True Detective Theories: What Really Happened to Julie Purcell?

True Detective

HBO True Detective fan theories: what really happened to Julie Purcell? Read on for information on the biggest suspects and clues so far in the season.

True Detective season 3 premiered on Sunday, January 13 at 9/8c on HBO, nearly three-and-a-half years after the second season aired. Although many were in doubt that the third season would ever happen after a rough response to season two, True Detective is coming back to HBO with new detectives, a new case, and a fresh location.

Season three centers around Detective Wayne Hays, played by Oscar-winning actor Mahershala Ali, who is a retired, 70-year-old Arkansas state police detective. Hays’ story, which plays out over three separate time periods covering the 1980s, 90s and 2000s, involves Hays attempting to uncover the unsettling story of two missing children in the Ozarks – Will and Julie Purcell.


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Detective Hays is consumed with the November, 1980 kidnapping-murder case of the Purcell siblings from the small, working-class town of West Finger, where 12-year-old Will Purcell and his 10-year-old sister Julie were last seen riding their bikes in the late afternoon. Hays is assigned to the case with his partner, Roland West (played by actor Stephen Dorff), who helps Hays delve deeper and deeper into the case, while exploring the professional and person relationship between the two men and how they work together in an effort to solve the case. Together, they deal with emotional, grieving parents, state politicians trying to wrap up the case quickly, and suspects who are easy scapegoats in which to pin the murder on.

The case is inevitably closed and reopened in the 90s, when new evidence surfaces that casts doubt on the original case. He returns again in 2015 as an aging man struggling with memory loss who reconsiders the investigation and its effect on his life as a documentary filmmaker digs into the decades-old crime.

The first episode left viewers with plenty of questions and confusion surrounding the death of Will Purcell and the kidnapping/missing case involving Julie. Even with the episode airing twice the night of the premiere, many viewers were still left uncertain about the suspects in the crime, which points to a few different people at this time.

True Detective, Mahershala Ali

HBO – Screenshot of TrailerMahershala Ali will be starring as Detective Wayne Hays in the third season of True Detective.

The premiere episodes offer very little information about any suspects behind Will and Julie’s disappearance. Hays found Will Purcell’s body surrounded by handmade dolls in a small cave in the woods sometime after taking on the case in 1980, and his younger sister is nowhere to be found. Tom (Scoot McNairy) and Lucy (Mamie Gummer) Purcell naturally assume the worst before a ransom note arrives at their house. “Do not worry,” it reads. “Julie is in a good place and safe the children shud laugh do not look let go.”

Julie is later deemed alive after her fingerprints turn up in a CVS drugstore robbery in 1990. However, not much else is known surrounding the case at this point in the show, and especially involving Julie’s disappearance and sudden reappearance a decade later.

Read on for fan theories on what may have happened to Julie Purcell after she was kidnapped and her brother was murdered:

She May Have Been Kidnapped By Her “Real” Father

When the children went missing, Tom Purcell and his wife Lucy’s marriage was crumbling, and Tom had been sleeping on the couch for some time. Lucy immediately blames him for their disappearance, and it’s clear that the two were having issues for a long time before the kids went missing.

However, Tom’s mother-in-law sparks a rumor that Julie might not actually be his daughter, so some fans have been theorizing that Julie’s “real” father might have kidnapped the kids, killed Will to hurt/get back at Lucy, and then kidnapped his daughter. This theory would explain why Will was killed but Julie might still be alive.

And since viewers know that Julie survived, it’s unclear whether she was let go, she escaped her captor, or she orchestrated the whole thing on her own (see below).

She Might Have Run Away After Killing Her Brother & Sent The Ransom Note to Her Parents

Although less likely than the first theory, some fans have been speculating that Julie might have had a hand in her brother’s death, and then run away afterward. This theory seems unlikely since she is only 10-years-old and it is doubtful that she was part of some secret religious cult that kills children, arranges their hands to look as though they are praying, and leaves creepy corn husk dolls around the crime scene.

However, the following theory does make some sense regarding the ransom note. After Will’s body was discovered, the Purcells can’t help but assume the worst regarding Julie, until a ransom note shows up at their home. “Do not worry,” it reads. “Julie is in a good place and safe the children shud laugh do not look let go.”

Some fans have theorized that, due to the lack of punctuation and poor spelling, the note might have been sent by a child. Was there something more sinister going on at home that Julie might have been trying to escape from? Especially considering there was a peep hole cut into the wall between her bedroom and the room where her Uncle Dan also slept? Or was her brother actually the one peeping, and Julie got fed up and killed him before running away?

She Was Sold Into a Pedophile Ring & Escaped Later in Life

One of the earliest and most obvious suspects is also Ted Legrange, a.k.a. Robert, a local pedophile. Hays and West question Robert, who denies having anything to do with the Purcell children’s disappearance, although his landlady tells the detectives that Robert was not home the night they went missing. What’s more, the journalist interviewing the elderly version of Hays, Elisa Montgomery, tells him that the corn husk dolls found near Will’s body may be associated with local pedophile groups, which would seemingly implicate Robert.

Montgomery also asks Hays about “what happened with Julie and her father.” There is a scene at the end of the episode where a house goes up in flames, which somewhat resembles the children’s home. Details about what happened between Julie and her father are sparse at this time (see above), although it would make sense if her father, (whether Tom Purcell or her biological father), was involved with her kidnapping and the murder of her brother, and Julie returned a decade later to burn the house down, with her father still inside.

Perhaps her pervert uncle kidnapped her and sold her into a pedophile ring? Or Uncle Dan and Pedo Robert were working together, and targeted the Purcell children? What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments below! We’ll admit that, at this point, we have a lot more questions than we do answers, so tune in Sundays at 9/8c on HBO to keep up with the case.

READ NEXT: True Detective Corn Husk Voodoo Dolls: What Are They?

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