Is the killer in True Detective season 3 closer to Detective Wayne Hays that you realize? HBO's crime drama examines three different timelines and, with memory a key theme in the third season, there's a lot of key suspects in the central mystery.
True Detective season 3 examines the murder of a boy named Will Purcell and the disappearance of his sister, Julie. Detectives Wayne Hays (Mahershala Ali) and Roland West (Stephen Dorff) investigate the case in 1980 Arkansas. Meanwhile, separate timelines in 1990 and 2015 not only reveal the complex nature of the characters' perspectives, but also the political and racial aspects that come along with the investigation. In a supporting role, Carmen Ejogo portrays a teacher named Amelia Reardon, who ultimately marries Wayne and later writes a book about the Purcell case. Filling out the primary cast are Scoot McNairy and Mamie Gummer, who play the victims' parents - Tom and Lucy Purcell, respectively.
After five episodes, True Detective season 3 has weaved together a narrative that makes everyone seem guilty of something. But if you look at all the clues, it looks like none other than Amelia - here's the evidence.
- This Page: The Amelia Killer Theory
- Page 2: What This Would Mean For True Detective Season 3
What We Know About True Detective Season 3's Killer
In 1980, Wayne investigates the Purcell case and follows a tip that takes him to a wooded area. He discovers a trail full of cornhusk dolls, and then discovers Will Purcell’s body in a cave, with the corpse staged in a praying motion. There appears to be a religious element to the murder, leading the detectives to a local priest and subsequently an elderly white woman who made the cornhusk dolls. She offers a tip about a mysterious "dead eye" black man, which leads the investigation to a local trailer park and an individual who fits the suspect profile, Sam Whitehead. He directs the detectives to Hoyt Foods (where Lucy Purcell previously worked), then they return to the priest and discover that his congregation mostly consists of white people, thus suggesting that a religious black man didn't kill Will Purcell.
With the racial element out of play, a white teenager named Freddy Burns becomes an obvious suspect, as he's one of the last people to be seen with the Purcell children on the day of the crime. As a suspect, Freddy doesn't align with the religious angle, though his prints are found on Will Purcell's bicycle. The investigation also went on to include Lucy's cousin, Dan O'Brien, who briefly lived with the Purcells and allegedly made a peephole spying into Julie's room. Ultimately convicted of the crime was Brett Woodard ("the trash man"), albeit posthumously, and by 1990 it's suggested this was wrongly, involving planted evidence and a rush close to the case. The real killer's still out there.
As for the hard evidence in True Detective season 3's mystery, the crime scene shows that the Purcell kids had been playing Dungeons & Dragons with a mysterious third person; a game that has been infamously connected to early '80s American paranoia, given its alleged connections to death metal culture and cult activity. The detectives also discover that the children had lied about staying with a neighborhood friend, thus raising questions about their extracurricular activity, and who they might've met with in the woods. A suspicious brown sedan has been spotted near the crime scene multiple times, and the detectives receive a serial killer-like note that reads, "Do not worry. Julie is in a good place and safe the children shud laugh do not look let go."
Theory: Amelia Reardon Is True Detective Season 3's Killer
But for all those suspects, could it be that Amelia Reardon is True Detective season 3's killer? At first glance, she's a mild-mannered school teacher who becomes involved with the show's primary character, but digging deeper into her personality and behavior tells a different story. It's growing increasingly likely that Amelia's affinity for role-playing resulted in Will Purcell's death, of which she both covered up and capitalized upon by writing a book about the case.
In the 1980 timeline, Amelia's conversations with Wayne are both telling and suspicious. She deflects information about her San Francisco past during the Black Panther movement, and she makes it clear that she's not a big fan of law enforcement. Amelia expresses regret about her former life, but she does seem optimistic about a potential career as an author. Furthermore, Amelia tells Wayne that she pretended to be "someone else" during two separate trips to St. Louis. At this point, she's merely a teacher with an interest in the deaths of her students, yet Amelia keeps pressing Wayne about the case, and her behavior seems increasingly off.
During a first date, Amelia suggests that Will's death might have been an accident. She also implies that there's "an element of affection" in how the corpse was posed. Amelia seems to prioritize crime scene specifics over the foundation of a possible romantic relationship with Wayne. Then, when Amelia discovers that Wayne used to be part of the U.S. Army's long-range reconnaissance patrol in Vietnam, she's visibly rattled. That's not typical of Amelia, as she's usually cool and composed. Her behavior in the 1980 timeline suggests that she's an opportunist, and the 1990 timeline reveals that she not only wrote a draft about the Purcell case, but that she also seeks power and control over Wayne while pursuing more details about the crimes. Indeed, in 1990, Wayne and Amelia visit the Walgreens store where Julie Purcell's prints were found, and Amelia once again becomes nervous. Unsurprisingly, sex becomes part of the conversation; a recurring tactic in the relationship's power dynamics.
If Amelia killed Will Purcell, either in cold blood or accidentally, then she would have surely written the aforementioned note. So, the misspelling of "should" makes sense because it would further deflect attention from herself. Plus, it also explains her reaction when Lucy Purcell seems to reference the note's wording by saying "children should laugh" during a conversation. Additionally, Amelia's knowledge of the black community would allow her to use racial profiling to her advantage, and her occupation would have made her aware of the "trash man" suspect Brett Woodard, along with Lucy Purcell's cousin Dan O'Brien, and maybe even Will's first communion photo. This information would allow her to simultaneously manipulate the investigation and the lead detective, Wayne.