Movies

Netflix’s Latest True Crime Hit Involves MySpace, Voodoo Dolls, and Mass Murder

The twist-filled new documentary Why Did You Kill Me?, explained.

A hand holds up a miniature model of a white SUV
Belinda Lane in Why Did You Kill Me? Netflix

Another vague-but-titillating-sounding title has landed in Netflix’s Top 10. Following in the footsteps of What Lies Below and Deadly Illusions comes Why Did You Kill Me?, a true crime documentary in which a family uses social media to seek answers in a woman’s death. Here’s what you need to know.

Who is the “me” in Why Did You Kill Me?

The “me” is Crystal Theobald, a 24-year-old woman shot and killed in Riverside, California, in 2006 by a gang member who mistook her family’s car for one belonging to a rival gang. As Crystal’s family tells it, they were on their way to 7-Eleven, taking two separate cars, when a man got out of a white Ford Expedition and shot at them. Crystal was hit in the back of the head as they drove away.

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While the circumstances of Crystal’s death might not sound complicated or tawdry enough to warrant a feature-length documentary, even an 80-minute one like Why Did You Kill Me?, the methods used by her relatives to identify the killer are true crime catnip. Crystal’s mother, Belinda, and then-14-year-old cousin Jaime create fake profiles to trick the young men involved in Crystal’s death into providing information—and more, but we’ll get to that.

Trick them how exactly?

By flirting with them, mainly. Crystal’s brother Nick gets a tip that the gang 5150 was involved in her death. (The details of how he learned this are fuzzy; he just says it was “on the streets.”) Jaime creates two profiles: one for “Rebecca,” a completely fake young woman using a photograph Jaime found on Google, and one for “Angel,” using a photo of Crystal. She then befriends known members of 5150. Rebecca is a self-described “party animal” who asks probing questions of her targets, whereas Jaime says she tried to make Angel sweeter so that men would fall in love with her.

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Uh, you said Jaime was 14 when this was going on?

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Yes, it’s very uncomfortable, even though the private conversations re-created on screen are fairly chaste. (That said, the documentary also comes with the caveat that the MySpace conversations are based on the recollections of the people involved, so a grain or two of salt is warranted.)

Does the catfishing method work?

It does. At Belinda’s urging, Jaime focuses on one member of the 5150 gang, William Sotelo, and eventually learns that he drives a white Ford Expedition, the car the shooter got out of. They turn this information over to the police, who question Sotelo and eventually other members of the gang who were in the car, which helps them identify the killer as Julio Heredia.

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And that’s what all 80 minutes of the documentary are about?

On the contrary, there’s much more. The documentary offers one of the 5150 gang members who testified a chance to explain his involvement, and the sister of shooter Julio Heredia, who was sentenced to life in prison, describes the difficult upbringing that drove him to gang life.

The documentary also delves a bit into Belinda and the Theobalds’ history, revealing that they have had their own run-ins with the law, although those ultimately don’t have any actual bearing on the case.

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Belinda eventually takes over the fake MySpace accounts and uses them to stir up gang animosity by telling different groups that others are disparaging them, apparently leading to an uptick in vandalism and violence, including an uptick in white Ford Expeditions being targeted. And then there’s the mass murder Belinda is plotting.

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The what now?

Belinda has … a lot going on. At one point she incorrectly identifies an innocent man as the shooter. “They really didn’t explain things to me well enough, like, you make one mistake and identify somebody that’s not involved, they can no longer use what you have to say when it comes to court,” she says of the police’s shaken faith in her testimony after that. She also reveals that she was on meth the night Crystal was shot and says she regrets that she didn’t quit while Crystal was alive. She stalks members of 5150, reports them to the FBI and to ICE, and leaves voodoo dolls on their lawns.

This all comes to a head when she uses the “Angel” account to invite all the gang members to a party in a remote area on 6/6/06 with the intention of shooting them. As one of her friends tells the documentary crew: “Belinda was just kinda psycho, you know?”

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Ultimately, Belinda’s family talks her out of it, and Belinda’s son even convinces her that Crystal’s killer does not deserve the death penalty, reminding her that he too made reckless decisions as a teenager.

Where does the title of the documentary come from?

The person who actually writes “Why did you kill me?” is Belinda, while posing as Crystal in a MySpace conversation with Sotelo. It’s the very last conversation she has with him, in which she reveals that the woman he knows as “Angel” is actually the woman shot by Heredia. Sotelo never responds and disappears for 10 years. An epilogue notes that he was ultimately arrested in Mexico, having started a new life with four children, and was sentenced to 22 years for his involvement in Crystal’s death.

Is it good? Should I watch it?

It is bloated, full of red herrings, and more than a little exploitative, but if true crime is your thing (and it’s not mine, really), it’s certainly not boring. That said, like a lot of Netflix’s true crime hits, it might leave you feeling a little gross.

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