In a show like True Detective, there's always extraneous pieces of information floating about. Some characters don't matter, plot points that go nowhere, and answers found which only raise more questions. Parsing which characters are worth chasing, and which are worth ignoring is part of the overall puzzle. Harris James is one of these. He starts as just a name floating by, but by the penultimate episode, he has become an essential character in the mystery. What happened to Harris James on True Detective? Warning: Spoilers for True Detective Season 3 follow.
Harris James' name comes up early in the series. I think his first mention is all the way back in episode 2, brought up by Elisa Montgomery during her interview with Hays. She mentions James as a person working on the case who left the force and then disappeared after questioning during the 1990 investigation.
Each time, Montgomery circles back to her conspiracy angles, James' name is brought up, along with Lucy's overdose in Vegas, and her cousin Dan O'Brien's disappearance during the 1990 investigation. It's clear she thinks all three of them were killed to keep their mouths shut by whoever was covering up Julie's disappearance.
This week's episode reveals Elisa right about the latter two. The former? Not so much. He's dead all right because Detective West killed him.
Let's get something straight. In 1990, Wayne Hays got this close to solving the case. He found all the clues which connected Lucy's death in Vegas to Harris James as the Hoyt family's security guard, including the phone records and the flight information. He included additional evidence of James being the first cop on the scene when Hoyt's daughter Isabelle crashed her car a year or two before Julie disappeared, plus the planting of the backpack at Woodard's, and Tom Purcell's staged suicide, guessing James was behind all of it.
However, West was right about what would happen to this evidence. The top brass didn't want the Hoyts implicated. It would go in a box in the basement and Purcell would be posthumously found guilty. Sothe two of them made a foolish decision. They acted like it was 1980 again and ambushed James, much like they did the pedophile in the earlier episode when they were looking for Julie's killer. They even took him to the same barn to torture him until he gave up the goods.
Except James is a trained killer, not a sad sack. The moment he saw an opening he got free and attacked Hays. He would have killed him too, except West pulled out a gun and shot him dead.
So much for the confession or evidence. West now has no way to prove anything, just a dead man on his hands, one he killed in an off the books incident which could end his career. James' death is the big secret between West and Hays.
It turns out, what happened at the barn didn't stay out there. When Hays said "Hoyt called the next day," this is what he meant. The episode ends with a visit from Hoyt and his people, who pick up Wayne and whisk him away.