Whodunnit on 'True Detective' Season 3? An Investigation

Jessica Napoli

[Spoiler Alert: This article contains spoilers from "The Great War and Modern Memory," the Season 3 premiere of True Detective.]

Season 3 of True Detective premiered Sunday night and the anthology series, created and produced by Nic Pizzolatto, is back to its old tricks after a long-ish hiatus from TV. [Season 2 aired in 2015.]

Mahershala Ali stars as Arkansas police detective Wayne Hays who — along with partner Roland West, played by Stephen Dorff — is called to the home of estranged couple Tom Purcell (Scoot McNairy) and Lucy Purcell (Mamie Gummer) in 1980. Their children, Will and Julie Purcell, have gone missing after never returning home from riding bikes after school.

'True Detective' Gets Back to Its Southern Gothic Roots in Eerie Season 3 Premiere (RECAP)

'True Detective' Gets Back to Its Southern Gothic Roots in Eerie Season 3 Premiere (RECAP)

'True Detective' returns with a chilling new investigation and a top-notch performance from Mahershala Ali.

Hays finds Will's body in small cave deep in the woods after following a trail of creepy bride-like dolls make of twigs and straw. Will's been laid flat on the rocks, hands in prayer position, and blood is around his head. Julie is nowhere to be found.

Fast forward a decade to 1990 and Hays is being interviewed about the Purcell case. It's revealed that Julie Purcell’s fingerprints have shown up all these years later after a CVS drugstore was robbed. It's also discussed that someone was convicted of the crime and put away but the state of Arkansas is seeking to overturn the wrongful conviction.

Fast forward further to 2015 and Hays is being interviewed about the Purcell case once more for a TV docuseries called True Criminal. He has kids (one son we know of, played by Ray Fisher) and is a widower. Hays' wife Amelia Reardon (Carmen Ejogo) was the Purcell kids' school teacher. She wrote a best-selling book about the crime/case/town and was the one who discovered an important connection between the eerie dolls and the kids.

The story is being told through the life, experiences, and memories of Hays, who we learn is going through the early stages of dementia (or something similar to that). So can we trust him as narrator? And evidently the first person convicted of murder and kidnapping isn't the right one, so who did it?

We already have a long list of suspects and, due to the show's slow-burn nature, expect to keep guessing until the very end. Let's break them down below:

Tom Purcell

The father is usually the first suspect in these kids of cases and there are rumors that he might not be Julie's biological father. Likelihood = low.

Julie Purcell

She was only 10 years old when it happened but we do know she's still alive. Did she orchestrate her brother's murder and flee West Finger to begin again? Maybe Will was her half-brother and she resented him, Tom, and her mother? Sounds far-fetched but this wouldn't be the first time a young girl committed a heinous act... ever heard of Slender Man? Likelihood = medium.

Lucy Purcell

She likes to drink and party and doesn't seem to take her parental responsibilities too seriously. So did she get rid of her kids to start over? Likelihood = low.

The Garbage Man

Brett Woodard (Michael Greyeyes) is a Native American man who collects garbage to sell for scraps. He keeps to himself and saw the Purcell kids ride by on their bikes the day they disappeared. He was previously a soldier who seems to dealing with some PTSD and his wife left him with their kids. Likelihood = medium.

Shady Teenagers

Three male teenagers in a purple Volkswagen Beetle watch as Julie and Will ride their bikes. We later see them partying in a part of the woods called the Devil’s Den with a bike. One of them named Freddy (Rhys Wakefield) is questioned by the police. Likelihood = high.

Another Family Member

We hear about a cousin named Dan (related to Lucy) who lived with Purcells the summer before the crime. He stayed in Will's room and Hays found a small hole in the closet which shared a wall with Julie's room. Was Dan creeping on his preteen niece? Likelihood = low.

Yet to Be Introduced

Could have been someone "passing through" or a neighbor or townsperson we haven't met yet, as Julie received the same doll while trick-or-treating. Likelihood = high.

True Detective, Sundays, 9/8c, HBO