Henry Lee Lucas
|Henry Lee Lucas|
Police mug shot of Lucas.
August 23, 1936|
|Died||March 12, 2001
|Cause of death||Heart failure|
The Confession KillerThe Highway Stalker
|Criminal penalty||Death, commuted to Life imprisonment|
Span of killings
|State(s)||Michigan, Texas, possibly Florida|
|June 11, 1983|
Henry Lee Lucas (August 23, 1936 – March 12, 2001) was an American serial killer. Despite claiming to have killed over 3000 people, Lucas was only convicted of murdering 157; his confessions often contained inconsistencies or improbable logistics. Despite this, hundreds of cold cases were attributed to him and subsequently closed.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Drifter
- 3 Differing opinions
- 4 Media
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 Further reading
- 8 External links
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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. A friend later described him as a child who would often get attention by frighteningly strange behavior. Aside from this, Lucas' mother was a prostitute who would force him to watch her have sex with clients and cross dress in public.
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.
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.
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.[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.
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.
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 travelling 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 Bowie, Texas truck stop. According to some of his later accounts Lucas murdered Powell and then 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 remains. As with most of his alleged crimes, Lucas later denied involvement, but the consensus is he did murder Powell and Rich.
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 interrogators, including Ryan, thought many of Lucas's confessions were made to get out of his cell and improve his living conditions. They did, however, treat dozens as potentially genuine.
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. 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 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.
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's 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.
In 1984, Lucas confessed to the murder of a previously unidentified girl, Tammy Alexander, known as the Caledonia Jane Doe until early 2015, discovered in 1979. Investigators found insufficient evidence to support the confession.
Journalist Hugh Aynesworth and others investigated 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 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'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".
Commutation of death sentence
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. 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.
On March 12, 2001, at 11pm Lucas was found dead in prison from heart failure at age 64. He is buried at Captain Joe Byrd Cemetery in Huntsville, Texas. Lucas' grave is currently unmarked due to incidents of vandalism or 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 and then to 3,000. 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. 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. Such assertions were given little credence by some researchers. The lawmen most involved with Lucas were widely seen as refusing to admit that they had been fooled by him, according to a 1994 article in Texas Monthly magazine.
One Texas Ranger 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." Another Ranger had a similar experience: Lucas demonstrated his apparent familiarity with a crime scene by directing his escort to the murder location with ease, as if he had been there before.
Lucas could possibly be involved in the murders of two young unidentified people found in Sumter County, South Carolina in 1976. Lucas stated that he had been in South Carolina on the day of the crime. Lucas is also suspected in the death of another unidentified victim, the New Castle County Jane Doe, who was discovered in June 1977. He had described a crime scene similar to the one that this woman was found. Yet another unidentified victim was discovered in 1980, that of the Walker County Jane Doe. It was initially believed that Lucas was responsible for both her murder and sexual assault. However, a bite mark on the girl's shoulder has not been confirmed to match Lucas's dental charts. Lucas confessed to the murder of a young woman found in 1981 in Corona, California that had been buried near a freeway, citing he had met her in the town of Riverside.
There have been several books on the case. Three 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, 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.
- List of serial killers by number of victims
- List of horror film serial killers
- Sture Bergwall, a Swedish "serial killer" whose confessions are now believed to be fabricated.
- List of United States death row inmates
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