Podcast ‘Serial’ turns town into fan destination

The Best Buy off Security Boulevard in Windsor Mill, Maryland. Since the “Serial” podcast began, this Best Buy has become a focus of the storyline. Critical events from the timelines and testimony took place in the parking lot. (WTOP/Rachel Nania)
The Best Buy off Security Boulevard has become a focus for “Serial” fans for a number of reasons. According to Jay’s testimony, Adnan Syed showed Jay the body of his dead ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, in the parking lot of the retailer. The nearly 15-year-old case also heavily relies on a pay phone that was allegedly outside of the Best Buy. So far, the podcast’s host has not been able to find evidence of this pay phone. (WTOP/Rachel Nania)
The Best Buy off Security Boulevard has a main parking lot, and two far lots on either side of the store. On a recent Wednesday morning during the holiday shopping season, the main lot contained cars and shoppers, but for the most part, the side lots were deserted. Many fans of “Serial” question whether someone would be able to kill another person in the middle of  the afternoon in a parking lot at a store such as Best Buy. (WTOP/Rachel Nania)
Employees and managers of Best Buy off Security Boulevard say fans of the podcast “Serial” have been visiting the store, looking for clues. Mike Bright, a Geek Squad Supervisor at the store’s location, says a former associate tells him there was a pay phone at the Best Buy inside the doors on the left side at the entrance of the store. Currently, at that location is a patch of carpet on the floor.   (WTOP/Rachel Nania)
Host Sarah Koenig  begins a recent episode of “Serial” with the following sentence: “I just want to pause here and talk about this phone booth for a minute. Weirdly, we have not been able to confirm its existence.” Since that episode, Best Buy Geek Squad supervisor Mike Bright says fans of the popular podcast have been coming to the store to look for evidence of a former pay phone. Bright says a former employee says a pay phone did exist inside the front entrance of the store. (WTOP/Rachel Nania)
The Woodlawn Branch of the Baltimore County Public Library. Syed says he went to the public library after school to check his email and had a conversation with his classmate, Asia. This is an important detail because Syed says he did not leave the school campus on the day Lee was killed. While the library is technically not on the campus of the school, it is right next to the school, and many kids walk over to the library after school. (WTOP/Rachel Nania)
In this photo, the library’s building is on the right, and Woodlawn High School is in the distance on the left. This photo shows the close proximity of the library to the high school. Syed said he did not leave the school campus after classes let out on the day Lee was killed, but he says he did go to the library to check his email. (WTOP/Rachel Nania)
The podcast “Serial” delves into the investigation surrounding the death of Woodlawn High School student Hae Min Lee in 1999. Her ex-boyfriend and fellow classmate Adnan Syed was convicted of murder and sent to prison for life. According to the Associated Press, the podcast has more than 1 million faithful listeners, as well as spin-off blogs, chats and more.  (WTOP/Rachel Nania)
Hae Min Lee’s body was discovered in nearby Leakin Park. The park was also featured on “The Wire,” and local residents who talked to “Serial” say many bodies are buried in the park. Jay testified that he and Syed buried Lee’s body in Leakin Park the night of Jan. 13, 1999. (WTOP/Rachel Nania)
Leakin Park in Baltimore County, Maryland. This location is another focus of the podcast “Serial.”   (WTOP/Rachel Nania)
The Woodlawn Public Library. According to Syed’s timeline, he was at the library, checking email, the afternoon Lee was killed. (WTOP/Rachel Nania)
Shamim Syed
Shamim Syed, whose son Adnan was convicted for the 1999 murder of his ex-girlfriend and whose case is being revived in a wildly popular podcast, poses for a photograph in her home, Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014, in Baltimore. A Maryland appeals court recently showed interest in the case and will hold a hearing in January weighing arguments that the man had ineffective counsel. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Adnan Syed
An undated photo provided by Yusuf Syed shows his brother, Adnan Syed. Adnan Syed, now 34, was sentenced to life in prison after he was convicted in 2000 of killing his Woodlawn High School classmate and former girlfriend Hae Min Lee. “Serial,” a popular podcast, is re-investigating the 15-year-old case in one-hour segments told in almost real-time and raising questions about whether or not Syed committed the crime. Meanwhile, Syed’s post-conviction appeal is now with Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Yusuf Syed)
Shamim Syed
Adnan Syed

WASHINGTON – Thursdays have never been more exciting. Each week since October, more than a million listeners have rearranged their schedules to make time for a new episode of “Serial,” a 12-part podcast that delves into the investigation of the 1999 murder of Baltimore County, Maryland, teenager Hae Min Lee.

The podcast’s popularity has inspired re-cap blogs, spin-off podcasts and threads of contentious dialogue on Internet discussion boards. The Associated Press says “Serial” has even turned Adnan Syed, the man serving a life-plus-30-year-sentence for Lee’s death, into “something of a household name.”

But “Serial” has also turned the town of Woodlawn into a destination for zealous fans, anxious to uncover answers to questions that host Sarah Koenig raises.  One site even tracks key locations in the murder mystery in a collection of photos. But a Best Buy store off Security Boulevard has been a major focus of the “Serial” storyline, since critical events from the case’s timelines and testimonies allegedly took place in its parking lot. Now, that parking lot is a gathering place for die-hard fans.

“We’ve had a lot of foot traffic, a couple of questions about what happened a couple of years back,” says Mike Bright, a Geek Squad supervisor at the store. “People come in and take pictures of the parking lot and stuff like that, asking about if we had a phone.”

That phone in question is one of the biggest pieces of the state’s case in the conviction of Syed. The only star witness, “Jay,” says Syed called him for a ride from a pay phone in the parking lot of the Best Buy after he killed Lee on Jan. 13, 1999. Koenig interviews residents in Woodlawn about the phone, and doesn’t find evidence of its existence. But Bright, who did not work at the Best Buy at the time of Lee’s murder, says a former associate told him there was a phone — inside the store’s entrance.

“Over there, in the vestibule, in the front of the store,” Bright says, pointing to a square patch of carpet in the store’s entrance. “We get people calling from all over, asking questions about it — not that the associates here now know too much about it, other than what we [hear].”

Dominique Brightmon works at the information desk at Woodlawn Public Library, and says “Serial” has been a popular topic of conversation among the stacks of books and workstations. “Customers come in and they actually let us know they [listen to] and are interested in it,” he says. “They’re interested in checking out the scene.”

As busy as it’s been with swarms of fans at Best Buy, Bright says it hasn’t generated a ton of extra business, and it hasn’t added to overall traffic in the town. “[People are] coming in and asking questions, but they’re not really buying anything,” he says.

Best Buy associate Brandon Grenway, who has been working at the store for four years, says seeing people in the store’s parking lot and scaling the hills surrounding the store made him want to know more. “I didn’t know too much about the story until I actually saw those people, and it made me actually want to listen to the podcast now,” he says.

The final episode of “Serial” is available Thursday, Dec. 18, and no doubt, its fans will be anxiously awaiting Koenig’s every word. After a successful one-week fundraising campaign, the producers are planning for a second season. However, a premiere date has not yet been set, and the second season will focus on a different story. —

 h/t: The Huffington Post

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