‘True Detective’ Recap ‘Hunters in the Dark’: Gone, Baby, Gone

In the ‘True Detective’ recap, the 1990 investigation reveals more information on what happened to Julie Purcell and the people initially involved in the crime that spanned more than 30 years…

By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer

If there’s one common theme amongst all three seasons of ‘True Detective’ it’s that nothing is placed in a scene without having some sort of relevance to the larger story at hand.

That was very much the case during the first season when Matthew McConaughey’s character Rust Cohle met a lawnmower man named Errol Childress cutting the grass at a Tuttle ministry church during the initial investigation in the Dora Lange murders while he and his partner were searching for Reggie Ledoux.

Years later we find out that same lawnmower man was the person responsible for killing Dora and a new crime that took place a decade later. That seemingly innocuous meeting introduced the murderer very early in the first season without ever truly giving away his identity.

It’s possible that another huge piece of evidence was uncovered in the latest episode of ‘True Detective’ season 3 as the investigation into Julie Purcell’s whereabouts continues and another seemingly innocuous encounter took place while Amelia Hays was conducting her own hunt for the missing girl.

There was a second incident of that same random piece of evidence potentially uncovered during the 1990 investigation when Wayne Hays returned to the Purcell house — now a condemned structure where vagrants live — and another potential tie back to ‘True Detective’ season one was uncovered.

We’ll get to all of that in our latest ‘True Detective’ recap for episode 6 titled ‘Hunters in the Dark’…

1980

There’s not much to unpack from the 1980 investigation this week outside of the early start to Wayne and Amelia’s relationship and closing the case surrounding the initial investigation into the missing Purcell children.

The episode opens with Wayne and Amelia’s pillow talk the same night when Bret Woodard opened fire and killed 10 townspeople and FBI agents before he was put down himself. Wayne and Amelia shared a cigarette while she began to ask him questions about himself and his history from the war.

All season long it’s been intimated that Amelia was more concerned about her career than she was about Wayne or her family and that was evident even in those first days when their relationship began. It seemed Amelia was already plotting the course for a book that would be published 10 years later when she first started seeing the lead detective on the case.

When Wayne returns to work soon after the Woodard shooting, he’s still unsatisfied by the way the case wrapped up so easily with Will Purcell’s backpack and Julie Purcell’s sweater being found in the rubble of a blown up front porch. That evidence is more than enough, however, to an ambitious district attorney who just wants to put this crime to bed.

Gerald Kindt — who eventually goes onto become the state attorney general — says with certainty that Woodard was the man responsible for killing both Purcell children in addition to 10 people who were closing in on him when he opened fire. Kindt is happy with the narrative with one lonely man with a history of mental illness was the perpetrator behind these awful crimes.

Kindt then holds a town meeting at the community center where he announces the findings from the police, what led them to Woodard and the confidence they have in a posthumous conviction for the crimes. A tearful Tom and Lucy Purcell both sit there and hear about their children being murdered as they end up leaving the press conference before it ends.

On her way out, Amelia attempts to reconcile with Lucy following the contentious encounter in her kitchen a few weeks earlier when she brought back the childrens’ projects from school. Lucy wants nothing to do with Amelia or the local reporter asking questions and not even her friend Margaret, who has been by her side ever since the kids went missing in the first place.

Lucy is obviously distraught but as it turns out, she may not be upset for the reasons we think because the long-suspected rumor that she was involved in her children going missing may have been confirmed by the end of this episode.

1990

The bulk of the story in this episode as well as the investigation takes place during the 1990. The biggest revelation also takes part during this part of the story.

This part of the story starts almost immediately after last week’s episode ended with the mysterious caller who phoned into the Julie Purcell hotline and said that she wanted everybody to stop looking for her and saying that she knows what the man pretending to be her father really did.

That tape seems to suggest that Tom Purcell had some kind of role in his kids going missing.

State Attorney General Kindt immediately wants the detectives to start turning the screws on him because no one really thought to look at the father as a possible culprit back in 1980. Kindt theorizes that perhaps Purcell was working with Woodard to kidnap and then kill the children.

It’s safe to say, Wayne and Roland are skeptical but the reality is Tom didn’t have an alibi for several hours after neighbors saw him working on his car when the children left the house and then never came home again.

Wayne and Roland agree to do the interrogation with Tom and as soon as the questions start, he figures out that the police are trying to point the finger at him for his son’s murder and why Julie has gone missing all these years. Tom lashes out because he obviously knows he’s innocent but suddently everybody is looking at him as a potential murderer.

Deep down it seems Roland has a lot of doubts about this theory — he grew close to Tom over the years and the two became friends — but he still has to do his job and it’s clear the state wants to pin any additional wrongdoing on the kids’ father rather than digging any deeper into this possible conspiracy.

Still as they are forced to work the case surrounding Tom, the detectives begin going back into the case in relation to his possible involvement.

The police trace the call made into the station to a truck stop where they pull prints from the pay phone that belong to Julie Purcell. That’s all the proof they need to know she’s the one who actually made the anonymous call into the station the night before.

The first stop from there is Tom’s old boss from the school bus repair shop that we saw him quit early in the season. Tom’s old boss says that he was on his way out before his children went missing because he had been busted drinking on the job several times. To make matters worse, some of Tom’s co-workers had seen him going into a ‘queer’ club one night and had been giving him a hard time about it ever since.

That comes into more light when Wayne and Roland go to Tom’s current residence and start looking around.

Roland finds piles of past due bills, showing the kind of financial problems that Tom has been having while Wayne finds self-help books, 12 step program books and a brochure for a church that offers homosexual conversion therapy. It seems Tom has been fighting against who he is for more than a decade and he’s still facing that same struggle today.

There were questions during that 1980 investigation brought up early on that perhaps Tom wasn’t really the biological father to one of his kids but is it possible he wasn’t the biological father to either of them?  Lucy’s promiscuousness has been brought up several times so it seems possible that both Will and Julie have different fathers than Tom.

The investigation then leads to the possibility that Tom may have either worked with Woodard or even framed him for the crimes back in 1980. Wayne and Roland question the police officer who found the backpack and the sweater during that initial search on Woodard’s property after the shootout and he remarks how it was a cop named Harris James, who identified the items as belonging to the Purcell children. It turns out Harris left the police force in 1981 for a new, higher paying job.

That’s when Wayne and Roland find out that Harris James now works as the head of security for Hoyt Foods — the same foods empire where Lucy Purcell previously worked, whose owner put up a reward for information on the case back in 1980 yet that actually muddied the investigation with so many false leads and it seems has a hand in everything that’s been happening with this case.

When they go to visit him, Harris is comfortable in his new position where he’s making a much bigger salary than he ever did as a cop and he doesn’t mind taunting his old colleagues about that fact. Harris is also smart enough to know this investigation is serious because why else would a lieutenant in the state police be out in the field conducting interviews with past witnesses.

Harris says that he didn’t find the backpack but he identified it based on the all points bulletin that had been released on the case. He also takes a look at a photo of Tom Purcell and says that he saw the children’s father watching the scene at Woodard’s house from a field across the street. Harris all but points the finger at Tom as the person who would have planted that evidence there to throw police off his tracks.

Of course, Wayne obviously appears to believe this is all a little too convenient, much like he felt back in 1980 when a bow was wrapped up on the case after Woodard went crazy with the shooting.

Before leaving, Harris makes a sideways comment about Wayne having a good body, perhaps another suggestion of his own proclivity and potential ties back to Tom Purcell as well.

Meanwhile, Amelia is carrying on her own investigation into the case after her first book regarding the murders was already released and now she’s looking into a follow up.

The latest clues about Julie being alive lead her to a home for wayward children run by nuns and that’s where she finds a girl who apparently knew Julie when she was a runaway.

Much like the homeless boy we met several episodes back, the girl describes Julie as saying her name was ‘Mary’ or ‘Mary July’ and that she said she was from the pink rooms or a queen in the pink castle. The girl essentially says that Julie had lost her way and didn’t make a lot of sense when she was speaking and seemingly didn’t know where she was. The girl then says that Julie left after a man in their group starting turning some of the girls into prostitutes and she escaped.

The girl then suggests to Amelia that if she wants to do a book, perhaps she should look into all these runaway teens and the things that happen to them on the streets.

Now that feels like a direct reference to the first season of ‘True Detective’ when Rust is looking for cases that are similar to Dora Lange and he finds another girl who was found dead after Hurricane Katrina but it was believed that she drowned. That dead girl led Rust to find Reggie Ledoux but it was also part of a larger narrative that kids from this area had gone missing for years but rarely had investigations really gone on long enough to find most of them who had disappeared.

That pointed to a larger conspiracy much like this all seems to be headed as well with this girl bringing up missing runaways and wayward children being brought in off the street.

During this interview we also see the girl stare down out of the window to a landscaper working the property. In ‘True Detective’ fashion where nothing is an accident, we have to get a look at that landscaper and it turns out the name of the business is ‘Ardoin Landscaping’.

Now that last name Ardoin probably doesn’t sound familiar unless you look back at the initial investigation in 1980.

Back then a schoolmate of Will and Julie’s named Mike Ardoin is the person who comes forward with information about them after he went trick-or-treating with them at Halloween. Mike is the one who mentions the creepy straw dolls that Julie received that night, although he doesn’t know where she got them from. Mike also mentions that he saw the children speaking to two adults in ghost costumes that night but he never knew their identities.

It seemed based on the conversation that Mike had a bit of a crush on Julie and he was giving the police whatever information he could to help.

Now this Easter egg in the latest episode can’t be a coincidence that ‘Ardoin Landscaping’ is working at the same halfway house where Julie Purcell once lived.

My guess is that Mike Ardoin isn’t the new Errol Childress, hunting for children and picking them off from this halfway house so they can be tortured and killed. Instead, it’s entirely possible that Mike has held out hope for all these years that he could find Julie and perhaps he’s the one that eventually set her free. Perhaps even deeper into the conspiracy, maybe Mike’s family was involved in the initial kidnapping but once he discovered it was Julie who was taken, he tried to free her and keep her safe.

Then again maybe this is the key to this whole investigation and Mike Ardoin is the one who led people to Julie back in 1980 and he was still working with them a decade later when the case was re-opened.

Either way, Amelia finishes her interview and leaves while Wayne and Roland get a call about another possible lead.

A call came into the police station for Roland asking the detectives to meet them at a local restaurant. When they arrive, Roland and Wayne set eyes on Dan O’Brien — the missing cousin to Lucy Purcell, who had disappeared sometime after her death in Las Vegas two years earlier.

In a sketched out, tweaking state Dan tells the cops that he’ll give them the information that they so desperately need about this case but it’s going to cost them $7,000. He essentially says that this is a massive conspiracy and the case being re-opened has a lot of people rattled, which is why the cops are going to run into so many brick walls while trying to conduct this latest part of their investigation.

Dan reveals that he grew up with Lucy as children after she came to live with his family following her mother passing away. It seems Dan and Lucy endured some ‘milestones’ together as kids — maybe that means abuse or perhaps it’s possible that Dan and Lucy got closer than they should have as children.

Dan then tells the police that Lucy’s death was staged — she didn’t overdose as much as she was murdered and it was made to look like she overdosed. He says that the people behind all of this don’t like to renegotiate and Lucy was asking for too much and that’s what got her killed.

Dan exonerates Tom for having any part in the kids’ disappearance by saying that the detectives must be completely off track if they are looking at him as a possible suspect in this case. Dan says that for $7,000 he’ll give the cops the answers that they need but time is running out because they aren’t the only people looking for Julie.

Remember a couple episodes back, Wayne mentions that same fact when the investigation is first reopened. They needed to find Julie quick because they may not be the only people involved in this case looking for her.

Dan leaves the restaurant while telling the cops that he’ll contact them in two days for payment and then he’ll reveal everything to them. He also warns them to hurry because the other people involved in this situation have a massive head start on them.

The meeting rattles Wayne and Roland, especially considering how Dan more or less told them that they are following the wrong leads this entire time. Wayne decides to pull the phone records from the place where Lucy Purcell died to see who she was talking to prior to her death.

At the police station, Tom Purcell is released from holding after spending 24 hours behind bars. The police don’t have enough evidence to actually charge him so they have to let him go.

Before leaving, Tom wanders upstairs to visit Roland but his old friend isn’t in his office. What he hears instead, however, are the other police working on the task force as they essentially reveal every piece of information in the case in one conversation.

The cops are lamenting about being forced to look into these old phone records after Wayne and Roland were summoned by Dan O’Brien, who has suddenly come out of hiding. They also say that he’s asking for $7,000 to his information that could lead the cops to information to find the purpetrators behind Julie’s initial abduction and Will’s murder.

Hearing all of this sends Tom into a frenzy and he ends up tracking down Dan himself at the same sleazy hotel where he used to go get high when he was living with the Purcell family years ago. Tom threatens to kill Dan if he doesn’t give up the information he has about Julie’s disappearance and where she might be today.

Tom also accuses Dan of drilling that peephole into Will’s closet that looked over into Julie’s room. The police detectives had mentioned that to him during their interrogation earlier in the episode and now Tom is convinced that it was Dan creepily staring at his daughter while living under his roof.

Dan denies that he would ever do that before finally giving up the information that he was holding onto for the payoff from the cops.

Dan wonders if Tom ever questioned how Lucy escaped this town and lived financially independent for the eight years living up to her death. Dan says he knows who was paying Lucy all those years and who would have a problem if she decided to ask for more money.

We never hear Dan say the same but we get a clear idea of who he mentioned before the end of the episode.

Meanwhile, the detectives are headed back after a long day in the investigation and Roland says that he’s taking Wayne home. Wayne says he wants to continue working but Roland believes he’s just trying to avoid going home and he’s using work as an excuse. The two end up in a heated argument and Wayne ends up pulling over the car and walking the rest of the way while Roland leaves him on the side of the road.

Wayne ends up back at the Purcell house, which has been condemned and now the only people who live there are vagrants. Inside, Wayne finds all sorts of graffiti on the walls but if you look over his left shoulder there’s one particularly interesting image — a spiral shaped pattern similar to the one that symbolized the group responsible for killing Dora Lange during the first season of ‘True Detective’. Is that just some random shape or like everything else we’ve learned with this series, is that spiral there for a reason?

During his look around the house, Wayne finally figures out what the hole was in Will’s closet. It wasn’t a peephole — it was the hole where the children passed each other messages. Remember those little slips of paper that they found during the initial investigation back in 1980 with all sorts of messages — it seems the children or somebody else in those rooms with them were passing those message throught that little hole in the closet.

As for Amelia, she ends up having a book launch at a local store where she talks about her investigation into the case and how the Purcell murders essentially destroyed an entire community. After she finishes talking, the crowd opens up for questions but there’s one loud voice from the back of the room who asks about the new evidence that Julie Purcell has been found alive.

When the man finally steps forward, he’s an African-American gentleman with a glass eye and a scar on his cheek. The man accuses Amelia of benefitting financially from this case while real people have been hurt or murdered. He tears into her for writing a book that sensationalizes the case so she can make money from the sales.

The man finally leaves after tossing her book to the ground and that’s when it hits Amelia — this may be the infamous man who bought the straw dolls back in 1980.

During that investigation we heard several times about the children being seen with a black man with a scar and a white woman alongside him, driving in a high class brown sedan in the same neighborhood where the children went missing. When Wayne and Roland went looking for this mystery man back in 1980, they found a guy named Sam Whitehead, who somewhat fit that description except he wasn’t the person they were actually looking for at the time.

Sam did mention, however, that he’s not the only person with those kinds of physical abnormalities because numerous people in the community are missing eyes, fingers, toes, and have scars — many of them after working on the kill line at the chicken plant in town. The chicken plant is Hoyt Foods.

The man at Amelia’s book launch appears to match the description of the person who was spotted around the kids back in 1980 but he seems to be concerned with Julie’s well being rather than the person responsible for her kidnapping and Will’s murder. Is it possible that this guy was paid by the mysterious Mr. Hoyt to take Will and Julie back in 1980 and bring them to him and now a decade later he’s feeling the guilt for his actions?

There’s a lot more to pull at that thread in the final two episodes.

As for Tom Purcell, he shows up at the Hoyt family compound after his meeting with Dan O’Brien, who obviously game him the name of the person paying Lucy all those years after the children went missing. The Hoyt home looks almost like a castle from the outside — further proof that this might be the place that Julie was talking about in 1990 when she said she was the ‘queen of the pink castle’.

Tom sneaks inside and eventually finds himself staring down this creepy corridor with instructions that one one is allowed inside. All while Tom is trying to secretly work his way through the house, we see that somebody is watching him over a closed circuit security system.

Tom finally makes his way down a long hallway to a closed door that leads into a darkened room. When he reaches inside to flip on the light, Tom is shocked to see a room painted completely pink — thus solving the mystery of the pink room — and he stares at a wall with something on it that we can see.

That’s when a shadowy figure lurks behind Tom into the room and it’s revealed to be Harris James. Tom looks up at the wall and mutters ‘Julie’ before the screen goes black and we never see (for now) what happened to Tom in that room.

What we do know for certain now is that Julie was taken to the Hoyt compound after she went missing and she was either living in this room or kept prisoner. When we first heard about Hoyt at the start of the season, we were told he was on a safari when the kids went missing and we also learned that he started his Ozark Children’s Outreach program after he and his wife lost their granddaughter.

There seem to be two possibilities here — one, Hoyt kidnapped Julie and she was part of some sick and twisted cult much like season one where the little girl was meant to be sacrificed much like Marie Fonteneau was back in the first season of the show (she was the girl in the video that Rust found in Billy Lee Tuttle’s house that he forced Marty to watch that showed her being murdered).

The second possibility is that Hoyt paid off Lucy so he could take her child and she would serve as some sort of replacement for his granddaughter who died.

Either scenario could have ended with the landscaper named Mike Ardoin possibly finding out that Julie was there and he helped her to escape.

Whatever the case may be, Tom got a little too close to the truth about where Julie went all those years ago and now he may never return.

2015

Wayne is back being interviewed by Elisa from ‘True Criminal’ when she begins asking him about that phone call received from Julie Purcell in 1990 and how the investigation shifted to her father.

Elisa then brings up Harris James once again and how he went missing in 1990 not long after he was questioned by Wayne and Roland. It seems rather obvious that Elisa believes Wayne may have killed Harris and the show is going to great lengths to make us believe that they murdered him for whatever role he had in the kidnapping, murder and coverup back in 1980.

During the course of the conversation, Elisa mentions all the dead people surrounding this case including the Woodard massacre, Dan O’Brien’s body being found in a drained quarry and she also says that the mother and father are also dead.

This appears to be the first official confirmation that Tom Purcell is dead by the time we make it to 2015. The end of that scene in the pink room certainly seemed to suggest that Harris James murdered Tom Purcell after he got too close to what really happened to his daughter but what we do know for certain is that Tom is dead.

Later after he cuts off the interview as Elisa is all but accusing him of a crime, Wayne sits outside with his son Henry and tells him he knows about the affair he’s having with the woman from ‘True Criminal’. It seems Henry has been cheating on his wife with Elisa, although we’ve known for some time that he was hooking up with her.

Henry isn’t going to leave his wife, however, and his father suggests that he keeps this secret to himself because telling her would only absolve him of his own guilt. All that information would do is serve to hurt his wife Heather with the truth so perhaps it’s better that he keeps this to himself.

Finally, Wayne and Roland are together after agreeing to work on this case one last time.

Wayne tells Roland about that hole in Will’s closet and how he was convinced it was being used to pass notes to each other when they were children. Wayne leaves the room and Roland goes over the desk and finds a gun as well as Amelia’s book that has been written on and scribbled over by her husband as he conducts this new investigation.

Now a quick look at the pages will reveal that this isn’t Amelia’s book — it’s actually a real book released in 2018 called ‘The Woman in the Window’, which tells the story of an agoraphobic woman who sees a murder committed by her neighbors across the street but her life begins to unravel because the reader never knows for certain what’s real, what’s her own drug induced imagination along with the possibility that the lead character in the book was the murderer.

It’s entirely possible that book was just a stand-in for the real novel but once again nothing that happens on ‘True Detective’ is an accident. Using that particular book could suggest a few things — is it possible that everyone who has been looking at Amelia as a potential link to these crimes all along was correct? Or is it possible that Wayne solved the case back in 1990 and he’s revisting things now only because his dementia is so severe that he can’t remember what happened back then.

There’s just no way that using ‘The Woman in the Window’ as the stand-in for Amelia’s book doesn’t have some kind of tie back to what really happened with this investigation and where Julie Purcell ended up after the 1980 and 1990 cases were closed.

As the episode ends, we are left with only two more installments of ‘True Detective’ this season as we attempt to find out what happened to Julie Purcell in 1990, how did she escape the pink rooms and are the Hoyt family tied to a larger conspiracy that could tie back to the same cult from season one?

We’ll find out more when ‘True Detective’ returns next Sunday night at 9pm ET on HBO.

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