Henry Lee Lucas
Lucas in 1983
|Born||August 23, 1936|
Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S.
|Died||March 12, 2001 64) (aged|
Huntsville, Texas, U.S.
|Criminal penalty||Death, commuted to life imprisonment|
|Victims||3 confirmed, 8 disputed, claimed hundreds|
Span of crimes
|June 11, 1983|
Henry Lee Lucas (August 23, 1936 – March 12, 2001) was an American convicted serial killer whose crimes spanned from 1960 to 1983. He was convicted of murdering eleven people and condemned to death for the murder of Debra Jackson, although his sentence was commuted to life in prison in 1998. Lucas rose to infamy after confessing to more than 100 murders to the Texas Rangers and other law enforcement officials while in prison. He died of congestive heart failure in 2001.
An investigation by the Dallas Times-Herald newspaper later discredited many of Lucas' murder confessions and resulted in a follow-up investigation by the Attorney General of Texas. The investigation concluded that Lucas was a fabulist who had falsely confessed. Lucas himself recanted the confessions as a hoax.
Lucas' case resulted in a re-evaluation in police techniques and greater awareness of false confessions. Investigators did not consider that the petty privileges – fancy steak dinners, milkshakes, TV privileges – granted by the "confession" interviews would prompt further confessions. Investigators also allowed Lucas to see case files to "refresh his memory," giving him access to knowledge only the perpetrator(s) would know.
Lucas was born on August 23, 1936, in a one-room log cabin in Blacksburg, Virginia.Lucas lost an eye at age 10 after it became infected due to a fight with his brother. A friend later described him as a child who would often get attention by displaying frighteningly strange behavior. Lucas' mother, a prostitute, would force him to watch her having sex with her clients and make him cross-dress in public, purportedly so she could later pimp him out to men and women alike. Eventually, his schoolteachers complained about the cross-dressing and a court order put an end to it.
In December 1949, Lucas' alcoholic father, Anderson Lucas, died of hypothermia after going home drunk and collapsing outside during a blizzard. Shortly thereafter, while in the sixth grade, Lucas dropped out of school and ran away from home, drifting around Virginia. Lucas claimed to have committed his first murder in 1951 when he strangled 17-year-old Laura Burnsley after she refused his sexual advances. As with most of his confessions, he later retracted this claim.
On June 10, 1954, Lucas was convicted on over a dozen counts of burglary in and around Richmond, Virginia, and was sentenced to four years in prison. He escaped in 1957, was recaptured three days later, and was subsequently released on September 2, 1959.
In late 1959, Lucas traveled to Tecumseh, Michigan to live with his half-sister, Opal. Around this time Lucas was engaged to marry a pen pal with whom he had corresponded while incarcerated. When his mother visited him for Christmas, she disapproved of her son's fiancée and insisted he move back to Blacksburg. He refused, and they argued repeatedly during the visit about his upcoming nuptials.
On January 11, 1960, in Tecumseh, Michigan, Lucas killed his mother during an argument regarding whether or not he should return home to her house to care for her as she grew older. He claimed she struck him over the head with a broom, at which point he stabbed her in the neck.Lucas then fled the scene. He subsequently said,
All I remember was slapping her alongside the neck, but after I did that I saw her fall and decided to grab her. But she fell to the floor and when I went back to pick her up, I realized she was dead. Then I noticed that I had my knife in my hand and she had been cut.
Opal returned later and discovered their mother alive but in a pool of blood. She called an ambulance, but it turned out to be too late to save Viola's life. The official police report stated she died of a heart attack precipitated by the assault. Lucas was arrested in Ohio on the outstanding Michigan warrant. Lucas claimed to have killed his mother in self-defense, but his claim was rejected, and he was sentenced to between 20 and 40 years' imprisonment in Michigan for second-degree murder. After serving 10 years in prison, he was released in June 1970 due to prison overcrowding.
In 1971, Lucas was convicted of attempting to kidnap three schoolgirls. While serving a five-year sentence for the crime, he established a relationship with a family friend and single mother who had written to him. They married on his release in 1975, but he left the marriage two years later after his stepdaughter accused him of sexually abusing her. Lucas began moving between various relatives and one got him a job in West Virginia, where he established a relationship that ended when his girlfriend's family confronted him about abuse.
Lucas befriended Ottis Toole and settled in Jacksonville, Florida, where he lived with Toole's parents and became close to his adolescent niece Frieda "Becky" Powell, who had a mild intellectual impairment and had escaped from a juvenile detention center. [ self-published source? ] A period of stability followed, with Lucas working as a roofer, fixing neighbors' cars and scavenging scrap.
Powell was put in a state shelter by the authorities after her mother and grandmother died in 1982. Lucas convinced her to run away with him and they lived on the road, eventually traveling to California, where an employer's wife asked them to work for her infirm mother, 82-year-old Kate Rich.Rich's family turned Lucas and Powell out, accusing them of failing to do their jobs and writing checks on Rich's account. While hitchhiking, they were picked up by the minister of a Stoneburg,Texas religious commune called "The House of Prayer."
Believing Lucas and the 15-year-old Powell were a married couple, he found Lucas a job as a roofer while allowing the couple to stay in a small apartment on the commune. Powell had become argumentative and homesick for Florida, and Lucas said she left at a truck stop in Bowie, Texas.
In June 1983, he was arrested on charges of unlawful possession of a firearm by Texas Ranger Phil Ryan. Later, he confessed to the murders of Frieda Powell and Kate Rich. In addition to confessing, Lucas led the police to remains said to be Powell and Rich, although forensic evidence alone was inconclusive and the coroner stopped short of positively identifying either set of remains. His participation in the investigation would serve to boost his credibility in later confessions to other crimes. Lucas later denied involvement, but the consensus agrees he did murder Powell and Rich.
In November 1983, Lucas was transferred to a jail in Williamson County, Texas. Lucas reported that he was roughly treated by inmates and attempted suicide. Lucas claimed that police stripped him naked, denied him cigarettes and bedding, held him in a cold cell, tortured his genitalia, and did not allow him to contact an attorney.In interviews with law enforcement personnel Lucas confessed to numerous additional unsolved killings. It was thought that there was positive corroboration with Lucas' confessions in 28 unsolved murders, and so the Lucas Task Force was established by James B. Adams, the Director of the Texas Department of Public Safety.
The task force officially "cleared" 213 previously unsolved murders as a result of the confessions. Lucas received preferential treatment rarely offered to convicts, being frequently taken to restaurants and cafes for his participation. He was rarely handcuffed, often allowed to wander police stations and jails at will, and even knew codes for security doors.
Later attempts at determining Lucas' involvement in his confessed crimes were complicated when it was discovered Lucas was given access to information on the files of cases he was confessing to.There were suggestions that the interview tapes showed that Lucas would read the reactions of those interviewing him and altered what he was saying, thereby making his confessions more consistent with facts known to law enforcement. The most serious allegation against investigators is that they had let Lucas read case files on unsolved crimes and thus enabled him to come up with convincingly detailed confessions, which made it virtually impossible to determine if he had been telling the truth to the Lucas Task Force about a relatively large number of the murders.
In 1983, Lucas claimed to have killed an unidentified young woman, later identified as Michelle Busha, along Interstate 90 in Minnesota. When questioned by police, he gave inconsistent details on the way he murdered the victim and was eliminated as a suspect.
In 1984, Lucas confessed to the murder of an unidentified girl who was discovered shot to death in a field at Caledonia, New York on November 10, 1979. The unidentified girl was referred to at the time as "Caledonia Jane Doe." Investigators, however, found insufficient evidence to support the confession.In early 2015, over 35 years later, "Caledonia Jane Doe" was identified through a DNA match as Tammy Alexander.
Lucas also is believed to have falsely confessed to the 1980 slaying of Carol Cole in Louisiana. Cole was unidentified until 2015.
Journalist Hugh Aynesworth and others investigated the veracity of Lucas' claims for articles that appeared in The Dallas Times Herald. They calculated that Lucas would have had to use his 13-year-old Ford station wagon to cover 11,000 miles (17,700 kilometres) in one month to have committed the crimes police attributed to him. After the story appeared in April 1985 and revealed the flawed methods of the Lucas Task Force, law enforcement opinion began to turn against the claims that crimes had been solved.
The bulk of the Lucas Report was devoted to a detailed timeline of Lucas' claimed murders. The report compared Lucas' claims to reliable, verifiable sources for his whereabouts; the results often contradicted his confessions, and thus cast doubt on most of the crimes in which he was implicated. Attorney General Jim Mattox wrote that "when Lucas was confessing to hundreds of murders, those with custody of Lucas did nothing to bring an end to this hoax" and "we have found information that would lead us to believe that some officials 'cleared cases' just to get them off the books".
Lucas remained convicted of 11 homicides. He had been sentenced to death for one, a then-unidentified woman dubbed as "Orange Socks," whose body was found in Williamson County, Texas, on Halloween 1979, despite a time sheet recording his presence at work in Jacksonville, Florida.Lucas was granted a stay on his death sentence after it was discovered that details in his confession came from the case file, which he had been given to read. The sentence was commuted to life in prison in 1998 by then-Governor George W. Bush. In 2019, "Orange Socks" was officially identified as Debra Jackson, who was 23 years old at the time of her death.
On March 12, 2001, at 11:00 pm, Lucas was found dead in prison from heart failure at age 64. He is buried at Captain Joe Byrd Cemetery in Huntsville, Texas. As of 2012 [update] , Lucas' grave is unmarked due to vandalism and theft.
Lucas' credibility was damaged by his lack of precision: he initially admitted to having killed 60 people, a number he raised to over 100 victims, which police accepted, and then to a figure of 3,000 that led to him not being taken seriously. He remained, however, publicized as America's most prolific murderer, despite denials such as flatly stating "I am not a serial killer" in a letter to author Shellady.
Some continue to believe he was responsible for a huge number of killings nonetheless. Eric W. Hickey cites an unnamed "investigator" who interviewed Lucas several times and concluded that Lucas had probably killed about 40 people.Such assertions were given little credence, with lawmen involved refusing to corroborate these claims.
An experienced Texas Ranger to whom Ryan's team allowed access to Lucas said that although it was obvious to him that Lucas often lied, there was an instance where he demonstrated guilty knowledge. "I remember him trying to cop to one he didn't do, but there was another murder case where I'll kiss your butt if he didn't lead us right to the deer stand where the murder took place. Ain't no way he could've guessed that, and I damn sure didn't tell him. I think he did that one."Other Rangers had similar experiences with Lucas.
DNA evidence has verified that Lucas did not kill twenty of his supposed victims.
A woman claiming to be Becky Powell, Lucas’ girlfriend who was one of his first confessed murders, turned out to be an adoring fan of Lucas.
There have been several books on the case. Four narrative films have been made based on Lucas' confessions: 1985's Confessions of a Serial Killer , 1986's Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer , played by Michael Rooker, 1996's Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Part II , and the 2009 film Drifter: Henry Lee Lucas. Two documentary films were released in 1995: The Serial Killers and the television documentary, Henry Lee Lucas: The Confession Killer.
In 2019, Netflix released a five-part serialized documentary The Confession Killer focusing on the far-reaching fallout of the investigation.
Albert Henry DeSalvo was a criminal in Boston, Massachusetts who confessed to being the "Boston Strangler", the murderer of 13 women in the Boston area from 1962 to 1964. It was widely believed that DeSalvo was imprisoned for a series of the rapes. However, his murder confession has been disputed, and debate continues as to which crimes he actually committed.
Gary Leon Ridgway, also known as the Green River Killer, is an American serial killer. He was initially convicted of 48 separate murders. As part of his plea bargain, another conviction was added, bringing the total number of convictions to 49, making him the second most prolific serial killer in United States history according to confirmed murders. He killed many teenage girls and women in the state of Washington during the 1980s and 1990s.
Adam John Walsh was an American boy who was abducted from a Sears department store at the Hollywood Mall in Hollywood, Florida, on July 27, 1981. His severed head was found two weeks later in a drainage canal alongside Highway 60/Yeehaw Junction in rural Indian River County, Florida. His death garnered national interest and was made into the 1983 television film Adam, seen by 38 million people in its original airing. His father, John Walsh, became an advocate for victims of violent crimes and was the host of the television program America's Most Wanted and currently, In Pursuit with John Walsh. Convicted serial killer Ottis Toole confessed to Adam's murder but was never convicted for this specific crime due to loss of evidence and a recanted confession. Toole died in prison of liver failure on September 15, 1996. No new evidence has come to light since then, and police announced on December 16, 2008, that the Walsh case was closed, as they were satisfied that Toole was the killer.
The Boston Strangler is the name given to the murderer of 13 women in the Boston, Massachusetts area during the early 1960s. The crimes were attributed to Albert DeSalvo based on his confession, details revealed in court during a separate case, and DNA evidence linking him to the last victim.
Danny Harold Rolling, also known as the Gainesville Ripper, was an American serial killer who murdered five students in Gainesville, Florida over four days in late August 1990. Rolling later confessed to raping several of his victims, committing a triple homicide in Shreveport, Louisiana, and attempting to murder his father in May 1990. In total, Rolling confessed to killing eight people. Rolling was sentenced to death for the five Gainesville murders in 1994. He was executed by lethal injection in 2006.
Dennis Lynn Rader is an American serial killer known as BTK or the BTK Strangler. Rader gave himself the name "BTK". Between 1974 and 1991, Rader killed ten people in the Wichita, Kansas metro area. Rader sent taunting letters to police and newspapers describing the details of his crimes. After a decade-long hiatus, Rader resumed sending letters in 2004, leading to his 2005 arrest and subsequent guilty plea. He is serving ten consecutive life sentences at El Dorado Correctional Facility in Kansas.
Carl Eugene Watts, also known by his nickname Coral, was an American serial killer dubbed "The Sunday Morning Slasher". He died of prostate cancer while serving two sentences of life imprisonment without parole in a Michigan prison for the murders of Helen Dutcher and Gloria Steele, although the number of his victims may have exceeded 80.
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is a 1986 American psychological horror crime film directed and co-written by John McNaughton, about the random crime spree of a serial killer who seemingly operates with impunity. It stars Michael Rooker as the nomadic killer Henry, Tom Towles as Otis, a prison buddy with whom Henry is living, and Tracy Arnold as Becky, Otis's sister. The characters of Henry and Otis are loosely based on convicted real life serial killers Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole.
Ottis Elwood Toole was an American drifter and serial killer who was convicted of six counts of murder. Like his companion Henry Lee Lucas, Toole made confessions he then later recanted, which resulted in murder convictions. The discrediting of the case against Lucas for crimes for which Toole had offered corroborating statements created doubts as to whether either was a genuine serial killer or, as Hugh Aynesworth suggested, both were merely compliant interviewees whom police used to clear unsolved murders from the books.
Yoo Young-chul (유영철) is a South Korean serial killer and self-confessed cannibal. Admitting to murdering 20 people, mostly prostitutes and wealthy old men, the Seoul Central District Court convicted him of 20 murders. Yoo burned three and mutilated at least 11 of his victims, admitting he ate the livers of some of them. He committed his crimes between September 2003 and July 2004, when he was arrested. Yoo explained his motives in front of a TV camera saying "Women shouldn't be sluts, and the rich should know what they've done."
Sture Ragnar Bergwall, also known as Thomas Quick in 1993–2002, is a Swedish man previously believed to have been a serial killer, having confessed to more than 30 murders while incarcerated in a mental institution for personality disorders. Between 1994 and 2001, Quick was convicted of eight of these murders. However, he withdrew all of his confessions in 2008, as a result of which his murder convictions were quashed, the final one in July 2013, and he was released from hospital. The episode raised issues about how murder convictions could have been obtained on such weak evidence, and has been called the largest miscarriage of justice in Swedish history. Journalists Hannes Råstam and Dan Josefsson published TV documentaries and books about the murder cases; they claimed that bad therapy led to false confessions. Dan Josefsson claims that a "cult"-like group led by psychologist Margit Norell manipulated the police and talked Sture Bergwall into false confessions.
Gerald Eugene Stano was an American convicted serial killer. He killed at least 22 women, and confessed to killing 41.
Lee Choon-jae is a South Korean serial killer who was convicted of killing his sister-in-law in 1994 and later confessed to killing 15 other people, including 10 people in the Hwaseong serial murders between 1986 and 1991.
Charles Ray Hatcher was an American serial killer who confessed to having murdered 16 people between 1969 and 1982.
Phillip R. "Phil" Ryan is a former Texas Ranger and the three-term Sheriff of Wise County, Texas. He entered law enforcement in 1966 at age 21, initially serving as a police officer in Pasadena in Harris County, Texas. He later joined the Texas Department of Public Safety as a highway patrolman assigned to Houston and Cleveland, Texas. In 1976, he was promoted to highway patrol sergeant, which took him to Humble, Texas. He applied for and was accepted to service in the Texas Ranger Division and served as a Ranger in Decatur, which also covered Jack, Montague, and Clay counties.
Debra Louise Jackson, informally known as "Orange Socks" when unidentified, was a Texas murder victim who went unidentified for nearly 40 years before being identified via a DNA match with her surviving sister in 2019. Her murder is believed to have taken place on October 31, 1979, in Georgetown, Texas. Her body was found naked, except for the pair of orange socks from which the nickname was derived. She had been strangled, and was believed to have died only hours before the discovery. Henry Lee Lucas confessed to and was convicted of her murder. Though doubts have been raised about his complicity in this crime, Lucas's conviction was not overturned. His death sentence was commuted by Texas governor George W. Bush in 1998. He died in prison of heart failure. There is strong evidence that Lucas was in Florida when Jackson was murdered.
Sean Vincent Gillis is an American serial killer who stalked, kidnapped, raped, murdered, and mutilated eight Louisiana women between 1994 and 2004 in the Baton Rouge Metro and surrounding areas. He was arrested without incident at his residence on Burgin Ave at 1:30 a.m. on April 29, 2004. In his initial arrest, he was charged with three counts of first degree murder and three counts of ritualistic acts in the murders of 29-year-old Katherine Hall, 45-year-old Johnnie Mae Williams and 43-year-old Donna Bennett Johnston. Gillis confessed to the murders with little coercion and then informed investigators about five other women whom he had murdered.
Vic Feazell is an American lawyer, who was a District Attorney in Waco, McLennan County from 1983 until his resignation in 1988. During his time in office he was involved in the investigation and prosecution of the 1982 Lake Waco murders and also several crimes to which Henry Lee Lucas had been linked. Feazell currently resides in Waco, Texas, and is an attorney with his own firm. He is known for his commercials sporting the "Drive Laid Back" slogan.
Samuel Little is an American serial killer who was convicted in 2012 of the murders of three women in California between 1987 and 1989 and in 2018 of the murder of one woman in Texas in 1994. He claims to have killed as many as 93 people, and investigators have linked him to over 60 murders. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has confirmed his involvement in at least 50 murders, which makes Little the most prolific convicted serial killer in United States history in terms of proven cases; he allegedly murdered women across 19 states over a quarter of a century ending around 2005.
The Confession Killer is a 2019 American true crime documentary miniseries directed by Robert Kenner and Taki Oldham. The plot revolves around the 1983 case of Henry Lee Lucas who confessed to over 200 murders in the United States. Years after his admissions, they turned out to be lies.
Toole met Lucas in 1978