'The Real': Digging Into the True 'True Detective' Crime That Shocked Louisiana

Kelly Woo
Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
Yahoo TV

Click the above play button to watch the full episode of The Real about the real-life case that inspired True Detective. (Warning: The video contains graphic content.)

 

Time is a flat circle — and nowhere is that felt more deeply than Ponchatoula, Louisiana.

That's a real town, with living, breathing citizens who lived their own version of True Detective a decade ago.

In the premiere episode of Vice's The Real, reporter-host Gianna Toboni investigates the Hosanna Church case, in which leaders and members of the church engaged in "satanic rituals, child molestation, animal sacrifice, and bestiality."

Sound familiar? That description is a dead ringer for the plot of True Detective Season 1.

In each episode of The Real, Toboni talks to the people involved with the real-life inspirations or avatars of television series and movies. And what she finds is that the truth is much stranger, much crazier, much more dramatic than fiction.

Toboni chatted with Yahoo TV about her dark week in Louisiana and what to expect from future episodes.

This is such a cool concept. How did you come up with the idea?
Last year, I felt like I was the only person in the universe who had not seen Breaking Bad, and the fifth season was coming up. So I binge-watched the entire series and got caught up. I got totally obsessed with the concept of the show and the protagonist. I come from a news background and started researching meth dealers, New Mexico, double life — just looking for this character. And I found a guy named Walter White, who lives in Alabama and who built a meth empire and had a family on the side. So we produced a documentary, The Real Walter White, and it did insanely well for us. Huge — millions and millions of hits — and it's still doing well. So my co-producer, Andy Capper, and I thought, "Why don't we make this into a series?"

Watch The Real Walter White:

Why start with True Detective?
I loved the first season of True Detective. I felt like everybody around me, everybody in the office, my friends, my family — it was the one show that was buzzing the most. Also, the buzz about the second season — the new stars, the format, the storyline — everyone is talking about that right now. For myself, when I'm watching a show and a season ends, all I want is more content from that show. Season 1 of True Detective ended, I was like, "I know I'm not the only one who wants more True Detective." So we found the real story, and I thought it was an appropriate first episode [for The Real].

Testimonial drawings from Lewis Lamonica's son

You went to Ponchatoula and spent time talking to a lot of people. What was the experience like?
Sexual abuse stories are not easy things for anyone to look into. It's always really difficult for me to get into that head space and investigate these stories. It's interesting to look at the parallels with the show, but frankly, it was a pretty depressing week in Louisiana. Going to the courthouse and digging through all the court documents and evidence, and having to look at all those drawings and reading the testimony — it was a difficult case to report on.

[Related: 'True Detective': Colin Farrell, Vince Vaughn Confirmed as Season 2 Stars, Justin Lin as Director by HBO]

What was the most shocking part of what you learned?
The drawings that the victims did as part of their testimonies made clear how brainwashed they were. They had sort of a cartoonish, lighter tone to them. They would have exclamation points and captions and smiling faces, but the actual focus of the drawings were the most horrific sex crimes you can imagine. So getting into the mind of a 10-year-old through these drawings, and a 10-year-old who had been abused terribly, was shocking.

Did your investigation give you a new perspective on the show?
It didn't, but one thing that I found interesting — my parting thought on reporting on this story was something Matthew McConaughey said at the end of the series. It was the idea that there's a circle, life goes around — essentially that these kinds of crimes will continue to happen. We'll never solve the entire case. There was such a strong parallel with this documentary, where there was this feeling of "We did our best, but we didn't catch everyone, and we didn't find justice for every victim." It has such a creepy element to this, because these people are still in this town, hiding in their homes or whatever. You can feel that when you're there. You can feel that the people in town are still haunted by this case.

The documentary is so dark and there are so many horrifying details. It's darker even than True Detective.
Yeah, it's a stranger-than-fiction kind of deal. With a lot of these stories, the Hollywood version is so much better, because they're Hollywood and they can make s--t up. But the real stories that we've been finding behind these shows and films are actually more dramatic. They're taking these surprising turns — and I'm not just talking about True Detective — that are actually more raw and real and dramatic than the Hollywood depiction of it.

Hosanna church in Ponchatoula, Louisiana

What can you tell us about the upcoming episodes?
I think the episode I'm most excited for is the real Nancy Botwin from the show Weeds. This woman — her name is Dr. Dina — is so compelling. She's this 90-pound L.A. girl, but she is gangster. She's the last person on the face of the earth you would expect to have these experiences she's had — run-ins with cartels, death threats, the feds raiding her shop. When you think her stories can't get crazier, they do. What else? Do you watch Eastbound and Down?

Oh, the real Kenny Powers?
Yeah, this guy, his name is John Rocker. He was a huge MLB player, maybe the most controversial baseball player ever. He got treated terribly by the media back when he was playing and got pegged a racist and a bigot. I called him up a few months ago and talked to him. I actually called him up because he has this veterans' organization. I loved the idea that he devoted his life to this cause. I ended up spending a week with him, and he is totally like Kenny Powers in the show. I kept thinking, "Oh, my god, you're definitely this guy." But he has such a big heart, and I love spending time with him because you can tell he is so devoted to the cause of helping homeless veterans. So that has an interesting twist, and he is a crazy, fun guy.

[Related: See John Rocker on Season 29 of 'Survivor']

What else do we have? Mad Men is cool. We're talking to George Lois, this top creative director from the 1960s. A hilarious guy, he's in his 80s, he says f--k every other word. He plays basketball with young guys in New York City. The stories he has about Andy Warhol and Muhammad Ali and all these people he spent time with! He's an interesting, interesting guy.

The last episode I can't tell you yet, but it's very timely. It's one of the top shows out there right now. Along with the same concept that when shows end, people are starving for more of that content, we're definitely going to give them exactly that when this show ends.