Henry Lee Lucas

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Henry Lee Lucas
Henry Lee Lucas.jpg
Police mug shot of Lucas in 1983
Born(1936-08-23)August 23, 1936
Blacksburg, Virginia, United States
DiedMarch 12, 2001(2001-03-12) (aged 64)
Huntsville, Texas, United States
Cause of death Heart failure
Other namesThe Confession Killer
The Highway Stalker
Criminal penalty Death, commuted to life imprisonment
Span of crimes
CountryUnited States
State(s) Michigan
possibly Florida
Date apprehended
June 11, 1983

Henry Lee Lucas (August 23, 1936 – March 12, 2001) was an American serial killer. Lucas was arrested in Texas and on the basis of his confessions to Texas Rangers, hundreds of unsolved murders were attributed to him and officially classified as cleared up. Lucas was convicted of murdering 11 people and condemned to death for a single case with an unidentified victim. A newspaper exposed the improbable logistics of the confessions made by Lucas, when they were taken as a whole, and a study by the Attorney General of Texas concluded he had falsely confessed. Lucas's death sentence was commuted to life in prison in 1998. In some cases, law enforcement thought that Lucas had demonstrated knowledge of facts that only a perpetrator could have known.

A serial killer is typically a person who murders three or more people, usually in service of abnormal psychological gratification, with the murders taking place over more than a month and including a significant period of time between them. Different authorities apply different criteria when designating serial killers. For example, while most authorities set a threshold of three murders, others extend it to four or lessen it to two. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines serial killing as "a series of two or more murders, committed as separate events, usually, but not always, by one offender acting alone".

Texas Ranger Division Texas law enforcement agency

The Texas Ranger Division, commonly called the Texas Rangers, is a U.S statewide investigative law enforcement agency with statewide jurisdiction in Texas, based in the capital city of Austin. Over the years, the Texas Rangers have investigated crimes ranging from murder to political corruption, acted in riot control and as detectives, protected the governor of Texas, tracked down fugitives, and functioned as a paramilitary force at the service of both the Republic (1836–1845) and the state of Texas.

A pardon is a government decision to allow a person to be absolved of guilt for an alleged crime or other legal offense, as if the act never occurred. The pardon may be granted before or after conviction for the crime, depending on the laws of the jurisdiction.


Early life

He was born on August 23, 1936, in Blacksburg, Virginia. Lucas lost an eye at age 10 after it became infected due to a fight. [1] A friend later described him as a child who would often get attention by frighteningly strange behavior. [2] Aside from this, Lucas' mother was a prostitute who would force him to watch her have sex with clients and cross dress in public. [1] [3]

Blacksburg, Virginia Town in Virginia, United States

Blacksburg is an incorporated town in Montgomery County, Virginia, United States, with a population of 42,620 at the 2010 census. Blacksburg, as well as the surrounding county, is dominated economically and demographically by the presence of Virginia Tech.

In December 1949, Lucas' father, Anderson, whose legs had been severed in a railroad accident, 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, who had 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. [4] [5]

Hypothermia A human body core temperature below 35.0°C

Hypothermia is reduced body temperature that happens when a body dissipates more heat than it absorbs. In humans, it is defined as a body core temperature below 35.0 °C (95.0 °F). Symptoms depend on the temperature. In mild hypothermia there is shivering and mental confusion. In moderate hypothermia shivering stops and confusion increases. In severe hypothermia, there may be paradoxical undressing, in which a person removes their clothing, as well as an increased risk of the heart stopping.

Blizzard type of snowstorm

A blizzard is a severe snowstorm characterized by strong sustained winds of at least 56 km/h (35 mph) and lasting for a prolonged period of time—typically three hours or more. A ground blizzard is a weather condition where snow is not falling but loose snow on the ground is lifted and blown by strong winds. Blizzards can have an immense size and usually stretch to hundreds or thousands of kilometres.

Virginia State of the United States of America

Virginia, officially the Commonwealth of Virginia, is a state in the Southeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States located between the Atlantic Coast and the Appalachian Mountains. The geography and climate of the Commonwealth are shaped by the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Chesapeake Bay, which provide habitat for much of its flora and fauna. The capital of the Commonwealth is Richmond; Virginia Beach is the most populous city, and Fairfax County is the most populous political subdivision. The Commonwealth's estimated population as of 2018 is over 8.5 million.

In late 1959, Lucas traveled to Tecumseh, Michigan to live with his half-sister, Opal. Around that 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, after which they argued repeatedly during the visit about his upcoming nuptials.

Tecumseh, Michigan City in Michigan, United States

Tecumseh is a small city in Lenawee County, Michigan, United States. It is situated where M-50 crosses the River Raisin, a few miles east of M-52. Tecumseh is about 60 miles (97 km) southwest of Detroit, 25 miles (40 km) south of Ann Arbor and 40 miles (64 km) north of Toledo, Ohio.

Pen pal one of at least two people who regularly write to each other, particularly via postal mail

Pen pals are people who regularly write to each other, particularly via postal mail. Pen pals are usually strangers whose relationship is based primarily, or even solely, on their exchange of letters. Occasionally pen pals may already have a relationship that is not regularly conducted in person.


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,

Matricide act of killing ones mother

Matricide is the act of killing one's mother.

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.[ This quote needs a citation ]

She was not in fact dead, and when Lucas's half-sister Opal (with whom he was staying) returned later, she discovered their mother alive in a pool of blood. She called an ambulance, but it turned out to be too late to save Viola Lucas' life. The official police report stated she died of a heart attack precipitated by the assault. Lucas returned to Virginia, then says he decided to drive back to Michigan, but 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.


Lucas and Ottis Toole. Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole.jpg
Lucas and Ottis Toole.

In 1971, Lucas was convicted of attempting to kidnap three schoolgirls. While serving a five-year sentence, 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 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. A period of stability followed, with Lucas working as a roofer, fixing neighbors' cars and scavenging scrap. [7] [8] [9]


Powell was put in a state shelter by the authorities after her mother and grandmother died in 1982. Lucas convinced her to abscond 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, of Ringgold, Texas. Rich's family turned Lucas and Powell out, accusing them of failing to do their jobs and writing checks on her 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. According to some of his later accounts Lucas murdered Powell and then Rich. [10] 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. As with most of his alleged crimes, Lucas later denied involvement, but the consensus is he did murder Powell and Rich. [11]

Arrest, confession to murders of Powell and Rich

Lucas was a prime suspect in the killing of Rich. A few months later, in June 1983, he was arrested on charges of unlawful possession of a firearm by Texas Ranger Phil Ryan. Lucas reported that he was roughly treated by bullying inmates in prison and attempted suicide. Lucas claimed that police stripped him naked, denied him cigarettes and bedding, held him in a cold cell, and did not allow him to contact an attorney. After four days, Lucas confessed to the murder of Rich, which confession investigators had good reason to believe was genuine; in addition, he confessed to killing Powell. When he started confessing to numerous unsolved cases, he was initially credible; police knew that he had truthfully admitted committing two killings. Some investigators, including Ryan, thought many of Lucas's confessions were made up to get out of his cell and improve his living conditions. [12] They did, however, treat dozens as potentially genuine. [13]

False confession spree

In November 1983, Lucas was transferred to a jail in Williamson County, Texas. In interviews with Texas Rangers and other law enforcement personnel, Lucas continued to confess to numerous additional unsolved killings. It was thought that there was positive corroboration with Lucas's confessions in 28 unsolved murders, and so the Lucas Task Force was established. [12] Eventually, because of Lucas's confessions, the task force officially "cleared" 213 previously unsolved murders. Lucas reportedly received preferential treatment rarely offered to convicts, being frequently taken to restaurants and cafés. Some of his alleged treatment was odd for someone whom the police supposedly believed to be a cunning mass murderer: he was rarely handcuffed, often allowed to wander police stations and jails at will, and even knew codes for security doors. [14] [15]

Later attempts at discovering whether Lucas had actually killed anyone apart from Powell and Rich were complicated by Lucas's ability to make an accurate deduction that seemed to substantiate a confession. In one instance, he explained how he had correctly identified a victim in a group photograph through her wearing spectacles; a pair of glasses were on a table in a crime scene photo shown to him earlier. There were also suggestions that the interview tapes showed that, despite Lucas' supposedly low IQ, he had adroitly 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, that they had let Lucas read case files on unsolved crimes and thus enabled him to come up with convincingly detailed confessions, made it virtually impossible to determine if, as some continue to suspect, he had been telling the truth to the Lucas Task Force about a relatively large number of the murders. [16]

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. [17]

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. [18] 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. [19]


Journalist Hugh Aynesworth and others investigated the veracity of Lucas's 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. [3] 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. [20] [21] The bulk of the Lucas Report was devoted to a detailed timeline of Lucas's claimed murders. The report compared Lucas's 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". [15]

Commutation of death sentence

Reconstruction of "Orange Socks", which estimates how she may have looked when she was alive. Orange Socks Recon 002a.jpg
Reconstruction of "Orange Socks", which estimates how she may have looked when she was alive.

Lucas remained convicted of 11 homicides. He had been sentenced to death for one, an unidentified woman dubbed as "Orange Socks," whose body was found in Williamson County, Texas, on Halloween 1979, even though the court heard that on that date a timesheet had recorded his presence at work in Jacksonville, Florida. [22] [23] [24] [25] [26] [27] Lucas was granted a stay on his death sentence after telling a hearing that the 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 Governor George W. Bush. [28]


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, Lucas' grave is unmarked due to vandalism and theft. [29]

Differing opinions

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, publicised as America's most prolific murderer, despite denials such as flatly stating "I am not a serial killer" in a letter to author Shellady. [10] [30] [31] 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 who concluded that Lucas had probably killed about 40 people. [32] Such assertions were given little credence, with lawmen involved with Lucas seen refusing to admit that they had been fooled by him. [33] [34]

Unresolved suspicions

One highly experienced Texas Ranger who 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 ... 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." [34] Other Rangers had similar experiences with Lucas. [35]


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 have been released: 1995's The Serial Killers and the 1995 television documentary Henry Lee Lucas: The Confession Killer.

An A&E Biography episode about Lucas aired in 2005 that featured future horror film director Dylan Greenberg as young Lucas in re-enactments, at the age of eight.[ citation needed ]

See also

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  11. see Shellady, 2002
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Further reading