True Detective Theories: Who Killed Will Purcell?

True Detective

HBO - Screenshot of Trailer Mahershala Ali will be starring as Detective Wayne Hays in the third season of True Detective.

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.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD. 

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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.

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

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.

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 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.

Read on for information on the biggest suspects and clues so far in the season, per fan discussions and theories:


Dan O’Brien, Will & Julie’s Distant Cousin

Dan O’Brien, (Michael Graziadei), Lucy’s cousin and the kids’ “uncle,” stayed with the Purcells the summer before the children disappeared, and is easily one of the biggest suspects due to the fact that it looks like he drilled a hole in the wall and was inappropriately watching Julie in her bedroom. He also left behind a large number of pornographic magazines under Will’s bed. Dan claimed he visited a bar before heading to his home after work on the day Will and Julie went missing.


Freddy Burns & His Crew

Freddy Burns and his group of friends were called in for questioning almost immediately following Will and Julie’s disappearance. Hays pegged Freddy as his biggest person of interest quickly, although it isn’t exactly clear why. Despite the fact that the teenagers were clearly trying to hide that they were drinking and smoking when the Purcell kids went missing, there really isn’t any motive that’s been revealed at this time.


Tom Purcell

Although Will and Julie’s father Tom Purcell perfectly plays the role of the grieving father, there is some question of his innocence. When the children went missing, Tom and his wife Lucy’s marriage was crumbling, and Tom had been sleeping on the couch for some time. Lucy blames him immediately 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, which could be cause for motive if Tom wanted to get back at his estranged wife for cheating on him. However, the theory is a bit thin at this time, since it wouldn’t make sense for Tom to kill his biological son and leave Julie alive, especially if she wasn’t really his daughter.


Robert the Pedophile a.k.a Ted Lagrange

One of the most obvious suspects is also Robert, the local pedophile. Hays and his partner 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 TV journalist interviewing the elderly version of Hays tells him that the corn husk dolls found near Will’s body may be associated with local pedophile groups, which would seemingly implicate Robert.


Go-Kart-Driving Vietnam Veteran Brett Woodard

Brett “Trash Man” Woodard, the Vietnam vet who drives a go-kart around town collecting garbage is another suspect, and although Hays and West search his property, they find nothing concrete to link him to the kids’ disappearance. He does, however, admit to seeing Will and Julie riding their bikes the day they went missing.


Julie’s “Real” Dad

As mentioned above, there are rumors that Lucy Purcell might not have been faithful to Tom, so some fans have been theorizing that Julie’s “real” father might have kidnapped the kids, killed Will to hurt Lucy, and then kidnapped his daughter. This theory would explain why Will was killed but Julie might still be alive.


The Corn Husk Halloween Ghosts

Some incredibly creepy corn husk dolls were found near Will’s body, in a path that actually led Hays to the cave where he was found. Hays had the dolls bagged as evidence, and passed around a picture of the dolls to teacher Amelia Reardon’s students, where one student recognized the doll. The student claimed it wasn’t the first time he’d seen the dolls, and that Julie was given one while trick-or-treating on Halloween a few weeks back by some adults dressed as cheap, lazy ghosts. It seems likely that whoever was involved with giving out the dolls would have a role in the kidnapping and murder of the Purcell children.

Who do you think killed Will and kidnapped Julie? Did we miss anybody? Let us know in the comments below! And tune in Sundays at 9/8c on HBO to keep up with the case.

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