Entertainment

Burning Questions We Have About the Rey Rivera Case in Netflix's 'Unsolved Mysteries'

The first episode of the Netflix true-crime series doesn't provide closure -- only more questions.

unsolved mysteries
Netflix

In its first episode, which focuses on the tragic death of aspiring filmmaker Rey Rivera, Netflix's reboot of Unsolved Mysteries hooks viewers with a case that resists easy explanations. Like many of the most unsettling true-crime narratives, the story introduces a seemingly simple incident -- in this case, the disappearance of a man in Baltimore and the subsequent investigation into his death -- and then methodically pulls at multiple threads connected to the event. By the end, you're overwhelmed with questions.

Even more than some of the other Unsolved Mysteries episodes, like the UFO episode or the more cut-and-dry "House of Terror" episode, the first one, titled "Mystery on the Rooftop," explodes in different directions. Through interviews with family members, police personnel, and journalists, the episode follows the logic of an investigation, looking at evidence and testimonials in a relatively straightforward manner. But the pieces never quite click together. Since Unsolved Mysteries debuted on July 1 (with more episodes are on the way), internet sleuths have dived into Reddit threads and articles online, hoping to uncover the truth -- or, at the very least, ask the right questions, which we've attempted to outline below.

unsolved mysteries
Netflix

What happened at the Belvedere Hotel?

After he had been missing for more than a week, Rey Rivera's body was discovered beneath a hole in a building referred to as both "the old racquetball club" and the "old church space" next to the Belvedere Hotel, a Baltimore landmark built in the early 20th century. This comes after his car is discovered with a ticket on the dashboard in a parking lot. In the episode, at least four theories are provided for how Rey Rivera could have fallen to his death: He could've leaped from the hotel's roof, the 11th floor, a narrow ledge on the building, or from the top of a nearby parking garage. 

None of these theories are particularly satisfactory, especially when you take into account the mostly undamaged personal items -- cell phone, glasses, flip-flops -- that were eventually discovered by the detectives. (His wife, Allison, notes that his money clip, a family heirloom that had his initials on it, was never recovered.) He's also not featured on any security footage from the building. 

In this section of the episode, director Marcus A. Clarke does an effective job of carefully laying out the plausibility of each of these conflicting theories, making them sound reasonable at first and then unlikely. Could Rey's body, whether he jumped or was thrown, have even traveled the distance suggested by some of the diagrams shown? The autopsy is no more conclusive, listing many brutal injuries that could support a number of possibilities, and the medical examiner ruled the cause of death as "undetermined." The detective working the case says the crime scene "looked staged," noting the way the personal objects were arranged, and at one point Allison puts it most succinctly: "The hole never made sense."

If you're especially curious about the Rivera's death and the history of the hotel, Mikita Brottman's An Unexplained Death dives even further into the case and explores far more than a single episode of a TV show ever could. One of the most informative threads on Reddit that I've found draws significantly from her research and reporting. 

unsolved mysteries
Netflix

What was the meaning of Rivera's note?

The note, which was discovered taped to the back of Rivera's computer, is one of the most confounding aspects of the story. The typed-up document, which included a list of names of people Rivera knew in real life and a number of references to different movies and filmmakers, was analyzed by the FBI and they determined no suicidal intent in the document, a sentiment shared by Rivera's wife as well. Still, it's written in a paranoid tone that makes it especially appealing for people looking for secret messages or hints of a larger conspiracy. 

The twist-filled movies listed on the note -- including Paycheck, The Da Vinci Code, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Identity, and multiple thrillers by M. Night Shyamalan -- share many of the same themes. Some online sleuths have zeroed in on a potential connection to the movie The Game, which was mentioned in the note and shares some startling plot similarities with the details surrounding Rivera's death, but, in a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, producer Terry Dunn Meurer was largely dismissive of the theory. 

"I spoke to [his wife] Allison Rivera about that," Meurer explained to EW. "She's spent a lot of time with that note, as did the FBI, just going through the note trying to figure out if there were any clues or anything else in there. She doesn't place any significance on the movie The Game."

Given how much time Rivera apparently spent scribbling ideas in notebooks and on scraps of paper, the note ends up feeling like a red herring. The episode makes repeated references to Rivera's creative ambitions, his desire to write screenplays and direct movies, and the note, though very odd and written in a frenzied tone, feels more like a collection of stream-of-consciousness thoughts than a coded confession or a carefully planned map of connected clues. Still, that won't stop people from digging into every detail.

unsolved mysteries
Netflix

What was Rivera's connection with the Freemasons? 

Rivera's cryptic note opens with the following lines: "Brothers and sisters, right now around the world, volcanoes are erupting. What an awesome sight. Whom virtue unites, death will not separate." In the episode, Allison explains that she googled that section of the note and discovered that it was a reference to the Freemasons, the mysterious fraternal organization that often pops up in conspiracy theories and discussions of secret societies. 

There's more to the mason aspect of the story than what was covered in the episode, too. As noted byMarie Claire, a 2007 story from WBALTV reported that Rivera had inquired about joining a Maryland-based mason lodge on the day that he disappeared and that he was reading the book The Builders, a "study of masonry," on the weekend before he went missing. If that's not enough, the WBALTV report also contains the following detail: "On the day he disappeared, Rivera went to a bookstore and bought the book Free Masons for Dummies."

unsolved mysteries
Netflix

What happened to Porter Stansberry?

Rivera's close friendship with Frank Porter Stansberry, a fellow water polo player and classmate from high school, is referenced early on in "Mystery on the Rooftop," but it becomes even more significant towards the end of the episode. Rey and Allison Rivera moved to Baltimore so Rey could take a job as a newsletter writer for Stansberry's company, Stansberry Research, which provides financial research and tips to its subscribers. Towards the end of his time at the firm, Rivera was also producing videos for Stansberry. 

As the episode draws to a close, it's revealed that the phone call Rivera received before he fled the house and disappeared came from Stansberry Research. Since the call came from the switchboard, it was impossible for the police to discover who made the call and it's still unknown what was discussed. The episode claims that Porter Stansberry himself refused to speak with the authorities after the body was discovered and that he placed his employees under a gag order; the filmmakers also note that he did not speak with them for the documentary.

Following the release of the series, a publicist for a crisis management firm hired by Stansberry's company denied the existence of the gag order in an article in The Baltimore Sun. "There was no gag order or direction given to employees to not speak to the press, law enforcement or any other party,” the spokesperson said to The Sun in a phone interview. “Any suggestion to the contrary is untrue."

Stansberry Research continues to operate, providing financial advice and producing a podcast, Stansberry Investor Hour. As an Esquire article on him notes, Frank Porter Stansberry remains a "controversial figure in the financial world," having produced a controversial YouTube video in 2010 titled "The End of America," which predicted a doom-filled financial and social future for the country.

unsolved mysteries
Netflix

What will happen if there are updates about the case? 

Unsolved Mysteries doesn't just want to shine a light on old cases -- it hopes to solve them, and the show always ends with a call for viewers to submit tips online. The possibility that a viewer could potentially have essential information is part of what makes the interview subjects willing to appear on camera to discuss traumatic events from their lives. (During one of the most emotional moments of the first episode, Rey Rivera's brother, Angel, says “the pain is still so raw.”) In a recent interview with Vanity Fair, co-creator Terry Dunn Meurer said they've already received over 2,000 emails that "would be considered either tips or comments." 

If there's an important update about one of the cases, Meurer wants to let audiences know right away. "I think we would probably push any solid information out through social media so that we could get it to the world as quickly as possible," she said when asked about how those updates might roll out, noting they could also add additional material to the episodes if they needed to. “I guess it would be an extra or something that would stream along with the episode. That hasn’t been drilled down on how exactly that would happen, but we would get the word out.”

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Dan Jackson is a senior staff writer at Thrillist Entertainment. He's on Twitter @danielvjackson.