True Detective Season 3 began much like Season 1, with a pair of old grizzled detectives moving through three eras trying to solve the case that got away. Though the entry points were different, Season 3 felt like it was going in the same direction as Season 1, with a possible sex trafficking ring, and politicians desperate to keep things covered up. However, it turns out that the answer was very different this time. Julie Purcell's story in the True Detective finale wasn't sex-based at all, and her fate wasn't as terrible as some feared. Warning: Spoilers for True Detective Season 3 follow.
The series telegraphed the answer to the mystery from the start. Lucy Purcell, the children's mother was guilty of something, though she refused to admit what it was. The higher-ups were desperate to close the case and pin it on the first convenient dead suspect they could find, for reasons no one would admit
Moreover, in the background, there was the wealthy Hoyt family, where daughter Isabel lost her child in a terrible car crash a few years before, a girl who looked an awful lot like Julie. How hard was it to see that the Hoyt family must have paid to take the girl, accidentally killing her brother Will in the process?
But when the Hoyt patriarch sat down with Hays at the top of the hour, it turns out he had no idea what happened. All he wanted was to make it go away. Hays ended the 1990 search with no more answers than he had at the end of the 1980 investigation.
In 2015, Hays and West had picked up the trail again, and head to the Hoyt house. The evidence was there Julie had been held captive, and the clues pointed to the family servant in charge of Isabel: Mr. June. Mr. June admitted they took Julie, but only after Isabel, who was not mentally stable, accidentally killed Will. All Lucy had been selling them was access to playtime with her kids. Afterward, Mr. June paid Lucy off to never tell where her children had been and never to ask where Julie was.
Julie spent years in the Hoyt mansion, hidden from all, dosed with Lithium. Finally, Mr. June realized how terrible it all was and tried to help her make a break for it. Julie disappeared instead. The trail ended at a convent. There West and Hays found Julie was dead. She was diagnosed as HIV+ in the early 90s and died in 1995, buried under the name of Mary July.
However, something didn't sit right with Hays. There was a young girl at the church, the daughter of the landscaper, Lucy. The landscaper looked familiar. He was Julie's classmate, the one who had a crush on her when she disappeared. Julie never died. She married her childhood sweetheart and lives with her daughter in a lovely house on a quiet street in Arkansas.
Hays gets in the car to check and see if it's her. But the stress and the drive are too much. Just as he pulls up, his memory goes. He has no idea where he is or why, or what he was doing.
In the end, Hays finds Julie Purcell, but he never knows it. She's just a nice lady who gives him a glass of water.