Joe Purdue: The Deputy Sheriff Eyes Kya for Murder

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Where the Crawdads Sing" by Delia Owens. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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Who is Joe Purdue in Where the Crawdads Sing? What role does he play in the story?

Joe Purdue is the deputy sheriff in Barkley Cove, the setting of Where the Crawdads Sing. Like many others, Joe Purdue is convinced of Kya’s guilt, and pursues her as the number one suspect.

Learn more about Joe Purdue and what happens to Kya.

Suspicions Flare: Deputy Joe Purdue Believe Kya is Guilty

Something was off about the scene where Chase was found. There were no footprints in the mud near the body. In fact, the only footprints they could find were their own and those of the two boys. Not even Chase’s footprints existed. How could that be?

The first order of business was to inform Chase’s family of his death. Then, his body was transported to the morgue for an autopsy. Sheriff Jackson told the doctor not to mention anything about Chase’s death or the strange circumstances to anyone in town.

Soon, Deputy Joe Purdue arrived, and the men went about investigating the scene. They were reluctant to call it a murder just yet, but they both agreed it was starting to seem like it wasn’t a freak accident. They photographed the body and surrounding mud. They climbed up the fire tower stairs and saw that one of the grates on the far side was open. Sixty feet below the open grate sat the outline of Chase’s body.

Joe Purdue Searches for Evidence

Both men knew that the evidence was now conclusive that Chase’s body had not been dumped in the swamp. He’d fallen from the tower, a fact that now made the lack of fingerprints and footprints even more suspicious. There was no more doubt that Chase had been murdered. 

Along with the report were samples of a red fiber found on the body. Ed held up a plastic baggy holding a small clump of wool fibers. For the first time, the lawmen had a lead. All they had to do was find the red wool garment, whether hat, scarf, or sweater, and match it to the sample. 

More Evidence?

Eight days after Chase’s body was discovered, Ed and Joe both announced they had a piece of interesting information. Over donuts, Joe said he’d heard that Chase had been sneaking out to the marsh for several years. Chase never told anyone what he was doing out there, but he was known to visit the marsh on his own. Joe thought maybe he was mixed up with drugs. 

Ed argued that Chase was an athlete and not likely to do drugs, so Joe suggested maybe he’d been meeting a woman. Again, Ed dismissed the idea. Chase only mixed with the high-class women of Barkley Cove. He wasn’t likely to mess around with marsh trash. Both agreed the circumstances were unclear, but the information did point to a secret side of Chase’s life that may help their case

When it was Ed’s turn, he relayed that Chase’s mother, Patty Love, had something important to tell them, something that might lead to a break in the case. Her story had something to do with a shell necklace Chase always wore. It wasn’t much of a clue, but with the way the swamp had swallowed up any other evidence, it was worth a shot.

An Innocent Woman

It was raining outside when Joe Purdue walked into Ed’s office with news. Kya was still nowhere to be found, so the deputy had gone out to Jumpin’s to see when she might be coming next. Jumpin’ had given Joe the most interesting news: Kya was gone the night Chase was killed. 

Ed didn’t believe it. He knew the Marsh Girl never left the area, and he doubted she had any friends who would know about it if she did. But Joe said both Jumpin’ and Dr. Tate Walker confirmed that Kya was over in the nearby town of Greenville for two nights, including October 30. Jumpin’ said she hadn’t even heard the news when she came by the wharf a day later, and Tate was the one who’d helped her learn to take the bus to Greenville and back. 

Joe Purdue believed they were back to square one, now that their main suspect had a rock-solid alibi, but Ed wasn’t quite so sure. What about Hal and Allen seeing her in the boat? He reminded Joe that sometimes a good alibi was too good. They agreed to wait until they confirmed the story before deciding what to do next. 

Later that afternoon, Pansy Price knocked on the sheriff’s door. She’d heard around town, most notably from Patty Love, that the Marsh Girl was suspected of killing Chase, but she didn’t believe the rumors. She and her co-workers had seen the Marsh Girl get on a bus the afternoon of October 28 and get off the bus two days later, hours after Chase had died that morning. She’d be willing to testify to all of it. 

Again, Joe assumed the investigation into the Marsh Girl was done, but Ed couldn’t be thwarted. If someone could take a bus to Greenville in the day, they could easily take one at night back to Barkley Cove. And it seemed too convenient that she allowed herself to be seen getting on and off the bus. If she was going to cover her tracks, she would have to have made her movements public. It was a brilliant plan, Ed said. The men looked at the bus departure times for Greenville. Sure enough, the times indicated that going back and forth and back again in one day was not only possible, but easy. It was time to get a warrant.

The Red Threads

When Ed Jackson and Joe Purdue entered Kya’s shack without her knowledge, they stood dumbfounded at the sight of her enormous collection. They thought what most people from town thought: she had lost her mind. 

The men searched every drawer, closet, and behind every specimen for a red woolen item, a diary, ticket stubs, anything that might help. After a while, Joe called Ed onto the porch. In his hand was a red wool hat. Ed pulled out the baggy containing the fibers and held them up to the hat. They looked like a perfect match. They took the hat for testing at the lab. 

The day the report came back, both men celebrated the officially confirmed match. Kya’s hat had left the fibers on Chase’s jacket. The case against Kya was still tenuous. Her motive as a jilted lover was shallow at best, and there was her alibi to contend with. Still, they thought the fibers were enough to at least bring her in and possibly charge her. 

In mid-December, Ed and Joe were in the office devising a plan to find Kya when Rodney Horn, a retired mechanic, came in. He told the officers about something he’d seen at the end of August that might have something to do with their case. He’d been out fishing with his friend Denny Smith and witnessed something at one of the nearby coves. After he told the men his story and left, the two officers stared at each other. They finally had a proper motive. 

Joe Purdue is an important character in Where the Crawdads Sing. As the Deputy Sheriff Joe Purdue goes after Kya as a suspect, and also demonstrates the same prejudice toward her that many other townspeople hold as well.

Joe Purdue: The Deputy Sheriff Eyes Kya for Murder

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of Delia Owens's "Where the Crawdads Sing" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Where the Crawdads Sing summary:

  • How Kya Clark's abandonment as a child affected her through her entire life
  • How Kya discovered love despite steep obstacles
  • The murder trial that embroiled Kya's town, and the ultimate truth behind the murder

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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