A False Report: A True Story of Rape in America

A False Report: A True Story of Rape in America

by T. Christian Miller, Ken Armstrong

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Now the Netflix Limited Series Unbelievable, starring Toni Collette, Merritt Wever, and Kaitlyn Dever • Two Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists tell the riveting true crime story of a teenager charged with lying about having been raped—and the detectives who followed a winding path to arrive at the truth.
“Gripping . . . [with a] John Grisham–worthy twist.”—Emily Bazelon, New York Times Book Review (Editors’ Choice)
On August 11, 2008, eighteen-year-old Marie reported that a masked man broke into her apartment near Seattle, Washington, and raped her. Within days police and even those closest to Marie became suspicious of her story. The police swiftly pivoted and began investigating Marie. Confronted with inconsistencies in her story and the doubts of others, Marie broke down and said her story was a lie—a bid for attention. Police charged Marie with false reporting, and she was branded a liar. 

More than two years later, Colorado detective Stacy Galbraith was assigned to investigate a case of sexual assault. Describing the crime to her husband that night, Galbraith learned that the case bore an eerie resemblance to a rape that had taken place months earlier in a nearby town. She joined forces with the detective on that case, Edna Hendershot, and the two soon discovered they were dealing with a serial rapist: a man who photographed his victims, threatening to release the images online, and whose calculated steps to erase all physical evidence suggested he might be a soldier or a cop. Through meticulous police work the detectives would eventually connect the rapist to other attacks in Colorado—and beyond.

Based on investigative files and extensive interviews with the principals, A False Report is a serpentine tale of doubt, lies, and a hunt for justice, unveiling the disturbing truth of how sexual assault is investigated today—and the long history of skepticism toward rape victims. 

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Emily Bazelon

Miller and Armstrong tell their story plainly, expertly and well. It's gripping and needs no dressing up.

Publishers Weekly

★ 11/20/2017
Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative reporters Miller and Armstrong excavate a disturbing strain of misogyny in American culture in this account of the mistreatment of victims of sexual assault in the criminal justice system. The book opens with the aftermath of the 2008 rape of an 18-year-old woman near Seattle. Marie had just aged out of foster care and was living on her own for the first time when a man with a knife broke into her house in the middle of the night and assaulted her. When Marie reported the crime, the authorities and her former foster parents were skeptical of her story. When questioned further by the police, Marie recanted under the impression that she had dreamt up the incident; she was subsequently charged with false reporting. Over two years later, an investigation into a similar crime in Colorado yielded evidence that Marie was indeed raped. The authors use this dramatic, almost unbelievable sequence of events as a springboard to a broader survey of the disturbing ways victims of rape are treated in America. Closely examining how rape is investigated and tried in the U.S., including the development of the rape kit in the 1970s and the origins of the “Hale warning” (an instruction to jurors in rape trials to be wary of false accusations), the book shines a critical light on an urgent and timely subject. (Feb.)

From the Publisher

"This is a deep, disturbing, compelling, important book. A False Report digs into timeless issues—crime, victimhood, honesty, sexism—which have never been more timely. It is also a fascinating, sharply written story that will twist and surprise you." —Susan Orlean, author of The Orchid Thief and Rin Tin Tin
“America has never adequately addressed sexual violence, a tragedy made worse by many who employ their own hierarchy of victimization, leaving many women and vulnerable people unaided. This meticulously researched, powerful exposé eliminates ignorance as a defense. This is a devastating but necessary read, composed by masters of investigative journalism.”—Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy

"A captivating page-turner... There’s a gripping “you are there” immediacy as crackerjack officers and criminalists pore over scant evidence—a wisp of skin left on a stuffed animal, videos of a white truck canvassing apartment complexes—before finally homing in on their man.... It would be all too easy to compare the book to a Grisham novel or an episode of Law & Order: SVU, but to do so would trivialize its achievement. A False Report is framed as a police procedural but illuminates the agonizing realities of rape culture as well as the fractures in our criminal justice system.... Rich in forensic detail, deftly written and paced, A False Report is an instant true-crime classic, taking its rightful place beside Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter and Dave Cullen’s Columbine."The Minneapolis Star Tribune

“An important piece of journalism... The authors' exhaustive research brings to life not only Marie and other victims, but also the police and other authorities who are devastated by their own mistakes... Even in the relatively enlightened 21st century, A False Report reminds us there is no standard response to trauma.”Associated Press

“Chilling... A False Report will fascinate readers interested in the finer points of police procedure... An especially timely work.”—Seattle Times

“A riveting true-crime story.”—O: The Oprah Magazine

"Miller and Armstrong excavate a disturbing strain of misogyny in American culture in this account of the mistreatment of victims of sexual assault in the criminal justice system…[A False Report] shines a critical light on an urgent and timely subject.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“The authors describe how [several] cases come together in a highly suspenseful (chapters often end in cliffhangers) and thorough manner that still considers the victims and avoids gratuity… This timely, well-researched, highly readable account will appeal to readers interested in true crime and social justice issues.”Booklist (starred review)

“Chilling…The authors display meticulous investigative reporting skills... A riveting and disturbing true-crime story that reflects the enduring atrocity of rape in America.”—Kirkus Reviews

"With the #MeToo movement maintaining momentum, the timing could not be better for A False Report."—Bustle

“In prose that rivals that of a suspense novel, two Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists describe the tragic effects skepticism can have on victims of sexual assault”Ms. Magazine

"If you're a fan of true crime, this book should definitely be on your reading list."—Bitch Media

"More vivid and urgent than any Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode... veteran reporters Miller and Armstrong vividly portray the characters in this serpentine drama and emphatically detail how the investigation of sex crimes and the treatment of victims have evolved. The result is a chilling true-crime story that is also a powerful critique of a flawed system."—The National Book Review

“A revelation—taut, nuanced, and expertly reported.”—New York Post

"This astonishing piece of journalism reveals the disturbing truth about how sexual assault is investigated and the long history of skepticism toward rape victims."—Book Riot

A False Report is a reporting triumph: a heartbreaking deep dive into a case gone horribly wrong; a bone-chilling portrait of a monstrous criminal; and a forceful cri de coeur on behalf of those victims whose claims fall on deaf ears. You'll never read another crime story quite like it.”— Robert Kolker, author of Lost Girls
“Miller and Armstrong show how gender bias, and the many myths about sexual assault, still have far too much influence in the way law enforcement investigates these crimes. This harms victims and allows perpetrators to go free, potentially to commit additional assaults. But this brilliant book is also a thrilling depiction of an investigation gone right, showing us how good police work, informed by the latest research, can achieve justice for victims of sexual violence. Well-researched and compassionate, A False Report is essential reading for police, prosecutors, and lawmakers, and for all those seeking to do better for victims of sexual assault.”—Joanne Archambault, CEO of End Violence Against Women International
"A False Report is a gripping and often devastating tale. By bringing their characters alive, Miller and Armstrong do not judge so much as illuminate the deep sexism that continues to pervade our society's treatment of rape. Better still, the women in this book are strong protagonists as much as victims."—Anne-Marie Slaughter, president and CEO of New America; author of Unfinished Business

“Far too many women and girls who are sexually assaulted never report it—often out of fear they won’t be believed. A False Report reveals the true cost of doubting women’s accounts of rape. This fascinating, deeply troubling book has the power to spark a national conversation about how our criminal justice system fails victims, and how it can be reformed.”—Peggy Orenstein, author of Girls & Sex

 “This is a grim, important, meticulously reported book that denounces breakdowns in the system of investigating crimes against women. The revelations are tragic, unthinkable, almost Kafkaesque. But the authors don’t stop at outrage. They do a public service by explaining practical reforms that can make a profound difference. And they tell their story with unrelenting clarity and compassion. A False Report has all the detail, drama, and humanity that make the finest nonfiction as compelling as a novel.”—Sebastian Rotella, author of Rip Crew

Kirkus Reviews

The complex account of a young rape victim and the investigators who fought for her justice.Veteran investigative journalists Miller and Armstrong join forces in an expansion of a ProPublica article that won them both the 2016 Pulitzer Prize. This is the story of a suspected rape of a Seattle teenager named Marie. The victim's testimony of her violent sexual abuse at knifepoint became sullied with uncertainty as different renditions sprung forth about the night in question. Her shocking, tearful retraction of the entire event sealed her fate in the eyes of police until dogged detective Stacy Galbraith compared Marie's cold case file with other rapes. Coinciding details and suspicions were shared with veteran detective Edna Hendershot, and Marie's case was reopened. These developments also reclassified the perpetrator as a serial rapist responsible for multiple attacks and a penchant for blackmailing his victims with compromising photographs. Months of diligent, collaborative detective work drives the story, a chilling true-crime documentary and a report on how cops investigate sex crimes, the varying approaches on interrogation techniques, and the ultimate apprehension of violent criminals. Though the authors skip back and forth, they gradually build out the personal histories of Marie and her life as a foster child, Galbraith and Hendershot's law enforcement career paths, some startling statistics on rape victims, and why the broad skepticism and credibility issues encompassing accusers remain a problem. Amplifying the story is the dismaying biography of the rapist, a deranged military man with a twisted obsession with the humiliation, degradation, and enslavement of women. Throughout the book, the authors display meticulous investigative reporting skills, using documents, case files, and interviews with victims and witnesses. Their urgent account delivers absolute vindication in a serpentine crime investigation that initially betrayed its victim.A riveting and disturbing true-crime story that reflects the enduring atrocity of rape in America.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781524759957
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/06/2018
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 673,619
File size: 4 MB

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

The Bridge 

Monday, August 18, 2008

Lynnwood, Washington

Marie left the interview room and walked down the stairs of the police station, accompanied by a detective and a sergeant. She was no longer crying. At the bottom, the police handed her off to the two people who were waiting for her there. Marie belonged to a support program for teenagers aging out of foster care. These two were program managers.

So, one said.

Were you raped?

It had been one week since Marie, an eighteen-year-old with hazel eyes, wavy hair, and braces, had reported being raped by a stranger with a knife who had broken into her apartment and blindfolded, bound, and gagged her. In that week Marie had told the story to police at least five times. She had told them: thin white man, short as five feet six. Blue jeans. Hoodie--gray, maybe white. Eyes--possibly blue. But her story wasn’t always the same in the telling. And the police had heard from people in Marie’s life who had doubts. And when the police had confronted Marie about those doubts, she had wavered, then buckled, saying she had made the story up--because her foster mom wasn’t answering her calls, because her boyfriend was now just a friend, because she wasn’t used to being alone.

Because she had wanted attention.

She’d sketched her history for the police detectives. She’d described growing up with something like twenty different foster parents. She’d told them she had been raped when she was seven years old. She’d told them that being on her own for the first time had made her scared. Her story of being raped by an intruder had “turned into a big thing that was never meant to happen,” she’d told the police.

Today she had tested whatever patience the police could still summon. She had returned to the station and doubled back, saying she had told the truth the first time, saying she really had been raped. But when pressed in that interview room she had folded once more--admitting, again, that her story was a lie. 

No, Marie told the managers at the bottom of the stairs.

No. I was not raped.

The two managers, Jana and Wayne, worked for Project Ladder, a nonprofit program that helped foster kids make the transition to living on their own. Project Ladder taught teenagers--eighteen-year-olds, mostly--the mundane skills of adulthood, from how to shop for groceries to how to manage a credit card. The biggest boost the program provided was financial. Project Ladder subsidized each teen’s one-bedroom apartment, making it possible for the kids to get a foothold in the expensive rental market ringing Seattle. Wayne was Marie’s case manager. Jana was a program supervisor.

If that’s the case, the managers told Marie, if you weren’t raped, then there’s something you have to do.

Marie dreaded whatever was next. She had seen it on their faces when she’d answered the question. They weren’t thrown. They weren’t taken aback. They’d doubted her before, just like the others. It occurred to Marie that from now on, people would think she was mentally ill. She, too, wondered if she was broken, if there was something in her that needed to be fixed. Marie realized just how vulnerable she had become. She worried about losing what little she had left. A week ago, she’d had friends, her first job, her first place to call her own, freedom to come and go, a sense of life unfurling. But now that job and that sense of optimism were gone. The place and her freedom were in jeopardy. And friends she could turn to? She was down to one.

Her story had, indeed, turned into a big thing. Last week the television news had been all over it. “A western Washington woman has confessed that she cried wolf,” one newscast said. In Seattle the local affiliates for ABC, NBC, and CBS had covered the story. The NBC affiliate, KING 5, zoomed in on Marie’s apartment complex--panning up the stairs, lingering on an open window--while Jean Enersen, Seattle’s most popular anchor, told viewers: “Police in Lynnwood now say a woman who claimed she was sexually assaulted by a stranger made up the story. . . . Detectives do not know why she made the story up. She could face a charge of false reporting.”

Television reporters had pounded on her door, tried to get her to answer questions on camera about why she had lied. To get away she’d snuck out, a sweatshirt over her face.

Her story found its way into remote corners of the Internet. False Rape Society, a blog that focuses on wrongful accusations, posted twice about the Lynnwood case: “Another in a seemingly endless cavalcade of false rape claims. Once again, the accuser is young--a teenager. . . . To underscore how serious this particular kind of lie is, sentencing for false rape claims needs to be tougher. Much tougher. Only then will the liars be deterred.” A Londoner who compiles an “international timeline of false rape allegations” going back to 1674 made the Lynnwood case his 1,188th entry, following a Georgia teenager who “had consensual sex with another student then pointed the finger at an imaginary man who was driving a green Chevrolet,” and a teen in England who “appears to have withdrawn her consent after texting him to tell him how much she enjoyed it!” “As will be seen from this database,” the compiler writes, “some women will cry rape at the drop of a hat, or more often after dropping their knickers then regretting it.”

In Washington and beyond, Marie’s story became an exhibit in a centuries-long argument about credibility and rape.

The news stories hadn’t named her. But the people around Marie knew. A friend from tenth grade called and said: How could you lie about something like that? It was the same question the TV reporters wanted to ask. It was the same question Marie got wherever she turned. She didn’t answer her friend. She just listened, then hung up--another friendship, gone. Marie had let another friend borrow her laptop computer--one of those old black IBMs--and now the friend refused to give it back. When Marie confronted her, she told Marie: If you can lie, I can steal. This same friend--or former friend--would call Marie and threaten her, telling her she should die. People held Marie up as the reason no one believed real victims of rape. People called her a bitch and a whore.

The Project Ladder managers told Marie what she had to do. And they told her that if she didn’t do it, she would be cast out of the program. She would lose her subsidized apartment. She would be without a home.

The managers took Marie back to her apartment complex and summoned the other teens in Project Ladder--Marie’s peers, kids her age with the same kinds of stories to tell about growing up as wards of the state. There were around ten of them. Most were girls. In the front office, near the pool, they gathered in a circle and sat down. Marie stood. She stood and told them--told everyone, including the upstairs neighbor who one week before had made the 911 call to report the rape--that it was all a lie, that they didn’t need to worry: There was no rapist out there to be on guard against, no rapist the police needed to be looking for.

She cried as she confessed--the sound magnified by the awkward silence surrounding her. If there was sympathy in the room, Marie sensed it from just one person, a girl sitting to her right. In everyone else’s eyes she saw a question--Why would you do that?--and a corresponding judgment: That’s messed up.

In the weeks and months to come, there would be more fallout from Marie’s retraction. But for Marie there would be no moment worse than this.

She had one friend left to turn to, and after the meeting, Marie made for Ashley’s home. Marie didn’t have a driver’s license--just a learner’s permit--so she walked. On the way there, she came to a bridge. The bridge crossed Interstate 5, the state’s busiest road, a north–south highway with a ceaseless current of Subarus and eighteen-wheelers.

Marie thought about how much she wanted to jump.

She took out her phone, called Ashley, and said: Please come get me before I do something stupid.

Then she threw her phone over the side.

Customer Reviews