In a recent interview, True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto told Entertainment Weekly that his hit show's fictional inspirations range from high literature to low pulp. But it seems the show drew inspiration from elsewhere as well — an incredibly horrifying real case of satanism and sexual abuse in rural Louisiana in the early 2000's.
The case of Hosanna Church in Tangipahoa Parish is pretty skin-crawlingly awful and, for viewers of True Detective, rings awfully familiar. A formerly thriving evangelical church on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain, Hosana once boasted thousands of members and supported schools for area children. As the church's membership dwindled, it also served a much darker role: as a haven for child sexual abuse that occurred in the context of satanic rituals. Seriously. Here's a New Times piece on the case from 2005.
Nine people have been arrested in the past week. A dozen computers have been seized, at least some of which the police believe contain child pornography, as well as dozens of videotapes, hundreds of computer disks and eight large boxes of documents and photographs. Inside the shuttered church compound, in a "youth hall" behind the sanctuary, the police found the faint imprint of pentagrams on the floor that someone had apparently tried to scrub away. Some of those arrested, the police said, described rituals within those pentagrams involving cats' blood and people dressed in black robes.
The abuse victims ranged in age from 1 to 16, the police said. Several are in protective custody, and a search is under way for others, who may have moved or are known to the police only by first name or nickname.
Holy. Fucking. Shit. It's hard to read this and not immediately think of motifs that serve as major plot points in the HBO series — the abandoned religious school Rust investigates, the abused children rescued from the home of Reggie Ledoux, characters referencing child sexual abuse and Satanism. The Hosana Parish story even has its very own Billy Lee Tuttle character, who in True Detective is a powerful pastor and cousin to fictional Louisiana Governor Ed Tuttle. In episode one, Tuttle tells True Detective's protagonists that there's a holy war going on. Interestingly enough, the Times story features a very similar quote from a similarly situated powerful pastor, named Eddie.
Eddie Robinson, assistant pastor at the 5,000-member Harvest World Outreach Ministries in nearby Hammond - to which many Hosanna members migrated - says what happened is clear. He told congregants on Sunday that a prophecy of "witchcraft" problems had been revealed in recent weeks.
"When the leadership of that church kept the enemy out, everything was fine," Mr. Robinson said. "But when the leadership of that church let the enemy in, things began to change."
In True Detective, Rust Cohle suspects that somehow, someone in law enforcement is involved in Dora Lange's death and the sexual abuse suffered by children at the hands of Ledoux. In the Hosana case, one of the adults implicated in the abuse ring was a 24-year-old sheriff's deputy.
CNN's report on the case contains additional chilling details, like this passage that was so upsetting that I'm apologizing in advance for posting it. It literally made me gag.
The former pastor told deputies he had been having sex with children for many years and "also educated the children as to how to perform sexual acts with each other and with animals," Carpenter said.
Like the whispered-about kingdom of Carcosa in True Detective, Hosana Church served as a haven for Satanic sex rituals that occurred in an empty room in the church's youth room. By daylight, "the room" looked like an empty space without furniture. But under blacklight, the room was covered from floor to ceiling in Satanic writing. Similar creepy graffiti plays a prominent role in more than one episode of True Detective; recall the creepy deer horned child picture painted on the wall of a burned out church in episode 2, or how, at the end of episode 5, viewers see childlike figures painted in the same style in the abandoned Light of the Way school as Rust shines his flashlight on the roughly hewn "devil traps" he finds residing there.
There are, of course, some pretty key differences between the Hosana Church case and Pizzolatto's story. For one thing, there are no ritualistically posed dead prostitutes wearing deer horns and thorn crowns in the Hosana Church case. There's no Carcosa, no Yellow King, no Maggie and no truck stop sex trade. No deadpan lectures about philosophy. But it certainly seems like the awful crimes of the Hosana Church elders played a role in influencing the plot of True Detective. Not only did Nic Pizzolatto tell EW that you'll find a lot if you google "Satanism," "preschool" and "Louisiana," one of the men implicated in the 2005 case shares a last name with one of the suspected child victims whose disappearance drives several early plot developments in Pizzolatto's show: Fontenot.