EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Monday, March 11, 2019

Detective Massey, the Anonymous Caller & the CrimeStoppers Tipster

Yesterday was the premiere of the first episode of "The Case Against Adnan Syed" on HBO. We also just dropped our first Undisclosed episode on the series (and will release additional episodes the day after each successive episode premieres). One big topic of discussion on the podcast was the appearance of Detective Darryl Massey on the HBO series. So, what was Detective Massey's role in the case, and why was what he said last night so important?

Detective Massey was not one of the lead detectives on Adnan's case; the lead detectives were Detective Rtiz and Detective MacGillivary. Ostensibly, Detective Massey had only one major role in Adnan's case, and that was (allegedly) receiving two anonymous phone calls on February 12, 1999, three days after Hae's body was discovered. Here is Detective Massey's memo on those calls:

Screen Shot 2019-03-11 at 10.19.06 AM

Now, if you believe what Detective Massey said on the HBO series last night, these calls were huge; they explained why the police honed in on Adnan and did not focus on other possible alternate suspects such as Mr. S and Don.

But do I believe what Detective Massey had to say? One of my big questions back in 2015 was what Detective Massey meant by the word "Asian" in his memo. Could he have meant "South Asian," covering countries such as Pakistan, meaning that the caller could have come from Adnan's Mosque?

Well, as Detective Massey made clear last night, by "Asian," he meant Korean. But how does that make any sense? The caller allegedly referenced what Adnan said to "Baser Ali A/M/17," a clear reference to Adnan's friend and Mosque-mate Yasser Ali. But what person with Korean (or at least East Asian) roots knew both Adnan and Yasser and would have known what Adnan allegedly told Yasser?

It wouldn't make sense for this to be anyone in Hae's family because we know that Adnan and even Hae's friends never went to Hae's house. As far as we know, there weren't any people with Korean roots at Adnan's Mosque and Adnan didn't have any acquaintances at school (other than Hae) with Korean roots. So, there seem to be real reasons to question the credibility of Massey's memo.

What makes that memo even more suspicious is what happened at trial. Adnan's trial counsel clearly had questions about this memo and repeatedly (and unsuccessfully) tried to track down Detective Massey to get him on the witness stand:

Screen Shot 2019-03-11 at 11.21.45 AM

And then, there's the fact that Detective Massey has been involved in various scandals that have led to various convictions being thrown out (see, e.g., this article).

So, if Massey's memo is a fabrication, why does it exist? One theory is that it was used as a basis to get Adnan's cell phone records. Another is that it was an attempt to cover for the fact that there was a CrimeStoppers tip made on around February 1, 1999. We have confirmation from a member of Metro CrimeStoppers that there was indeed a tip in the Hae Min Lee case made on or around February 1, 1999 with the tipster subsequently being paid on November 1, 1999:

Screen Shot 2019-03-11 at 11.28.03 AM

Excerpt from the e-mail from the Metro CrimeStoppers memo

This information was never disclosed to the defense, and I've long maintained that if we had information about this tip we could solve this case. 

It will be interesting to see whether we hear more from Detective Massey in this series and to see whether we ever get an answer to the CrimeStoppers mystery that has lingered for years.



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Well Massey himself gives us a reason for the memo to exist (if it's fraudulent), it gave the cops the excuse to focus on Adnan and not on other suspects.

Posted by: Sue B | Mar 12, 2019 3:36:34 AM


What would it take to learn the identity of the tipster?

Posted by: Jonathan | Mar 12, 2019 7:54:42 AM

If Massey was willing to fabricate the calls (and his morals are subject anyway as you imply) why wouldn’t he just lie under oath? How can you prove no one called him?

Posted by: Jimbo | Mar 12, 2019 7:33:00 PM

Sue B: Indeed.

Jonathan: Maybe some subpoenas. I don't know if documentation still exists.

Jimbo: Lying under oath is perjury. And I can't prove that no one called him. The point of the post is to say that there are no likely candidates, which makes the memo suspect.

Posted by: Colin Miller | Mar 13, 2019 5:53:01 AM


I'm not sure if you've done a dedicated post on this but I think your readers would appreciate a detailed treatment of the crimestoppers issue. What's the significance, what efforts were previously made and by whom, why those efforts were stymied and remain so today, etc.

Posted by: Jonathan | Mar 13, 2019 6:41:18 AM

Jonathan: We had a whole episode on it: http://undisclosed-podcast.com/episodes/episode-10-crimestoppers.html

Basically, assuming there was a CrimeStoppers tip around February 1st and a payout on November 1st, we have 2 major possibilities: First, the tip came from a witness for the prosecution, making it significant Brady evidence of a motive to lie (to get the money). It’s also possible that the tip had information that fundamentally contradicts/undermines what that witness later said (e.g., if Jay was the tipster and said that Adnan dumped Hae’s car in a lake).

Second, the tip came from someone who wasn’t a witness for the prosecution at trial, which could help or hurt Adnan. But, given that the State didn’t disclose this information, I would bet it helps Adnan. Otherwise, why wouldn’t the State admit that there was a CrimeStoppers tip that pointed toward Adnan?

Posted by: Colin Miller | Mar 13, 2019 7:54:28 AM

Dang Colin, sounds like the bomb shell is NOT the identity of the crime stoppers tip, I think that was the prevailing theory on the interwebs!

Could the defense have asked the judge to hold Massey in contempt of court for ignoring summons? Could they have moved to have all evidence related to these tips thrown out since Massey who could testify was unavailable for cross?

Posted by: Robert | Mar 13, 2019 8:17:55 AM


My apologies! I'll listen to that episode with interest.

I'd appreciate your thoughts on this:

It seems to me that there would be enormous financial incentive for the tipster to come forward now to a tabloid or other publication and reveal their identity as such, what they knew, what they said, etc. Easily a six-figure payout.

So why wouldn't they? What's the counterargument?

Posted by: Jonathan | Mar 13, 2019 9:07:12 AM

Robert: They were never able to serve him, so they couldn't hold him in contempt. And the defense wanted the anonymous tip admitted into evidence, but they also wanted to question Massey about it.

Jonathan: I think this strengthens the theory that it was a witness for the prosecution like Jay. If John Doe were the tipster, he'd have a huge incentive to come forward. If it was Jay...not so much.

Posted by: Colin Miller | Mar 13, 2019 1:29:06 PM

For a more innocent explanation for Massey, he just doesn't remember this at all and is simply reconstructing the memory of a Korean caller based on reading the word Asian in his memo.

Posted by: Jacob | Mar 13, 2019 7:29:40 PM

A year ago Atlantic had a story about a wrongful conviction case in which a trial verdict was reversed because the state did not disclose that itrs star witness had received a Crimestoppers reward. (This defendant was convicted in a subsequent trial, though_.


Posted by: Michael | Mar 14, 2019 4:15:29 AM


If the tipster was a witness for the prosecution, why don't we know that? Especially Jay Wilds. Gutierrez had him on the stand; you're saying she never asked him whether he was the tipster?

Posted by: Jonathan | Mar 14, 2019 4:20:14 AM

Jacob: That’s certainly a possibility, but the fact that he was ducking the defense at trial certainly makes things look suspicious.

Michael: Thanks.

Jonathan: The State did not disclose to Gutierrez that there was a CrimeStoppers tip(ster), and Gutierrez did not ask any State’s witnesses about being a CrimeStoppers tipster.

Posted by: Colin Miller | Mar 14, 2019 6:06:41 AM

Colin - This is slightly off subject but I have been trying to find out why no one has pursued the other day Don's timecard was falsified, Saturday, 1/16/99. I believe he killed Hae and he covered his tracks with the time card for Wednesday, then he did it again on Saturday, why? I believe that is the day he buried her in Leakin Park. Have you or anyone though about this or pursued it? I brought it up and messaged more details to Undisclosed and was told by Rabia you all would look into it with Bob Ruff but nothing was ever mentioned again about it. I have yet to hear anything that could refute my theory. I really believe this is an overlooked item that could break the case wide open. Please tell me why it isnt. Thanks again for all you and the team is doing.

Posted by: Jason | Mar 14, 2019 7:20:51 AM

Jason: I know that the HBO crew was working on the time cards, and I expect we'll hear more about their investigation in the upcoming episodes.

Posted by: Colin Miller | Mar 14, 2019 8:20:46 AM


I apologize for getting to my ultimate question more slowly than perhaps I should have.

I'm uncertain whether the State actually "hid" the existence of a tipster, in an active sense, as I think many readers will infer from your "did not disclose" statement. My understanding is they are only required to disclose material things not likely discoverable through reasonable defense work. How is it that we know today of the existence of the tipster but that was not known to Gutierrez in either of Syed's two trials?

I also wonder, what of it in the end, really? If the tipster is not Jay, that works against Syed. If the tipster is Jay, are you advocating a scenario in which an unsophisticated teenager (a 17 y/o Jay Wilds) frames a classmate for murder in support of opaque motivations that no one to date has credibly surfaced?

Posted by: Jonathan | Mar 14, 2019 9:14:51 AM

Jonathan: (1) We have the information from a person at Metro CrimeStoppers. It’s not up to defense counsel to seek out this information from CrimeStoppers. There’s case law saying there’s an obligation on the defense to disclose it. (2) If the tipster wasn’t a State’s witness…we don’t know who it would have helped. Let’s say it was Jay’s friend Chris, who said that Jay was shooting pool when Adnan called him, with the trunk pop occurring in the pool hall parking lot. I think that helps Adnan in certain ways and hurts him in other ways. (3) If Jay is the tipster…we’ve found plenty of cases in which a witness falsely implicated someone in a crime to get reward money. That’s huge exculpatory evidence for Adnan.

Posted by: Colin Miller | Mar 14, 2019 9:55:06 AM


Thank you for all this and I have just a few clarifying questions. When you say "we" have the tipster info from "a person" at metro crimestoppers, am I correct in inferring that this person is not known to the public? Who is the "we" there? How was this person's information authenticated? Was this person's identity known to any of Syed's post-conviction counsel? Is there a statutory barrier to this person speaking - are they violating the law by talking to you now or one day talking publicly?

I appreciate your point of the tipster's identity helping Syed if it is *either* Jay or an associate of Jay. I take it we agree that if the tipster is independent of Jay, that works against Syed.

Posted by: Jonathan | Mar 14, 2019 12:13:11 PM

Jonathan: It’s a person we’ve authenticated as a member of Metro CrimeStoppers, their identity is not known to the public, and their identity is known to postconviction counsel. I don’t think there’s any external legal barrier to the person speaking, but the interior standards of CrimeStoppers prevent the person from speaking.

In terms of the identity of the tipster…the tipster could be someone completely unconnected to Jay who is helpful for Adnan. The primary examples would be the actual killer or someone connected to the actual killer. This seems pretty straightforward. It’s easy to imagine someone else who knows Hae and Adnan killing Hae and then using CrimeStoppers directly (themselves) or indirectly (a friend) to pin the crime on Adnan and make some money in the process.

Posted by: Colin Miller | Mar 14, 2019 12:45:24 PM


I thought the obligation to disclose a CrimeStoppers tip was only if: 1) the tipster testified for the state at trial, or 2) the tip was material exculpatory evidence (which would make it Brady material).

Is the obligation more general than that or were you talking in terms of one of those?

The other notable (to me) points you covered in the episode were that CrimeStoppers pays out reward money on a percentage basis acording to hoe useful the tip was and the tip in this case was paid in full; and the 2) the police were somehow involved in the process of the payout. Are these correct? It has been a lot time since that episode.

Posted by: Michael | Mar 14, 2019 2:36:17 PM

Michael: Yes, that's all correct. It is true that there's a possibility that there was no disclosure obligation here, but the existence of the tip seems, at a minimum, to fundamentally contradict the State's narrative of how this case was investigated.

Posted by: Colin Miller | Mar 14, 2019 2:48:04 PM


So you're saying a select number of persons has access to a) an associate of crimestoppers who can prove that reward money was paid in this case, and b) the identity of the tipster. This discussion isn't abstract for you in terms of was it Jay or an associate of Jay or how would it help/hurt Syed - you're saying you know who it was and you know exactly what the implications are for his guilt or innocence.


Posted by: Jonathan | Mar 15, 2019 4:58:53 AM

Hi Colin, just a quick question about the memo - If genuine, Massey indicates the caller was outside the service area - do we know what area should have produced a number? Would this limit the number of likely candidates?

Posted by: Cupcake | Mar 15, 2019 5:18:54 AM

Jonathan: No. We know that a person made a CrimeStoppers tip and that they were paid, but we do not know the identity of the tipster. We just have speculation on that front.

Cupcake: I’m not sure on the range.

Posted by: Colin Miller | Mar 15, 2019 5:54:25 AM


Who does know the identity of the tipster?

Posted by: Jonathan | Mar 15, 2019 6:25:56 AM

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