‘True Detective’ Recap ‘If You Have Ghosts’: The Secret Princess from the Pink Rooms

In the ‘True Detective’ recap, the person convicted of the Purcell murders in 1980 is finally revealed, a crucial call comes into the cops in 1990 and Wayne finally reconnects with his old partner in 2015…

By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer

True Detective’ dropped the new episode early this week on HBO GO due to the Super Bowl on Sunday. This is the recap of that episode so be warned if you haven’t watched episode five yet. The regular debut will still be on Feb. 3 at 9pm on HBO.

Past the halfway mark in ‘True Detective’ season 3 and some of the answers are starting to be revealed while several more questions are posed in a pivotal episode airing Sunday night on HBO.

With the Super Bowl also airing this week, HBO released the new episode two days early and we got a chance to do a deep dive into the latest investigation stretching over three decades in our story.

Back in 1980, we find out exactly what happened during that standoff between former Vietnam veteran Bret Woodard and a group of townspeople who were awfully anxious to blame him for the Purcell murders. It turns out the guess we made several weeks in a row came true — that he was the scapegoat convicted for the crime and his children have come back 10 years later in 1990 to clear their father’s name.

Meanwhile in 1990 a whole bunch of new revelations come to light including a call on a hotline that may be Julie Purcell herself and all new connections that tie back to her mother and father not to mention a conspiracy theory that may be brewing already.

And finally in 2015, Wayne Hays finally reunites with his old partner Roland West while they discuss an action they took in the Purcell case that sounds a lot like they took the law into their own hands to dish out some justice.

There’s a lot of unravel from this episode, so with that said let’s recap the latest ‘True Detective’ titled ‘If You Have Ghosts’….


In the closing moments of last week’s episode we saw the standoff between Bret Woodard aka ‘The Trashman’ and the local townspeople, who already convicted him of getting too close to the kids in town despite no evidence that he had anything to do with Will Purcell’s murder and Julie Purcell going missing. The final seconds showed one of those townspeople kicking in a door — and this week we saw the aftermath as a landmine exploded and took out the front of the house and a couple of the people nearest the door.

From there, Woodard opened fire and killed nearly everybody outside including the two FBI agents who had been working the case. Woodard also drops Roland West with a shot to the leg and he kills another person standing right next to Wayne Hays. Another landmine takes out some more locals and finally it’s Wayne’s job to go inside the house and stop his fellow Vietnam veteran from killing anybody else.

Wayne gets the drop on Woodard, who then tells him that he’s a crack shot — the only reason he left the detective alive was for this moment. Woodard knew as soon as he shot those two Federal agents that he was going down for this crime no matter how much he may have been defending his property prior to those bullets ringing out.

Woodard tells Wayne that he’s got three seconds to make a decision before he turns around and opens fire. Before Woodard can get to three, Wayne is forced to shoot him dead.

In the aftermath of the shooting, Wayne is concerned about his partner after Roland is taken into surgery where it’s possible he could lose his leg due to the gunshot. Amelia shows up trying to give Wayne some support but he really just wants to be there for his partner. Finally, Amelia drags him away and they return to her house.

Much like their relationship of the future, rather than dealing with the trauma of the situation directly in front of them, Wayne and Amelia end up having sex that night for the first time.

They seem to fall into bed together any time a conversation or situation gets too rough to face and rather than sort things out, they just fuck their pain away.

A few days later police are still picking apart the Woodard house in the aftermath of the mass shooting and that’s when some new evidence is discovered.

A police officer taking photos of the scene spots a backpack buried in a crawlspace between the rubble of the exploded porch. When he pulls it out, the officer realizes the backpack belongs to Will Purcell — the boy who had just been found murdered. Meanwhile, another officer named Harris James, who was in charge of the scene then found a half burned up sweater amidst the pile of trash that Woodard had been burning.

The sweater belonged to Julie Purcell.

That was all the evidence the cops needed back in 1980 to convict Bret Woodard posthumously of the murders of both Will and Julie Purcell. That explains why it was such an open and shut case, especially without the accused around to defend himself. What we still don’t know is after Woodard was convicted, what did Wayne Hays do that got him kicked off Major Crimes and saddled on a desk for the next decade?


Following Wayne’s look at the surveillance tapes from the Walgreens in Oklahoma where Julie Purcell’s prints were found, he believes he’s spotted a person who could be a 21-year old version of the little girl who went missing a decade earlier.

Wayne is convinced, Roland not so much but he turns to the rest of the detectives on the task force to see what they’ve found.

It seems Lucy Purcell died of an overdose in Las Vegas in 1988 after she had been living in a hotel room for approximately three weeks prior to her death. Dan O’Brien — her cousin who was referred to as the kid’s ‘uncle’ and lived in Will’s room where the detectives found a peephole staring over into Julie’s room — has gone missing since 1987.

It seems Dan did nine months in jail for writing bad checks and then was last spotted near Las Vegas in 1987 but hasn’t been seen since. The Vegas connection obviously clicks in Wayne’s head when talking about Lucy Purcell’s death. We know from the investigation in 2015 that Dan O’Brien’s body was eventually found years later buried in a quarry but the circumstances surrounding his death are still unknown.

One of the other detectives went back and interviewed any of the people still living in the area who were also there in 1980. The detective mentions that one person said that a plain clothes officer came and talked to them in 1980 but there was no mention of that in the official record. Now that’s an interesting twist because another plain clothes officer allegedly spoke to that farmer who saw the Purcell kids playing in a field near his house while he also spotted that mysterious brown sedan with a black man and a white woman inside in the same area.

Is there a rogue cop gathering statements from possible witnesses in an elaborate coverup? Is this Harris James? Remember that name as we move into 2015 a little later.

In the midst of the investigation, Tom Purcell shows up and he’s devastated to see the photo of his ex-wife after she was found dead in her hotel room two years earlier. He’s also curious about the black and white photo pinned on the wall of an older girl who might just be his daughter Julie.

Roland is determined to keep Tom from falling apart during this investigation but Wayne just wants answers so he shows him the photo despite being told to keep it away. Obviously, Tom has no idea if this is his daughter 10 years after last seeing her but he’s crumbling on the inside out after all this news hit him over the past few days.

Downstairs, Tom makes a public plea on television for anyone to help with information that could lead to Julie being found. Alan Jones is also there in the crowd — he’s the former prosecutor in 1980, who is now working for the family of the man convicted of the Purcell murders as he attempts to overturn it. Alan grandstands while bringing in Bret Woodard’s children, who are the ones that hired him to dig into this case in hopes of exonerating their father.

We guessed a couple of weeks ago that this may be the case and sure enough it’s come true that Bret Woodard was convicted of the crime and now his kids are trying to clear his name.

From there, Wayne and Roland go visit Freddy Burns — the former metalhead who drove that purple VW Bug back in 1980, who we saw questioned last week after the discovered his fingerprints on Will Purcell’s mangled bicycle. 10 years later, Freddy is still dealing with the trauma of his interrogation where Wayne taunted him about how he’d be raped repeatedly in prison if he had anything to do with these crimes.

Freddy does reveal one piece of valuable information — he says that the day Will was trying to find his sister, he remembers him saying he was looking for ‘them’. It seems Will knew Julie was with other people and they were together before she went missing and he was murdered.

The detectives then interview a homeless kid who called into the hotline after he spotted the photo of the girl who could be a 21-year old Julie Purcell.

He says he remembers her from a group of kids that used to live together on the streets but he didn’t know her well. He says she told him her name was ‘Mary July’ and that she couldn’t get straight what year it was much less make any sense when she was telling him about her life.

The girl said she was a ‘secret princess from the pink rooms’ and that she had lost her brother and was looking for him. He couldn’t say if she was on drugs but the kid says that ‘Mary July’ definitely acted like she wasn’t all the way there in her head.

Now this is an interesting piece of evidence because going back to those drawings that Roland and Wayne found in Julie’s room all those years ago — she had drawn a man wearing a yellow crown and then also a giant castle that was colored pink. We’ve previously theorized that perhaps this yellow crown was tied back to ‘True Detective’ season one with the Yellow King and maybe this is even more evidence to that fact with the little girl drawing a pink castle as a child and then years later saying she was a ‘secret princess from the pink rooms’.

One key factor in that original investigation from Rust Cohle and Marty Hart was that the victims were dosed with large amounts of meth and LSD. Is it possible that the same thing secret cult has been dosing Julie for all these years and that’s why her mind is so warped to reality? Or perhaps that secret cult dosed her with plans of murdering the little girl but she somehow escaped and her mind was so fractured from the drugs that she barely remembers who she is today?

From that interview, Wayne starts to dig back into the 1980 investigation including the fingerprints that were gathered from the toys that they found near where Will Purcell had been murdered. There was a bag of toys found with multiple fingerprints but nothing had been identified. Thanks to advancements in technology, those prints could be run again now and potentially get a hit.

There’s only one problem — when Wayne goes to find them, he discovers that the prints taken are now missing from the box of evidence he sealed back in 1980. There’s no record of who opened the box much less did something with the prints but this once again points to a bigger conspiracy theory within the police force that somebody else was involved in this murder and the coverup that happened afterwards.

Wayne then begins to look over the Woodard crime scene photos and that’s when he has a major revelation that he shares with Roland. Wayne notices that Will’s backpack that was found in the crawlspace was in pristine condition — not a single mark on the backpack. Wayne knows first hand from his time at war that if the backpack was hidden in that crawlspace where it was found, that the landmine Woodard set off would have shredded it.

Instead, the backpack looked untouched.

Wayne then suggests that over the three days that police were cataloging everything at Bret Woodard’s house that perhaps somebody planted the backpack and the half-burned up sweater to essentially convict him of the crime while simultaneously throwing the police off the sent that Julie could still be alive. That explains why Woodard was convicted of double murder and nobody was searching for Julie for the past 10 years.

Who was the cop on the scene that day when the backpack and sweater were found? That would be Harris James. Again, remember that name.

Of course, Roland isn’t exactly thrilled to hear this news because this is exactly what Attorney General Gerald Kindt told them to avoid with this investigation. The current state attorney general was one of the prosecuting attorneys back in 1980 and he doesn’t want his conviction of Bret Woodard overturned no matter what.

The detectives don’t have much time to dig into that theory because an even more important clue comes across their desk from the hotline that was created for tips about Julie Purcell’s location.

The police bring in Tom Purcell and everybody listens to a taped conversation between the officer taking calls that night and a girl who called into the tip line.

“They’re looking for me. I saw on the television. I saw him on the television. Leave me alone. Make him leave me alone. That’s not my real name. Tell him to leave me alone. I know what he did. The man on TV acting like my father. Where’s my brother, Will? I don’t know what he did with him. We left him resting. No you won’t. You work for them. Tell him to leave me alone! He took me and I’m never coming back. Just leave me alone.”

Now obviously there’s no proof that this is actually Julie Purcell but some of the things she says definitely raise a flag about possible ties to her abduction and where she’s been for the past 10 years. First off, Julie mentions that they left her brother ‘resting’ and if you remember when Wayne found Will’s body, he was laying on top of a rock with his eyes closed and his hands held up for a prayer. Is it possible whoever took Julie and killed Will showed that to her before leaving?

As far as Julie saying that was not her father — back early in the season there were rumors floated that perhaps Tom Purcell wasn’t actually the father to Julie and Will because Lucy ran around on him so much that maybe somebody else was actually the biological parent to at least one of those children. What about the possibility that Dan O’Brien was actually Julie’s father in some kind of strange incest pact he had with his cousin?

Then again, Julie spoke about being excited to see her ‘aunt’ when she was at church just recently despite the fact that she has no aunts — is it possible that the people who took her all those years ago didn’t actually kidnap her but had the child convinced they were actually her parents and she went with them willingly?

One more theory — while Tom Purcell seems rather obvious as who the person on the phone is referencing when saying her ‘father’, is it possible she’s talking about Attorney General Gerald Kindt?

Remember, Kindt was the prosecutor back in 1980 who kept the detectives from doing a house to house search for clues into Julie’s disappearance. He’s the one who mandated that reopening the case wasn’t being done to overturn the conviction of Bret Woodard. He’s risen to power over the past 10 years — much like the Tuttle family achieved in the first season of ‘True Detective’ when Edwin Tuttle was once the governor and then turned Senator while his family ran the most powerful church in the entire state of Louisiana.

Power begets power — and this attorney general has got a lot of it not to mention all the influence to close the case in 1980 and keep the cops from digging too deep into the current investigation in 1990. If Kindt isn’t directly involved, it seems rather obvious that he’s had a hand in covering up the true nature of this crime for the past 10 years.

One more sidenote on this part of the story — in the midst of the investigation Wayne and Amelia go to have dinner with Roland and his girlfriend Lori (who we met back a few episodes ago when he picked up a girl at the church while the police were gathering fingerprints). Dinner turns rather tense when Amelia brings up the Purcell investigation and Wayne tries to shut her down.

Back at home, Wayne and Amelia argue yet again about her obsession with the Purcell case and his inability to escape it. That night, they share an evening in bed with their children after their daughter Becca fell ill with the flu. In the future we see an elderly Wayne Hays remember this specific moment in time with no particular context as to why it’s popped into his head.

There are a million theories that Amelia is the culprit behind the murders but I think the more likely scenario is that she finally got too close to the real people involved in the murder-kidnapping and by that point she no longer discussed the case with her husband so he had no idea. Then perhaps the power players involved had Amelia killed — because we still don’t know how she died much less why Wayne is estranged from his daughter Becca. Food for thought going forward.


Wayne is back in front of the camera doing an interview with ‘True Criminal’ host Elisa Montgomery when she asks him more about the 1990 investigation back into the case. She brings up the fact that a police officer named Harris James, who was involved with the Bret Woodard scene investigation, has gone missing. In fact, James hasn’t been seen since 1990 — after he was deposed by Detective Wayne Hays.

So now we know that Wayne spoke to Harris about the search at the Woodard property and that he was the person in charge when the backpack and sweater were found that ultimately convicted the former veteran. What happened to Harris back in 1990? Stay tuned for that in just a few moments.

Meanwhile, Wayne is still seeing that same grey sedan parked outside his house as he continues to dig through the old files in the Purcell case while also reading his wife’s book on the investigation for the first time. Now it might seem strange that Wayne never read his wife’s book before she died but he did say early in the season that he couldn’t get through it because he cringed every time he saw his name in print as part of this case.

That may have also been a guilty conscience talking by what we find out a little later.

While reading the book, Wayne comes across the passage that talks about Amelia’s visit to Lucy Purcell days after her kids went missing. It was during that conversation when Lucy said ‘children should laugh’ and we caught that as well because that’s the exact same language used in the ransom note sent to the Purcell’s a few days after Will was dead and Julie disappeared.

Wayne figures out that it must have been Lucy Purcell who made that note, possibly as a way to give her husband closure regarding their kids being gone. It’s much more likely, however, that Lucy played some part in her children being taken and maybe she didn’t know that Will would be killed but by now she’s so racked with guilt she can’t stop what’s already happened.

Maybe that’s what ultimately led to Lucy overdosing in 1988 as the guilt over what happened to her children finally crushed her under the weight of it all.

Finally, Wayne arrives at a secluded compound where his former partner Roland West now has his residence.

The years haven’t been kind to Roland — he lives alone with no wife and no kids in the middle of nowhere while his only friends are the seemingly endless kennel full of dogs that he calls family. Roland agrees to sit down and talk with Wayne after his son Henry informs the former police lieutenant that his father is not well and may not remember much of anything from their time as partners.

The two old partners sit down to discuss Wayne’s visit and it’s clear that these two had a falling out 24 years ago, which explains why they haven’t spoken since then. Roland is pissed off at Wayne about something but he never explains what it is. Wayne doesn’t remember but apologizes anyways in a tearful explanation at how his dementia has robbed him of so many memories including those with his former partner and even the ones attached to his wife.

As far as the investigation goes, Wayne tells Roland that he decided to talk to the television show doing a story on the Purcell case as a way to see what they know and he reveals that they’re deep into it. Roland can’t help but wonder if maybe his old partner might tell them something he’s not supposed to because his memory is so bad — maybe he’d even reveal a murder.

Wayne specifically mentions the evidence that Harris James went missing and Dan O’Brien’s remains had been found, which causes Roland to lash out and asking his partner how he could mention that ‘name’ to him. Obviously, Roland never says which name but based on the discovery earlier about the backpack and the sweater found at the Woodard home, it’s a safe bet that the partners tracked down Harris James and questioned him just like they did that pedophile back in 1980.

Maybe things got a little too rough and Harris James died, which would explain why he’s been missing since 1990.

There’s also the possibility that these two are responsible for Dan O’Brien’s death. He’s long been a suspect in this case after living in the house with the Purcell children for so long and that peephole staring into Julie’s room raises all sorts of creepy questions.

Wayne also tells Roland about finally making the connection between Lucy Purcell and the note that arrived at her house a few days after the children went missing. He knows that she must have made the letter, perhaps in an attempt to stop Tom’s grieving but either way Roland then says that they knew she was connected to that ‘name you just mentioned’.

Now we know Lucy is connected to Dan O’Brien because they were cousins, but is it possible she had ties to Harris James as well?

Here’s where Wayne drops the real bombshell on his former partner.

Wayne reveals that ‘Hoyt’ came to see him just after whatever they did that’s still haunting them to this day (presumably killing somebody). Hoyt is the owner of Hoyt Foods — the chicken empire where Lucy Purcell previously worked and the money behind the Ozark Children’s charity that offered up the reward for information regarding the missing children back in 1980. That reward was coordinated through the local prosecutor’s office but ultimately did more harm than good as their police station was bombarded with all sorts of false leads — perhaps more evidence that somebody was trying to stall out the initial investigation.

Now we’ve never met Mr. Hoyt but when the cops visited the Hoyt Foods plant back in 1980, the person Wayne and Roland spoke to said that he was out of the country on an African safari since the middle of October — or at least that’s what we’re led to believe.

Mr. Hoyt supposedly started the foundation after he lost his granddaughter, although we never hear exactly how she died.

Wayne reveals that Hoyt came to see and knew what he and Roland had done. It’s unclear if Hoyt was there to thank Wayne for closing the case or perhaps it was a bargain with the devil so both of them are protected from the reality of the situation.

It’s long been theorized in the potential ties for this season back to season 1 that worshippers of the Yellow King went far beyond Louisiana. During that season, Rust uncovered ties to the Tuttle family, a hugely powerful and influential group throughout the state. Hoyt seems to carry that same kind of clout with his food empire.

The Tuttles also started their ‘Way of the Light’ schools throughout Louisiana and that’s where many of the missing children came from that we later learned were used in some sort of ritual sacrifice. Rust found the video recording at Billy Lee Tuttle’s house before his death that revealed this ritual and the murder of Marie Fonteneau — a child who had gone missing years earlier.

In Hoyt’s case, he started an Ozark Children’s outreach charity that once again could have doubled as a way for these sick twisted rich people to find vulnerable kids they could exploit. Is it possible that Hoyt is another of the hierarchy of wealthy families engaged in these brutal rituals tied back to the worship of the Yellow King?

Wayne decides it’s time for them to close out this case once and for all but Roland doesn’t seem all that interested in returning to the investigation that seemingly left him all alone, haunted only by ghosts of the past. Wayne mentions that perhaps ‘she’ is still out there, which obviously lends to the idea that they never tracked Julie Purcell down back in 1990.

Roland then reveals that Wayne quit his job as a cop and he was there to witness it happening. Something tells me, the Attorney General shuts down their investigation, Wayne lashes out and ultimately quits his job over the entire ordeal. Wayne also mentions that he had family obligations and something to do with Amelia that led to him leaving the police.

Finally, Wayne says that before he completely loses his mind, he wants to finish this case and he needs Roland to help him do it. While it takes some convincing, Roland finally concedes to team up with his old partner one more time in hopes of bringing the Purcell case to an end 35 years after it started.

‘True Detective’ returns next Sunday night at 9 p.m. ET with a brand new episode on HBO.


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