Mare of Easttown Ending Explained: Who Killed Erin McMenamin?

Mare of Easttown definitively reveals who killed Erin McMenamin but that answer is just the beginning of more questions.

Kate Winslet in Mare of Easttown
Photo: HBO

This article contains spoilers for the Mare of Easttown finale.

Mare of Easttown creator Brad Inglesby never wanted the ending of his detective story to come completely out of leftfield (or to use a basketball analogy in honor of the title character: be a half-court heave). 

In speaking to Collider in advance of the series (or season?) finale, Inglesby said: “I hope (the) audience trusts that we’ll do right, in terms of the ending. It’s not gonna be one of those endings where it’s like, ‘If you blinked in episode 1, it was that weird guy in the woods,’ or something like that.”

Well now that the Mare of Easttown finale has concluded, it appears as though Inglesby kept that promise. The answer of “who killed Erin McMenamin” was certainly surprising but also refreshingly guessable. In fact, we came pretty close to guessing it ourselves! This finale hammers home the stark reality that finding the murderer isn’t truly an ending…only a continuation of pain for a family and a community. 

Ad – content continues below

It’s all deftly done. So let’s examine precisely how Mare of Easttown pulled it off, and answer any lingering questions in the process.

Who Killed Erin McMenamin?

Ryan Ross killed Erin McMenamin. Period. Point blank. By episode’s end, there is no ambiguity whatsoever on that fact. Prior to that reveal roughly 40 minutes in, however, Mare of Easttown is sure to throw us some final red herrings along the way.

The conclusion of the penultimate episode seemed to confirm that Ryan’s uncle Billy Ross (Robbie Tann) was the one who slept with Erin, fathered her wee baby DJ, and subsequently murdered her. The finale, “Sacrament”, wastes no time in confessing to the audience that this was all misdirection. The photo that Erin’s friend Jess Riley brought to the police station revealed Erin and Billy’s brother John Ross in bed together. 

In reality it was Mare’s best friend Lori’s husband, John, who had an affair with the underage teen (who also may have been a second or third cousin of his, depending on his relation to Kenny McMenamin). After Mare successfully arrests John, he confesses to the whole situation in excruciating detail. Back during the Ross family reunion in Lake Harmony on May 29, 2017, Erin was in the same trailer as Billy Ross. When Billy and Erin’s father Kenny both passed out drunk, John paid her a visit. The two got to talking and a wildly inappropriate love connection was formed. 

John tells Mare that during the night of Erin’s murder, he agreed to visit her in the park. He says that Erin brought a gun and threatened to kill herself so they struggled over the weapon and Erin’s finger was shot off. John panicked and fired another shot that turned out to be lethal. Of course, none of John’s description of the night in question is true but Mare doesn’t figure that out until days after John is arrested. 

How Does Mare Figure The Case Out?

The Easttown police department is fairly certain they’ve got their man in John Ross. And why wouldn’t they? He confessed to the murder and it’s clearly true that he is the father of DJ. As time goes on, however, Mare begins to notice some inconsistencies. The first moment that Mare realizes something might be amiss is when she confronts the woman that John supposedly rekindled his affair with at a pizza parlor.

Ad – content continues below

The woman, Sandra, is livid with Mare. She swears up and down that after their first affair she never got back together with John. But Lori told Mare that Ryan was acting up in school because he had witnessed his father carrying on with Sandra. That’s a little odd. 

Next, Mare realizes that the ballistics on the weapon that John said he used to kill Erin do not match the initial report of a decommissioned police revolver. Mare asks Chief Carter whether he trusts the ballistics expert they used to get this determination and he said he does. That’s a little odd as well.

These questions rattling around Mare’s head probably wouldn’t lead to much if it weren’t for the intervention of Mare’s neighbor Glenn Carroll. Glenn is friendly with the Sheehan family (overly so, as it turns out, when he reveals he had an affair with Mare’s mother…during his own wife’s wake). Throughout the series, Mare visits the Carrolls to investigate bits of petty vandalism on their property. Now that Glenn’s wife Betty has died, however, his mental state is deteriorating and he needs some extra help from Mare.

Glenn claims that one of his pistols went missing for a couple of days before being returned to his shed. Mare asks who had access to said shed and Glenn reveals that it’s only him and the neighborhood kid he pays to landscape…Ryan Ross.

Why Did Ryan Kill Erin McMenamin?

It turns out that John Ross’s story about Erin’s murder rings true because it mostly was true…it’s just that his son Ryan was at the center of it rather than himself. Ryan was truly devastated by his father’s affair with Sandra. When he realized that his father was up to his old tricks again, he intercepted a text message on John’s phone from Erin asking him to come meet her at the park.

Ryan used his key to the Carroll’s shed to grab the old police-issued revolver locked within it. He then arrived at the park to confront Erin, scare her, and convince her to stay away from his family. Unfortunately, in the heightened emotional situation, Erin reached for the gun and Ryan fired it twice, first shooting off Erin’s finger, and then striking her in the head. Frightened, Ryan called his father for help and John and Billy arrived to take Erin’s body away. 

Ad – content continues below

What’s Next For Mare and Lori’s Relationship?

Again, Mare of Easttown isn’t only about the logical satisfaction in solving a murder. It’s also about the emotional devastation that any murder leaves behind in its wake. In Mare’s case, there’s a grim irony in the fact that she just saved her old basketball teammate Dawn’s daughter, and now she has to take away the son of her other former basketball teammate and current best friend, Lori.

Right after Ryan is arrested, Mare gets in the passenger seat of Lori’s car to try to comfort her. Naturally, Lori is too hurt to accept that Mare was just doing her job. 

“You had John. Why couldn’t you just leave it alone? It’s Ryan. My Ryan! MY RYAN!” Lori cries. “My whole family is gone now because of you. Get away from me. I don’t want to see you again.”

It seems as though that could be the end of Mare and Lori’s relationship, just as Mare and Dawn’s relationship once fractured due to Mare doing her job (poorly that time though). But then something remarkable happens. Mare, along with seemingly the rest of Easttown, attends a church service held by exonerated Deacon Mark Burton.

Burton acknowledges that Easttown has been through a lot recently and there are citizens experiencing a lot of pain. Their fellow neighbors, however, can’t leave those in pain alone. No matter how awkward it may seem, they must lift each other up and be insistent upon it. “Our job is only to love,” Burton says.

So Mare does exactly that. She heads to Lori’s house, finds Lori in the kitchen and wordlessly holds her. Lori collapses in grief while Mare continues to support her friend. The issue with Mare and Dawn’s relationship wasn’t that Mare failed Dawn, it was that Mare failed Dawn and then gave up on her. Mare will not be giving up on Lori this time around. 

Ad – content continues below

What About Richard Ryan?

So what was the deal with Mare’s writer boyfriend Richard Ryan? Surely, Guy Pearce is too big a name as an actor to merely play some dude passing through town without any murderous intentions. As it turns out, Richard Ryan was probably Mare of Easttown’s biggest red herring. He’s not sinister and he’s not even particularly helpful. He’s just a guy…or a Guy in this case.

Right before Mare learns the truth about Erin’s murder, Richard packs up and leaves town for a year-long gig at Bates College. Mare and Richard resolve to keep in touch but it’s unclear if they will. Richard says a year is not a long time, but think of everything that just happened over the span of one year in Easttown. It may as well be an eternity.

Perhaps the purpose of Richard Ryan in this story is to present one non-Easttown native who has the option to stay in town but doesn’t take it, contrasting with characters like Deacon Mark Burton or Mare herself.

Will There Be a Mare of Easttown Season 2?

In that same Collider interview, Inglesby makes it clear just how much he loves Mare Sheehan as a character. 

“I loved writing her because I just thought she was awesome. I just loved that she was tough. I just loved Mare. I still love Mare,” Inglesby said.

Given the creator’s love of his creation (and the involvement of a superb actress in Kate Winslet) it’s not hard to imagine the pair reuniting again for another Mare Sheehan detective story set in Easttown or elsewhere. Something tells me though that this is the end of the line for Mare of Easttown

Ad – content continues below

In the show’s final moments, Mare decides to do something of enormous personal significance. She opens up the attic door and climbs up the stairs for the first time since she found her son dead. It’s a major sign that Mare has learned from the traumatic experiences that her community just underwent and she’s prepared to confront her own personal trauma.

That’s a major marker of personal growth and it’s something that you can only do once in a story. There will certainly be more crimes in Easttown for Mare to solve, but now that she’s figured out herself, what else is there left to say?