to her - Serial theories on who killed her

Adnan Syed, now 41 years old, has been released from prison after being convicted of the 1999 murder of his ex-girlfriend in 2000

In 2014, a true crime investigative podcast called Serial, hosted by Sarah Koenig, which explored the 1999 murder of Woodlawn High School student Hae Min Lee, exploded in popularity.

The podcast won awards and dominated the download charts, with millions of listeners learning about how Lee’s ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was convicted of her murder.

Now, after spending more than two decades behind bars, Syed has been released from prison after Circuit Court Judge Melissa Phinn ordered that his conviction be vacated. She also ordered the state to decide whether to seek a new trial date or dismiss the case within 30 days.

But who was Hae Min Lee, and what happened to her?

This is everything you need to know.

Who was Hae Min Lee?

Lee was a Korean-American high school student who was born on 15 October 1980, and was last seen alive on 13 January 1999 when she was 18 years old.

She was born in South Korea and, in 1992, emigrated to Baltimore, Maryland in America with her mother, Youn Kim, and brother, Young Lee, to live with her grandparents.

She attended Woodlawn High School and, according to an article from Inside Edition, competed at varsity level in field hockey and lacrosse, and was on the Honour Roll. She also took part in the ecology club, French club and Students Against Destructive Decisions.

Hae Min Lee was killed when she was 18 years old (Photo: HBO)

Lee was reportedly set to graduate with honours the year that she was killed.

The Baltimore Sun reported that Lee had wanted to become an optician, and worked at a local opticians called LensCrafters after school.

In the ninth episode of Serial, using information gathered from friends, host Sarah Koenig said of Lee: “She was cheerful and light and funny. That she loved the movie Titanic. That she sometimes put nail polish on just so she could pick it off.

“She wasn’t insecure seemingly ever. Sprite was her favourite soda, the Dallas Cowboys her favourite team, not because she cared about football, but because she liked the colours blue and silver.

Hae Min Lee and Adnan Syed (Photo: HBO)

“That she could charm you without trying. That she was a good friend to her friends. She took in their problems and their pain and tried to help them if she could.”

In 2016, Lee’s family released a statement in which they described her as someone who “stood up for what was right, regardless of popular opinion” and added: “In her diary, Hae once wrote: “Do love and remember me forever.” We do, and we always will.”

What happened to her?

On 9 February 1999, Lee’s body was discovered in Leakin Park, a huge woodland park in Baltimore, four weeks after she was last seen alive on 13 January 1999. It was determined that she had been killed by manual strangulation.

She was reported as missing by her family after Lee didn’t turn up to collect her younger cousin from daycare on 13 January at roughly 3:15pm. She had been in school earlier that day and had been seen by a number of people leaving the campus at the end of the school day.

Her partially buried body was discovered by a passerby who, while driving, had pulled over to pee.

A view of the poster at NY premiere of HBO’s “The Case Against Adnan Syed” at PURE NON FICTION on February 26, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for HBO)

Police originally focused their efforts on the man who reported finding the body, however, on 12 February, the Baltimore City Police Homicide Division received an anonymous call that suggested investigators look into Lee’s ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed.

One of Syed’s friends, Jay Wilds, told police that Syed had talked about wanting to kill Lee in the past, and claimed that he had helped Syed to bury Lee’s body after he confessed to killing her on 13 January.

Syed was arrested on 28 February and charged with first degree murder. He was convicted of Lee’s murder and spent more than two decades behind bars.

Syed always maintained his innocence of the crime and today, Tuesday 20 September, was released from prison.

Erica Suter, dierctor of the Innocence Project Clinic at the University of Baltimore School of Law and Adnan Syed’s attorney, speaks outside a courthouse in Baltimore, Maryland, September 19, 2022 (Photo by CHARLOTTE PLANTIVE/AFP via Getty Images)

At the behest of prosecutors in Baltimore, Circuit Court Judge Melissa Phinn ordered that Syed’s conviction for the 1999 murder of Lee be vacated, and she approved the release of the 41-year-old.

She ordered him released from custody and placed on home detention with an electronic tag. She also ordered the state to decide whether to seek a new trial date or dismiss the case within 30 days.

“All right Mr Syed, you’re free to join your family,” Judge Phinn said as the hearing ended.

What theories did Serial have about her death?

Over the course of the first season of Serial, which focused on the story of Lee’s murder and Syed’s conviction, the podcast presented a number of theories as to what might have happened to the 18-year-old.

These are some common theories that the podcast, and its fans, have come up with:

  1. Things played out exactly as the prosecution argued - that Syed killed Lee and that his friend, Wilds, helped him cover it up
  2. Syed killed Lee, but Wilds helped him commit the murder, rather than just helping to get rid of her body
  3. Wilds killed Lee and framed Syed for the murder
  4. The police framed Syed, with Wilds’ help, due to the pressure to mark murder cases as solved
  5. That it was actually a man called Roy Davis who killed Lee - Davis was convicted of the murder of Jada Lambert in 2002, a former Woodlawn High student, who was strangled to death just four months before Lee was killed
  6. Lee was killed by serial killer and rapist Ronald Lee Moore who was active in the area at the time
  7. A drug dealer connected to Wilds killed Lee, and Wilds and Syed covered it up for them