Henry Lee Lucas PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 25 June 2012 08:02

Henry Lee Lucas

Born: August 23, 1936, Blacksburg, Virginia

Died: March 13, 2001, Texas, Prison.

Age: 64

Cause of death: Heart Failure

Notable because: One eyed drifter and convicted serial killer, convicted on 11 counts although he confessed to over 600 and was for a time considered Americas leading serial killer. Not a clever man, IQ of 84, Lucas recanted his confession and became the only man to ever have his death penalty commuted to life by Texas Governor George Bush. Lucas was the unwanted, hated  child of a drunken destitute whore, Viola, and a legless husband, Anderson, who who beat both child and husband mercilessly. Viola had 9 children of which Henry was the youngest. When Henry entered school in 1943, mother Viola in her meanness deliberately dressed him as a girl, even going so far to coif his hair into sausage curls. Viola's live-in lover, familiarly known as "Uncle Bernie," introduced Lucas to the joys of bestiality, teaching the boy how to kill hapless and unhappy animals after they had been tortured and sexually abused. After a spell in prison, at age 24, he returned to visit his now-elderly mother who hit him with a broom before he stabbed her to death.  After his arrest, Lucas confessed to having had sex with her corpse, which would become a preferred pattern in his subsequent behavior.


Henry Lee Lucas was an American criminal, convicted of murder in 11 different cases and once listed as America's most prolific serial killer; he later recanted his confessions, and flatly stated "I am not a serial killer" in a letter to researcher Brad Shellady. Lucas confessed to involvement in about 600 murders, but a more widely circulated total of about 350 murders committed by Lucas is based on confessions deemed "believable" by a Texas-based Lucas Task Force, a group which was later criticized by then-Attorney General of Texas, Jim Mattox, and others for sloppy police work and taking part in an extended "hoax".

Beyond his recantation, some of Lucas' confessions have been challenged as inaccurate by a number of critics, including law enforcement and court officials. Lucas claimed to have been initially subjected to poor treatment and coercive interrogation tactics while in police custody, and to have confessed to murders in an effort to improve his living conditions. Amnesty International reported "the belief of two former state Attorneys General that Lucas was in all likelihood innocent of the crime for which he was sentenced to death".

Lucas's sentence was commuted to life in prison in 1998 by then-Governor George W. Bush. It was the first successful commutation of a death sentence in Texas since the re-institution of the death penalty in Texas in 1982. Lucas died in prison of natural causes. Lucas still maintains a reputation, in the words of author Sarah L. Knox, "as one of the world's worst serial killers—even after the debunking of the majority of his confessions by the Attorney General of Texas"

Lucas was born in a one-room log cabin in Blacksburg, Virginia, the youngest of nine children. His mother, Viola Dixon Waugh, was an alcoholic prostitute. His father, Anderson Lucas, was an alcoholic and former railroad employee who had lost his legs after being hit by a freight train. He would usually come home inebriated, and would suffer from Viola's wrath as often as his sons.

Lucas claimed that he and his brother were regularly beaten by Viola, often for no reason. He once spent three days in a coma after his mother struck him with a wooden plank, and on many occasions he was forced by his mother to watch her having sex with men. Lucas also claimed that his mother would often dress him in girls' clothing. His sister Almeda Lucas supports his story, and she claims that she once had two pictures of Henry as a toddler dressed in girls' clothing. Lucas described an incident when he was given a mule as a gift by his uncle, only to see his mother shoot and kill it. Lucas also claimed that, at the age of eight, he was given a teddy bear by one of his teachers, and was then beaten by his mother for accepting charity.

When Lucas was 10, his brother accidentally stabbed him in the left eye while they were fighting. His mother ignored the injury for four days, and subsequently the eye grew infected and had to be replaced by a glass eye.

In December 1949, Anderson Lucas died of hypothermia, after going home drunk and collapsing outside during a blizzard. Shortly after, Henry dropped out of school in the sixth grade and ran away from home, drifting around Virginia. Lucas claimed that he first practiced bestiality and zoosadism while he was a runaway, and also began committing petty thefts and burglaries around the state. Lucas claimed to have committed his first murder in 1951, when he strangled 17-year-old Laura Burnsley, who 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 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 about his upcoming nuptials.

On January 11, 1960, in Tecumseh, Michigan, Lucas killed his mother during the course of an ongoing argument regarding whether or not he should return home to his mother's house to care for her as she grew older. He claimed she struck him over the head with a broom, at which point he struck her on the neck and she fell. 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.

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's 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 attacked his mother only 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.Drifter

Lucas drifted around the American South, working a number of mostly short-term jobs. In Florida, he made the acquaintance of Ottis Toole in 1976 and had a sexual relationship with Toole's 12-year-old niece, Frieda Powell, who had escaped from a juvenile detention facility. Lucas and Toole both called Powell "Becky," partly to disguise her identity and because Powell preferred it over her given name. In 1978, Lucas and Toole formed what has been called a "homosexual crime team" and embarked on a cross-country murder spree. Lucas would later claim that during this period he had killed hundreds of people, with Toole assisting him in 108 murders. The trio left Florida and eventually settled in Stoneburg, Texas, at a religious commune called "The House of Prayer." Ruben Moore, the commune owner and minister, found Lucas a job as a roofer and allowed Lucas and Powell to live in a small apartment on the commune.

Henry Lee Lucas

 

Powell became homesick, so Lucas agreed to move to Florida with her. Lucas said they argued at a Bowie, Texas truck stop and claimed that Powell left with a trucker. Lucas would eventually be charged with Powell's murder, although a waitress at the truck stop supported Lucas's account in court. Lucas allegedly carried out many of his later murders with Toole as an accomplice.

Lucas was arrested on June 11, 1983 by Texas Ranger Phil Ryan, initially for unlawful firearm possession. He was later charged with killing 82-year-old Kate Rich in Ringgold, Texas, and was also charged with Powell's murder. 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 of this treatment, Lucas claimed he decided to confess to the crimes in a desperate bid to improve his treatment. Lucas confessed to the murders but claimed to be unable to take police to the victims' bodies. He closed out his confession with a hand-written addendum that read: "I am not aloud [sic] to contact any one I'm in here by myself and still can't talk to a lawyer on this I have no rights so what can I do to convince you about all this." When he was finally allowed counsel, Lucas's lawyer described his client's treatment as "inhumane" and "calculated solely to require the defendant to confess guilt, whether innocent or guilty".

The forensic evidence in the Powell and Rich cases has been criticized as inconclusive. A single bone fragment recovered from a wood-burning stove was said to be Rich's, and a mostly complete skeleton roughly matched Powell's age and size, but Shellady reports that the coroner stopped short of positively identifying either remains. As with most of his alleged crimes, Lucas has confessed to these murders only to deny involvement later, but the consensus seems to be that Lucas did indeed murder Powell and Rich. Lucas pleaded guilty to the charges, and in open court stated he had "killed about a hundred more women" as well. This was an unexpected confession, and Lucas later claimed to have been despondent over being suspected in Powell's disappearance. Shellady reports that Lucas said, "If they were going to make me confess to one I didn't do, then I was going to confess to everything."[4] These claims were quickly seized upon by the press, and Lucas, accompanied by Texas Rangers, was soon flown from state to state, to meet with various police agencies in an effort to resolve a number of unsolved murders.

In November 1983, Lucas was transferred to a jail in Williamson County, Texas, where the Lucas Task Force was soon established. While in Williamson County, he was interviewed by then-Sheriff Jim Boutwell. Boutwell is said to have played an important role early in the task force as well as Bob Prince of the Texas Rangers. Shellady describes the task force as "a veritable clearinghouse of unsolved murder." Police officially "cleared" 213 previously unsolved murders via Lucas's confessions. Lucas reported that he confessed to murders only because doing so improved his living conditions, and that he received preferential treatment rarely offered to convicts. Others have offered accounts that seem to support Lucas's claims, for example, that Lucas was rarely handcuffed when in custody or being transported, that he was often allowed to wander police stations and jails at will—including knowing the security codes for computerized doors—and that he was frequently taken to restaurants and cafés. It was later learned that Boutwell and other task force agents purposely fed Lucas information about other unsolved murders so that Lucas would make "credible" confessions. Lucas was also granted favors while incarcerated that other inmates never received. On one occasion, in Huntington, West Virginia, Lucas confessed to killing a man whose death had originally been ruled a suicide. The man's widow received a large life insurance settlement that had been denied after the initial suicide verdict.

 

Texas Ranger Phil Ryan reports that Lucas became so accustomed to such treatment that he began "dictating orders" that were often obeyed by Rangers. Ryan also reported that he became concerned about the veracity of most of Lucas's confessions, feeling confident in the accuracy of two of Lucas' confessions, and further stated to the Houston Chronicle that "I wouldn't bet a paycheck on any of the others." Shellady reports that in order to expose Lucas's claims, Ryan invented utterly fictional crimes, to which Lucas would generally "confess" involvement, a tactic also employed by Dallas detective Linda Erwin. Ryan reports the manner in which Lucas typically confessed to a number of unsolved murders: If a police agency suspected Lucas, and if Lucas admitted involvement—and his total of some 3,000 confessions suggests he rarely denied complicity—they would send the Lucas Task Force a case file with information pertaining to the unsolved crime. Lucas would be questioned at length and sometimes even allowed to read police reports, thus learning any number of details previously known only to police, which he could then use during interviews.

The same Houston Chronicle article reports that Erwin interviewed Lucas after he confessed to 13 murders in Houston. Erwin reports that "when I heard it got to be hundreds and hundreds (of confessions), it was unbelievable to me." Erwin further reports that, like Ryan, she assembled an utterly fictional crime: She "fabricated a case using random photographs from old murders long since solved and details pulled from her imagination ... He claimed credit for the phony crime, and his confession, containing facts she had dribbled out to him, probably could have convinced a jury to convict him, she said." Erwin admitted she was uncomfortable fabricating a crime, but felt it necessary in order to settle questions of Lucas's reliability. Lucas was not charged with any of the crimes he confessed to committing in Dallas.

Lucas' claims gradually became criticized as outlandish and less likely: He claimed to have been part of a cannibalistic, satanic cult called "The Hand of Death", to have taken part in snuff films, to have killed Jimmy Hoffa, and to have delivered poison to cult leader Jim Jones in Jonestown prior to the notorious mass murder/suicide of Jones' group.

In response to these claims, and to reports of the Lucas Task Force's questionable investigative methodology, the Texas Attorney General's office issued a study (sometimes called "The Lucas Report") in 1986. 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 do

ubt 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."

Ultimately, Lucas was convicted of 11 homicides. He was sentenced to death for the murder of an unidentified woman dubbed "Orange Socks," as those were the only items of clothing found on her. Her body was discovered in Williamson County, Texas, on Halloween 1979.

Dan Morales, Mattox's successor as Texas Attorney General, concluded that it was "highly unlikely" that Lucas was guilty in the "Orange Socks" case. Though initially skeptical of the Lucas Report, he came generally to support its findings.

Williamson County prosecutor Cecil Kuykendall discounted Lucas as a suspect in the "Orange Socks" case and has stated his opinion that Lucas' confession drew attention from a far more viable suspect, further noting evidence that Lucas was in Florida, working as a roofer, during the time that "Orange Socks" was killed. As cited in an Amnesty International report, Mattox stated that during the time "Orange Socks" was killed, there were "work records, check cashing evidence, all information indicating Lucas was somewhere else. We found nothing tying [Lucas] with the crime he confessed to and was convicted of." Mattox's office decided not to intervene, so certain they were that the state appeals court would overturn Lucas' conviction in the "Orange Socks" case.

Lucas told Shellady that he confessed to the murder in an effort at "legal suicide," and that he "just wanted to die." Lucas expressed what Shellady describes as "deep regret and sorrow" for offering false confessions, stating that he "was not aware how crooked they [Texas authorities] were until it was too late." The Houston Chronicle article also notes that Lucas offered various motives for his confession spree: Improving his conditions, a desire to embarrass police, and feeling guilt over killing Powell and Rich.

Adding to the confusion, however, was Lucas' habit of making confessions, recanting them, then offering more confessions, and again recanting them. Mattox, wary of Lucas' many false confessions, suggested in 1999 that, in the case of Rafael Resendez-Ramirez, "I hope they don't start pinning on him every crime that happens near a railroad track."

Lucas's supposed confidant, Ottis Toole, died on September 15, 1996, from cirrhosis of the liver. He was serving six life sentences in a Florida prison. In 1998, the Texas Board of Pardon and Parole voted to commute Lucas's death sentence to life imprisonment, in accordance with Governor George W. Bush's request. It remains the only successful commutation of a death sentence in Texas since the restoration of the death penalty after Gregg v. Georgia in 1976. On March 13, 2001, Lucas died in prison from heart failure at age 64.

Lucas was a diagnosed psychopath. Several authorities and interested parties remained sure of his guilt in a number of murders, regardless of his recantations and the controversy surrounding his many confessions. Jim Lawson, a sheriff's department investigator in Scotts Bluff County, Nebraska, questioned Lucas in September 1984 regarding the unsolved 1978 murder of schoolteacher Stella McLean. Lawson says he asked deceptive questions to test Lucas, but insists Lucas offered compelling testimony to support his claims of killing McLean.

Texas General Land Office Commissioner Garry Mauro, then standing for election of Governor of Texas, stated his opinion that, "There is no doubt in my mind that Henry Lee Lucas is guilty enough of the murders he confessed to that he earned the death penalty."

The Houston Chronicle article quotes Harold Murphy of Marianna, Florida, who remained convinced that Lucas killed his daughter Jerilyn in 1981.

As cited in the above Houston Chronicle article, Texas Ranger Phil Ryan—while strongly criticizing the Lucas Task Force for their questionable methods, and while rejecting the vast majority of Lucas's confessions—concluded that Lucas was a strong suspect in two cases (those of his 15-year-old traveling companion, Becky Powell, and Kate Rich), and thought Lucas was "at most ... responsible for 15 murders." This was still a considerable total, qualifying Lucas as a serial killer according to the FBI's definitions, but well below Lucas's claims. Eric W. Hickey cites an unnamed "investigator" who interviewed Lucas several times, and who concluded Lucas had probably killed about 40 people.

Personal Quotes

I hated all my life. I hated everybody. When I first grew up and can remember, I was dressed as a girl by my mother. And I stayed that way for 2 or 3 years. And after that I was treated like what I call the dog of the family. I was beaten. I was made to do things that no human bein' would want to do.

Killing someone is just like walking outdoors. If I wanted a victim, I'd go and get one

"When they put me out on parole, I said I'm not ready to go. I told them all, the warden, the psychologist, everybody, that I was going to kill" (When he was released from Ionia State Hospital after 10 years for murder).

"Once I've done it, I just forget it." (When asked exactly how many he had killed)

 

 

Henry Lee Lucas

by Bonnie Bobit

 

For several years during the mid-1980s, Henry Lee Lucas enjoyed holding the title of "the most infamous man on death row." His fleeting fame did not evolve from the three cold-blooded murders he did commit, but from hundreds of murders he did not. When Lucas was sentenced to death in 1984, it wasn't for the 1960 murder of his mother. Nor was it for the 1982 cold-blooded rape and murder of Kate Rich, an 82-year-old Texas woman. And it wasn't even for the 1982 murder and dismemberment of Becky Powell, his longtime girlfriend. Instead, Lucas was sent to death row for the 1979 rape and murder of a woman known only as "Orange Socks" – a woman he probably never met.

After Lucas served 10 years in prison for the murder of his mother, he was released on parole ¾ free to kill again. And he did. During Lucas' second murder trial, in 1983, he shocked a Texas courtroom when he not only confessed to killing the elderly Rich, but then announced: "And I've got 100 more out there somewhere."

Following news reports of Lucas' outburst, detectives and investigators from 19 states lined up to interview him while a special task force worked around the clock to help lawmen solve more than 600 murders that Lucas would eventually confess to.

Lucas' general attitude was summed up in an early jailhouse interview, "I didn't have no feelings about killing (him). It was just like I drink a glass of water."

As Lucas confessed to murder after murder, closing more than 200 cases, real murderers were left undisturbed.

What made so many well-trained investigators err so many times? Denton County, Tex., Sheriff Weldon Lucas once offered, "He can make an interviewer believe anything."

But why would any man admit to murders he did not commit? For Lucas, it was a game — a game in which he was winning.

Mommy's Dearest

Henry Lee Lucas was born on Aug. 23, 1936, in the back woods of Virginia, near a small community named Blacksburg in the Appalachians. He lived with his family in a two-room log cabin with dirt floors. His alcoholic parents brewed moonshine whiskey, and his mother, Viola, ruled her family with an iron rod, often forcing her children to work on the still.

His father, Anderson, gained the nickname "No Legs" in a drunken spree that resulted in his losing both of his legs in a freight train accident. Afterwards, he occasionally sold pencils on street corners while Viola turned tricks for extra cash. Lucas had eight brothers and sisters, many of whom were farmed out over the years to institutions, relatives, and foster homes. For some reason, Viola kept Henry at home. She often beat him, along with his father, occasionally forcing them to watch her sexual endeavors with strangers. Sickened by one such episode, Anderson dragged himself outside to spend the night in the cold where he contracted a fatal case of pneumonia.

When Lucas entered school in 1943, Viola sometimes sent him off in a dress and ringlets — and always shoeless. When Lucas returned home from school one day wearing a pair of shoes his teacher had given him, Viola severely beat him for accepting the gift.

As a teenager, he reported having sex with his half-brother and with animals whose throats they slit first. At 17, one of Lucas' brothers accidentally struck him in the left eye with a knife. He suffered at home for several days until someone finally took him to a doctor who removed the eye and replaced it with prosthetic glass.

Crime and Punishment

As Lucas grew older, he became bitter and distant. Malnourished and uneducated, he never developed an ability to assign value to life. He spent his teen years in and out of jail, beginning in 1954 when he was arrested for a string of burglaries near Richmond, Va. Lucas was sentenced to six years in the Virginia State Prison, but on Sept. 14, 1957, he escaped from a road gang and fled to his older sister's home in Tecumseh, Mich. Three months later, he was recaptured and returned to Virginia where he attempted another escape a month later. This time he was caught the same day. Despite the two escapes, Lucas was released on Sept. 2, 1959, one year early. He went back to live with his sister in Tecumseh where he was plagued by calls from his mother, insisting that he return to live with her in Virginia. When he refused, Viola followed him to Michigan.

Deadly Revenge

On the night of Jan. 11, 1960, Lucas and his mother went to drink at a local bar. "I was pretty well drunk when she started arguing with me, wanting me to go back to live with her to Virginia, but I told her I didn't want nothing to do with her," Lucas remembers more than 20 years later.

When they left for home, still arguing, they took the dispute to an upstairs bedroom and railed at each other into the early hours of the following morning. At one point, Viola hit Lucas with a broom. He struck back with a knife. When the fight was over, 74-year-old Viola was dead. The next day, she was found on the bedroom floor with a fatal stab wound in her neck. Lucas, who was immediately suspected, was nowhere to be found.

Five days later, he was spotted in Toledo, Ohio.

"I was picked up by a state trooper and he said I looked kinda funny with a big, heavy coat on. He said, ‘Well, you just look suspicious, ya know,'" Lucas recalled during an American Justice interview more than 30 years later.

While running a routine check, the trooper learned that the heavily clad visitor was wanted in Michigan on a murder charge. When Lucas was locked up, he confessed to murdering his mother and raping the corpse. Lucas wrote in a statement: "I had a knife in my hand, but I do not know if the blade was opened or closed. I do not know if I got the pocketknife from my pocket or just had it in my hand. When I hit her with the knife, she fell to the floor, and I looked at the knife in my hand and the blade was open."

He later recanted the jailhouse confession, telling his defense attorney Carol Durst that after he stole the car, he had a change of heart because he was worried about his mother. Thinking she was only injured, he decided to go back and help her; he was returning to the scene when the trooper stopped him.

Whether or not anyone believed that claim, Lucas had confessed to stabbing Viola. In his pocket, police found a pocketknife consistent with the murder wounds. That was enough to prosecute Lucas.

In March 1960, Judge Rex Martin presided over the trial held in the nearby town of Adrian, Mich. Since Lucas had confessed, the defense did not dispute that he had killed his mother. Instead, the issue at trail was the degree of sentencing: Was he guilty of first-degree murder or manslaughter?

Durst argued that the crime was committed without premeditation, malice, or intent to kill. To help make its case, the defense put Lucas on the stand. In court, he calmly repeated the story he had told police, although now, he couldn't remember hitting his mother with a knife. Lucas showed no sign of emotion or remorse, and his attorneys grew weary of his cold-blooded nature. Durst revealed that Lucas told her he liked knives and would use them to cut up small animals like cats and mice. "So that was something he seemed to think was fun to do," Durst concluded.

Despite their concerns, the defense tried to foster sympathy from the jury by detailing Lucas' harsh upbringing that warped his perception of the world. Both his brother, Ray, and sister, Opal, testified to growing up in Virginia amid poverty and abuse.

Lucas said, "I've got gashes in the back of my head. I've got black and blue marks on my body from being beaten every day. If I didn't do something she wanted, I got beaten." He said his mother abused him not only physically, but emotionally as well.

The jurors had sympathy for the way Lucas was raised, but didn't think he killed his mother by accident. They compromised, handing down a verdict of second-degree murder. When it was announced in court, Lucas had no reaction.

He was sent to Jackson State Penitentiary in southern Michigan. A social worker there met Lucas and observed "a very inadequate individual with feelings of insecurity and inferiority." After two attempted suicides, Lucas was transferred to a mental facility and paroled in 1970 after serving 10 years.

Shortly after his release, Lucas was jailed again — this time for trying to kidnap two teenaged girls. He was sent back to his old cellblock where he lived until he was 39. After his release in August 1975, he became a drifter.

Lucas Meets Toole

As Lucas traveled from town to town, his only ambition was to stay alive while avoiding the law. His success was short-lived. While in Jacksonville, Fla., Lucas stopped at a soup kitchen where he shared a meal with Ottis Toole, a part-time transvestite with a penchant for arson. They became quick friends, and, according to Toole, lovers. Soon Lucas moved in with Toole, at his mother's home where Toole's young niece, Becky Powell, also lived. Lucas and the preteen girl quickly grew close.

Powell, diagnosed with a mild case of mental retardation, hungered for kindness and companionship. She got both from Lucas, and in her eyes, he was somebody important. Her devotion to Lucas fed his weak psyche, one filled with low self-confidence and esteem. She was the first person who ever made him feel special.

In 1981, Toole's mother died and the three of them were forced to move out of the house. Along with Becky, they began roaming the interstates. When Lucas and Toole finally split up, Lucas took Becky with him and headed west. In May 1982, the pair ended up in Ringgold, Tex., near the Oklahoma border. They moved in with octogenarian Kate Rich, whose family quickly became suspicious and kicked Lucas and Powell back out onto the street. Then they met Ruben Moore.

The House of Prayer

Moore, a roofer and part-time minister, brought them to his Stoneburg, Tex., House of Prayer, an abandoned chicken ranch with makeshift living quarters for drifters and lost souls. Lucas and Powell settled there, passing themselves off as husband and wife, although Lucas was now 45 and Powell still a teenager.

Lucas once said, "That was the best part of my life. I built myself an apartment there and worked as a roofer on Moore's crew. I bought a car and had what furniture I could buy for the house. I had a TV and stuff like that."

But Powell, who was homesick and wanted to go back to Florida, convinced Lucas to leave. On Aug. 23, 1982, Moore took them to a truck stop and said good-bye. The following evening, Lucas returned to The House of Prayer in tears. He told Moore that Powell had jumped into a passing truck and left him. Lucas resumed his life on the old ranch. No one ever heard from Powell again.

The Confessions Begin

One month later, the elderly Rich turned up missing, and the Montague County sheriff's office started an investigation that quickly led to Lucas, who denied any involvement.

In June 1983, Lucas was arrested on a weapons charge and held in the Montague County jail. After five days without cigarettes and coffee, Lucas was ready to confess to anything. He wrote a note from his jail cell: "To Whom It May Concern, I, Henry Lee Lucas, to try to clear this matter up, I killed Kate Rich on September last year. I have tried to get help so long and no one will help. I have killed for the past 10 years and no one will believe it."

In his statement, Lucas said that he picked up Rich to go to church, but instead, drove around for a while. He then got the urge to kill her and have sex with her corpse. So he drove to an oil field and stabbed her to death. He dragged her down an embankment and then had sex with the body before stuffing it in a culvert and leaving. Later, he returned to the oil field and brought her body back to his apartment. To destroy the evidence, he stuffed the body into a stove that sat in his yard and burned her over a two-day period.

When Lucas finished his statement, he told investigators there was something else he wanted to get off his chest. Out of the blue, he confessed to killing Powell, who was still thought to be alive.

Evidence Is Found

During the investigation at The House of Prayer, human bone fragments and ashes were found in the wood-burning stove. Rich's daughters identified their mother's eyeglasses that were found in the yard. The crime scene corroborated Lucas' story, and witnesses had seen Lucas with Rich on the day she disappeared. He was charged with first-degree murder.

Meanwhile, he offered details on the Powell murder. Lucas told investigators that when he and Powell left the House of Prayer, they argued while trying to get a ride. He said the argument began when Powell said she wanted to go back to Jacksonville. Lucas refused because of an outstanding warrant for his arrest there. Just before reaching Denton, they decided to get some sleep in an empty field off the road. Powell didn't survive the night.

Lucas took investigators to the scene and described what happened next. "So we went back first to that little tree over there as you go off on the road...and we kept arguing, cussing at each other, and...she hauled off and hit me upside the head, and that was it. That's when I hit her with the knife. I just picked it up off the blanket, brought it around, hit her right in the chest with it. And she just sorta sat there for a little bit and then dropped over, ya know. I cut her up into little teeny pieces and stuffed her into three pillows... I stuffed all of her in there except her legs."

Two weeks after the murder, Lucas said he went back to bury the body parts. During the confession, he said that he loved Powell, but ended up killing her because of problems he had all his life.

Skeletal remains were found to be those of a white girl around the same height, weight, and age of Powell. Lucas was again charged with murder.

The Trials

In June 1983, during the arraignment for the Rich case, the judge asked Lucas if he understood the charges. He said he did and admitted his guilt. He then went on to tell the judge that he had murdered a hundred women. Lucas quickly became front-page news.

During the trial that resulted in a 75-year sentence, the streets of Montague County became a feeding frenzy for the media. Police from all over the country called the sheriff, hoping that Lucas was the key to unsolved murders in their area.

During the media extravaganza, Lucas went on trial for the Powell murder. His defense again argued the killing was unintentional, and that he hit her with a knife before he had time to think. In front of the jury, Lucas sobbed and said he loved Powell and didn't want her dead.

But, the defense had to deal with Lucas' videotaped confession, which included the following statement: "I had sex, intercourse with her. It's one of those things that I guess got to be part of my life, having sexual intercourse with the dead."

It took the jury only two hours to hand down the stiffest possible penalty for the crime — life in prison. After the verdict was read, Lucas got up, shook hands with the prosecutor, smiled at him and said, "You did a good job."

The Confessions

After the trial, Lucas began confessing to other murders all over the country. He originally offered a list of 77 women from 19 different states. He wrote detailed descriptions of the women and drew sketches next to some of their names. As he confessed to more and more murders, the details became increasingly more bizarre. Some included dismemberment, necrophilia, even cannibalism.

Lawmen from all over the country were requesting samples of Lucas' saliva, fingerprints, and hair. One investigator said that at one point in time, they ran out of pubic hair to get from Lucas to send to people.

Lucas said he picked up most of his victims along the interstates, offering a ride and sometimes dinner or a drink. "Just about everyone I pick up, I kill ‘em. That's the way it always turn out."

Lucas said he killed his victims to have sex with them; "... to me a live woman ain't nothing. I enjoy dead sex more than I do live sex."

During one interview, Lucas said Toole had helped him commit many of the highway killings. Toole, whom investigators found serving time in Florida for arson, readily backed up Lucas' claims.

Toole told Florida investigators, "We picked up lots of hitchhikers, you know, and Lucas killed most of the women hisself, and some of them would be shot in the head and the chest, and some of them would be choked to death, and some of them would be beat in the head with a tire tool."

The six-foot-tall, snaggle-toothed criminal said that when he dressed up like a woman, he could get plenty of people to come and ride with him and Lucas.

As the investigations continued, Lucas's own estimate of his victims soon grew to more than 600. In the fall of 1983, investigators from 19 states gathered in Louisiana to swap information on Lucas and Toole.

At the end of the sessions, lawmen linked the two men to 81 murders, and many cases were soon closed.

Williamson County

One of the victims Lucas confessed to killing was "Orange Socks," an unidentified woman found in a culvert wearing only red-orange socks. This case resulted in a capital charge for Lucas, and in late November 1983, Jim Boutwell, the sheriff of Williamson County in central Texas, brought Lucas to his jail to await trial. Boutwell had been anxious to talk to Lucas about a string of unsolved murders in his county on Interstate 35, and, according to Lucas, the sheriff assured that he would keep him happy during the investigation.

A task force was set up there to handle all the inquiries coming in about Lucas from around the country. Here, Lucas was the center of attention. When he wasn't talking face-to-face with an officer, he was in the task-force office on the phone with detectives from other locales, talking to them about their unsolved crimes. Lucas realized that he had become a valuable commodity and seemed to revel in the daily business affairs of the task force.

Soon, Lucas was leading an entourage of investigators and newsmen to crime scenes across the country. No physical evidence linked him to the crimes, but he seemed able to give details and know the murder scenes. Lucas was leading them all on a merry chase, a chase he still brags about today. He had become a criminal celebrity, and, in Lucas' mind, that meant that he had really become somebody important.

Bizarre Confessions

In those days, he enjoyed giving interviews that would spark attention: "I've killed by strangulation. I've killed by hit-and-runs, by shootings, by robberies, by hangings. Every type of crime, I've done it. I've got more female population hating my guts, more than any other place in the earth."

As his notoriety grew, so did the number of victims he claimed. His stories consistently became more outrageous. At one point, he claimed that he and Toole killed because they were recruited by a devil-worshipping cult called Hands of Death. Lucas said the cult practiced human sacrifice: "They take a live girl and put her on the table and split her open and take all of her organs out, and take the body and cremate the body." He then said that the cult members would bury the organs or "sometimes they put them in a pot and cooked ‘em."

Toole backed up Lucas' most outrageous statements.

During one interview, Toole said, "And you know one time, you fileted some of them bodies, and I did too...tastes like real meat when it got barbecue sauce on it, don't it?"

The outlandish confessions drew skepticism from some officers, but it was still believed that Lucas was a prolific serial killer.

Orange Socks

On Apr. 2, 1984, Lucas faced his fourth murder trial, this time for the murder of Orange Socks, killed Halloween night 1979. The stakes were high: Lucas faced the death penalty. There was no physical evidence linking him to the crime, but as in so many other cases ¾ Lucas had confessed.

At one point before the trial, he recanted, but later said he wanted the death penalty. Regardless, his attorneys mounted an aggressive defense based on an alibi.

Don Higginbotham, Lucas' defense attorney, claimed that at the time of the alleged murder in central Texas, Lucas was working on the roof of a naval air station in Jacksonville, Fla.

But, prosecutors argued that Lucas was recorded saying that he paid off the roofing foreman so he could leave work for long periods of time and still get paid.

Defense argued that such a payoff was implausible, and Lucas lied to investigators only to please them during an interview.

Higginbotham said that Lucas was working for a federal entity at the naval air station that awarded bonuses for work completed early. The attorney pointed out that the foreman would have been financially better off by completing the job early than taking a few paltry dollars from Lucas.

Lucas, however, had cashed a paycheck in Florida the day after the murder, making it nearly impossible for him to have committed the crime in Texas. An expert confirmed Lucas' signature on the check.

Prosecutor Ken Anderson suggested that Lucas did indeed cash the check, but still had plenty of time to get back to Texas to commit the crime.

Higginbotham defied the prosecutor's assertion: "It's approximately 12 - 1,300 miles from between Williamson County and Jacksonville. He would have had to be averaging a speed of 70 mph the entire time to get back. That means no stops. It is nearly impossible."

Higginbotham's theory lost its impact after the jury heard a taped confession from Lucas: "We were talking about sex, and she told me, ‘Not right now.' She went to jump out of the car when I grabbed her and pulled her back into the car. She was fighting so hard, I almost lost control of the car and wrecked. I pulled over. I grabbed her by the neck and choked her until she died. I had sex with her again."

Then, Lucas said, he drove all the way to Georgetown, Tex., with a dead woman in the back seat. On videotape, he described where he took the girl.

The defense maintained that Lucas was fed the details by investigators, weaving the facts into a false and improbable story. They said that the defendant didn't know many key facts of the crime in his first taped confession, but was fed the details later.

The prosecution argued that if Lucas accidentally confessed to murdering Orange Socks, it was only because he had killed so many others. In the end, Lucas' confession was enough to convince the jury. They found him guilty and handed down the death penalty.

Murderer or Prankster?

Although Lucas recanted the Orange Socks murder, he kept confessing to scores of other crimes. As a result, instead of going to death row, he returned to his comfortable cell at task force headquarters. There he confessed to and was charged with seven more murders, based on his dubious confessions, with these convictions resulting in life sentences. Lucas' game with anxious lawmen was about to end, however.

On Apr. 14, 1985, The Dallas Times Herald ran a front-page story indicating that a number of Lucas' confessions were lies. The article revealed that he couldn't possibly have committed many of the crimes he confessed to because he was hundreds, or sometimes thousands, of miles away from the killings.

Hugh Aynesworth, a reporter who wrote one of the articles, had met with Lucas regularly since 1983. He said that Lucas had told him that he killed three people: his mother, Powell, and Rich. But that was it — all the others were false. Lucas explained that it was his way of getting back at law enforcement; he wanted to embarrass them because of the shabby way he was treated. Lucas told Aynesworth, "They think I'm stupid. When all of this is over, they'll know who's really stupid."

According to Lucas, anxious investigators and the Texas Rangers fed him the details he needed to make his confessions credible.

Lucas said, "I'd go through files. I'd look through pictures, everything that concerned that murder. And, when the detective come from that state, or that town, ya know, I'd tell them all about that murder. I'd knew about the murder. I'd only give them bits and pieces. They didn't care. They wanted to solve it."

Aynesworth suggested that when Lucas' crime details didn't match up, Boutwell, the sheriff of Williamson County, would give him a chance to change his confession.

Lucas also claimed police made it easy for him to recognize crime scenes: "They'd ask me to go with them to a crime scene. We'd go out driving, ya know, and I look for a house or a number that I had seen in these pictures. And it might take me three, four times around the block before I'd point out to them. I'd say, ‘Yea, that's it up there.' And I'd tell them about the murder that happened there. And that's the way they solved the crimes."

In mid-April 1985, as news reports broke, Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox, who had his own doubts about Lucas, decided to take a closer look into the matter. He called a grand jury to investigate three of the murders. In the meantime, with the original Orange Socks sentence still intact, the 49-year-old Lucas was finally sent to his death-row digs in Huntsville.

Mattox's report noted that, with the exception of the Powell case, Lucas had never led authorities to the murder sites. The report concluded that investigators had fed Lucas the information he used to build his confessions and that some law enforcement officials cleared cases just to get them off their books. The report also criticized the task force for not doing anything to bring an end to the Lucas affair as evidence of a hoax mounted.

Despite the controversy, many task force members still contend that Lucas was a prolific serial killer; others simply believe that Lucas had an uncanny memory for details and had learned how to manipulate investigators.

Denton County Sheriff Weldon Lucas said during an American Justice interview, "Once you ask him about a murder, you have to give him a certain location, and if you don't watch out, Henry will have you tell him how it happened, where it happened, and when it happened. And then, he'll repeat it back to you. He was a nightmare as far as investigators go because he was so street savvy, it's unreal."

Other lawmen later speculated that Lucas' motivation for the string of confessions revolved around the treatment he received from Boutwell at the Williamson facility where Lucas had a comfortable existence. When Lucas was asked about Boutwell, he said, "He treated me as a son. He bought me anything I would want. If I wanted a sandwich, he bought me a sandwich. If I wanted a steak, I got it. It didn't matter, ya know. I lived better in jail than I did on the street, ya know."

Defense investigator Brad Shellady told an American Justice interviewer that he didn't think Lucas wanted to give up anything he had. "You see, they got to the point where he didn't have to wear prison clothes. He got all the artistic materials he wanted, all the cigarettes he wanted, cable TV in his cell. As Henry said to me, ‘They treated me like a king. Why would I want to change things?' The instant you stop confessing — you're going to death row."

Epilogue

A lie detector test Lucas eventually took indicated that he did not kill Orange Socks and that he was in Florida on the night she was killed. During one of Lucas' appeals, the defense pointed out that the Orange Socks conviction was based on murder and rape. But, when the pathologist did the autopsy on her body, he found no signs of rape. He also found that she had an advanced case of syphilis, and Lucas has never been diagnosed with a venereal disease.

Lucas now says he wishes "I had kept my mouth shut. I do regret speaking up...they had me drugged up on thorazine and freezing to death in my jail cell, and I didn't want to live anymore, and I wanted to open up people's eyes to what was going on in law enforcement, how they didn't care if they got the right person or not. I don't think anybody, a human being anyway, could kill 600 people."

As it turns out, Toole didn't need help from Lucas to gain notoriety. While awaiting trial for an arson murder in 1983, Toole confessed to the grisly slaying of 6-year-old Adam Walsh. The boy's father, John Walsh, now host of television's America's Most Wanted, made sure that Toole's name was known throughout the country. Although Toole twice confessed to the 1981 murder and decapitation of the young boy, Walsh was never able to get a conviction. In 1996, Toole died from cirrhosis of the liver while serving five consecutive life sentences on unrelated charges.

On June 26, 1998, Texas Governor George Bush commuted Lucas' death sentence to life imprisonment because an investigation by the Attorney General of Texas determined that Lucas could not have killed Orange Socks. Lucas is the only death row inmate to ever receive clemency from Governor Bush.

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Last Updated on Monday, 25 June 2012 09:11
 

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