Image Credit: Apple TV+

Who The F Killed Carolyn?!! ‘Presumed Innocent’ Theories

It feels like the biggest betrayal to my girl Taylor Swift that I have been watching a show with scarf-stealing Jake Gyllenhaal. But Swifties, you have to forgive me, as Presumed Innocent is actually so good. We’re five episodes in, and I am gagging to know who the hell killed Carolyn. Was it Rusty, the creepy kid, or a dude literally locked up in prison? The girlies have questions!! So I’m going to try and answer them the best I can with this deep dive into the whodunnit of Carolyn’s murder on Presumed Innocent.

A quick bit of background: Based on a bestselling novel from 1987, Presumed Innocent was originally adapted into a film in 1990 starring Harrison Ford. The Apple TV adaptation stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Rusty Sabich, a savvy prosecutor accused of brutally murdering his colleague/side piece, Carolyn Polhemus. But did he do it, and if not him, WHO?

Who Killed Carolyn Theories

who killed carolyn presumed innocent
Image Credit: Apple TV+

Did Rusty kill Carolyn?

As a viewer, we’re still not sure whether Rusty actually did it. Once or twice, there’s been a flashback to him murdering her that turns out to be someone else’s dream. It’s giving me thriller blue balls, I swear. Rusty has quite a bit of motive to kill her, as she was carrying his child (as proven by a paternity test) and wanted to end their affair. Call and email logs showed he was basically harassing her. Rusty is confirmed to have visited her that night, and they supposedly argued… enough that he bound and murdered her? Also, in episode four, he beats up Ratzer, which shows an inclination to violence. He worked the Bunny Davis case with her, so he might have tied her up in the same manner to try and frame someone else. Especially, as in episode five, he mentions they were tied up the same way, to which the lawyer Mya corrects that it wasn’t “exactly” the same way. As if someone else tried to recreate it… His skin cells were found under her fingernails, suggesting a struggle.

Did Barbara kill Carolyn?

I KNOW THIS IS A STRETCH. But I’m such a “No Body, No Crime” girlie, and it would be kinda badass of her. Because why has she stayed with this man??? I’m all for making things work, forgiveness, you-do-you, but HOW MANY TIMES, BARBARA? How many times will you stay? So this has not been shown at all in the show, but maybe there will be a wild plot twist where she did it, knew the method, and was framing her hubby hee hee.

Did Tommy kill Carolyn?

Firstly, I can’t take anyone over the age of five with this name seriously, and it makes me doubt this theory, but nevertheless, she persisted. So Tommy has been loving the chance to tear down Rusty and lead the State’s case against him. Until now, we assumed that was due to a hatred of Rusty, but what if he’s actually covering his own back? 

Tommy was seen closely watching the footage of Carolyn repeatedly, which could be hunting for clues, or an obsession with her. A flashback in episode five also revealed that Carolyn had asked not to work with him anymore, and he confronted her about this. He was clearly bothered that she preferred to work and fuck Rusty. Also Carolyn’s creepy son mentioned that she had said she was afraid of one of her colleagues, which he assumed to be Rusty. But what if it was Thomas??? (I refuse to call a grown man Tommy, sorry). Maybe he came over that night, saw Rusty leave, and killed her in anger!! Or to frame him!! He would’ve had access to the Reynolds case files, too. Plus, the “DNA under fingernails” seemed to come out of nowhere and perhaps was fabricated by his chummy friend, the medical examiner.

Did Kyle kill Carolyn?

Before you say Kyle is a literal child, I have watched Chucky, thank you very much. Also, Kyle is a moody teenager with a wicked throwing arm. Kyle first became fishy when photographs taken outside Carolyn’s house that night showed him biking past. When confronted by his parents, he revealed he followed his father there and wanted to “understand.” — sorry, did he watch his dad and Carolyn get it on?? He became further sus in episode five when he threw his bike in the trash. Getting rid of evidence? Getting rid of the “Getaway Car” to put it Swiftly? Rusty seems to think so, as he removed the bike from the trash to dispose of it himself. Perhaps Kyle found his father’s court case involving the method that was used to tie up Bunny, and mimicked this. A Peeping Tom or a cold-blooded killer, only time will tell.

Did Michael or Dalton kill Carolyn?

Her creepy son offered up photos and videos he took outside of his mom’s home that night as evidence against Rusty. But no one seems to be acknowledging how weird it was that he did that in the first place. What if this was a chance to direct police away from himself or his father Dalton. Maybe her ex-husband was angry about how things ended, how she avoided their son, or about her affair with Rusty. Keep it in the family, eh?

Did Nico kill Carolyn?

The newly installed D.A. needs a big win to cement his new position. He’s been riding Tommy hard to get this right, but what if there’s more to it than politics? What if he needs to cover up his own crime? Maybe he was the man at work who made Carolyn feel threatened. Or perhaps she had dirt that could’ve ruined his campaign for DA. 

Did Reynolds or Ratzer kill Carolyn?

The prime evidence against Liam Reynolds is that Carolyn was tied up in the same manner as Bunny Davis, the woman he was jailed for raping and killing. The prime issue is that… well, he’s in jail. But Reynolds has been claiming responsibility for the murder and seems pleased with it.  It seems there was a second, inconclusive sperm sample in Bunny, which leads Rusty to discover Ratzer as an accomplice. Perhaps he killed Carolyn for Reynolds, as a favor for not ratting him out those years ago. 

Who killed Carolyn in the original novel?


Firstly, let me specify that there have been many changes from the novel and film to the series, so they might change who the killer is as well. Anything is possible, and Apple TV loves a twist. But without further ado, here’s the guilty party in the original work.

During the novel, we discover that Raymond and Carolyn also had an affair, leading us to wonder if he did it or his wife when she discovered it. But nope, that is not the case! 

In the original novel, Rusty’s wife, Barbara, is revealed to be the killer. She murdered Carolyn after discovering the affair in a fit of jealousy. Rusty discovers this due to inconsistencies in the timeline, her reaction to certain conversations, and unexplained absences. In the end, she confesses and clears his name. 

Raymond’s push for Barbara to testify might be setting up for that reveal or when Rusty discovers it. However, in this adaptation, Barbara has been aware of the affair for a while and believes it ended a year ago. So it’s less likely she’d react in such a way. Maybe she followed him and discovered it was still going on, but it is certainly less of a passionate fury than in the novel. We’ll have to wait and see who killed Carolyn in the Apple TV version.

Fleurine Tideman
Fleurine Tideman
Fleurine Tideman, a European-based copywriter. She’s interesting (cause she’s from Europe), speaks multiple languages (again, she's from Europe), and is mentally unhinged (despite socialized healthcare). You can find her European musings on Twitter @ByFleurine and her blog, Symptoms of Living, both of which are written to the sounds of unhinged Taylor Swift playlists.