Henry Lee Lucas PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 20 November 2008 17:22

Henry Lee Lucas

Born: August 23, 1936, Blacksburg, Virginia

Died: March 13, 2001, Florida

Age: 64

Cause of death: Heart attack

Notable because: Murdered possibly 350 people, starting with his Mother, and was the only death row inmate to receive a reprieve from then-Governor George W Bush.



Henry Lee Lucas was an American criminal, convicted of murder and once listed as America's most prolific serial killer. However, he later recanted his confessions. He once flatly stated "I am not a serial killer" in a letter to researcher Brad Shellady.

Lucas confessed to involvement in about 600 murders, with an average of about one murder per week between his release from prison in mid-1975 to his arrest in mid-1983. 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 criticized by Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox for sloppy police work and taking part in an extended "hoax"

Lucas was born in Blacksburg, Virginia, and was one of nine children. He described his mother, Viola Dixon Waugh (1885–1960), as a violent prostitute. His father, Anderson Lucas (1877–1950), was an alcoholic and former railroad employee who had lost his legs in a train accident, and who suffered from Viola's wrath as often as his son. Lucas reports that Viola regularly beat him, his father and his half-brother, often for no reason. He once spent three days in a coma after his mother hit his head with a plank of wood, and on many occasions he was forced by his mother to watch her have sex with men. Lucas described an incident when he was given a mule as a gift by his father's friends, only to see his mother shoot and kill it.

Lucas claimed to have been introduced to bestiality and zoosadism as a teenager, during which time he was also convicted several times for petty theft. Lucas had also damaged an eye during a fight with his half-brother. His mother ignored the injury for three days, and subsequently the eye grew infected and had to be replaced by a glass eye.

Lucas claimed to have first murdered in 1951, when he strangled a girl who refused his sexual advances. Like most of his confessions, he later retracted this claim. In 1954, Lucas was convicted on several counts of burglary in and around Richmond, Virginia, and was sentenced to six years' imprisonment. He escaped, was recaptured, and was released in September 1959.

In late 1959, Lucas moved to Tecumseh, Michigan to live with his half-sister, Opal. Lucas was engaged to marry when his mother visited for Christmas. She disapproved of her son's fiancée and insisted he move back to Virginia. He refused, and they argued repeatedly about his upcoming nuptials.

On January 11, 1960, 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 claims 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. He served ten and a half years and was released in June 1970.

Lucas drifted around the American South, working a number of mostly short-term jobs. In Florida, he made the acquaintance of Ottis Toole sometime between 1976 and 1978 (sources disagree) and claims to have had a romantic affair with Toole's pubescent niece, Frieda Powell, who had escaped from a juvenile detention facility. Lucas and Toole both called Powell "Becky" sometimes, partly to disguise her identity and because Powell preferred it over her given name. Lucas would later claim that during this period he had killed hundreds of people, sometimes as Toole's partner. 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.

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. According to Shellady, a waitress at the truck stop supported Lucas's account in court.

Lucas was arrested in June 1983 by Texas Ranger Phil Ryan, initially on a firearms violation. He was later charged with killing 82-year-old Katherine 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 general 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. Shelladay 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." 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. Shelladay 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. 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. It has been suggested that such treatment demonstrates that the Lucas Task Force did not consider Lucas a threat.

Texas Ranger Phil Ryan reports that Lucas became so accustomed to such treatment that he began "dictating orders" that were often obeyed by Rangers. Ranger 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's 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",[12] 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's 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's claimed murders. The report compared Lucas's claims to reliable, verifiable sources for Lucas's 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."

Here are a few examples of crimes the Lucas Task Force ruled "closed" based on Lucas's "confessions," when strong evidence has been cited, indicating Lucas was far from the scene of the crime:

  • Lucas confessed to the August 10, 1977 murder of Curby Reeves in Smith County, Texas, while payroll records indicate that Lucas worked a full shift at the Kaolin Mushroom Farms in Kaolin, Pennsylvania.
  • Lucas confessed to the March 20, 1979, murder of Elaine Tollett in Tulsa, Oklahoma, while medical records indicate Lucas was in hospital in Bluefield, West Virginia.
  • Chris Piazza, then a prosecutor in Little Rock, Arkansas, wrote, of a specific 1981 robbery-murder case in which Lucas claimed involvement, that "the testimony of Henry Lee Lucas ... is dubious, to say the least" and that Lucas's testimony was "inaccurate in nearly every detail."

Ultimately, Lucas was convicted of 11 homicides. He was sentenced to death for the murder of an unidentified woman, dubbed "Orange Socks" after that being the only clothing found on her, she was discovered in Williamson County, Texas, on Halloween 1979. Lucas' confession was recorded on audio tape and videotape and, when presented at court, had been subject to significant editing, leading critics to speculate that the removed sections showed authorities coaching Lucas on details of the crime.

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, "work records, check cashing evidence, all information indicating Lucas was somewhere else. [W]e 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 Shelladay 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 in September 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. On March 13, 2001, Lucas died in prison from heart failure.

Several authorities and interested parties remained sure of Lucas's guilt in a number of murders, regardless of his recantations and the controversy surrounding his many confessions. Jim Larson, a sheriff's department investigator in Scotts Bluff County, Nebraska, questioned Lucas in September 1984 regarding the unsolved 1978 murder of schoolteacher Stella McLean. Larson says he asked deceptive questions to test Lucas, but insists Lucas offered compelling testimony to support his claims of killing McLean. Nobody ever knew if his confessions were not lies.

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 the claims of hundreds or even thousands of murders. Eric W. Hickey cites an unnamed "investigator" who interviewed Lucas several times, and who concluded Lucas had probably killed about 40 people.

These statements, among others, make it clear that law enforcement officials and other figures have conflicting opinions as to Lucas's guilt or innocence.

  • Viola Lucas, age 74, 11 January 1960
  • Unknown woman, 31 October 1979
  • Frieda Powell, age 19, 23 August 1982
  • Katherine Rich, age 82, 14 September 1982

The movies Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Part 2 are loosely based on Lucas's confessions. Portrait of a Serial Killer starred Michael Rooker as a fictionalized version of Lucas, while Portrait of a Serial Killer, Part 2 starred Neil Giuntoli.

Metal band Downthesun released a song titled "Lucas Toole" in 2002.

Nick Cave relesed a song in 1996 called Henry Lee

Sara Lee Lucas is the adopted stage-name of the first drummer for the band Marilyn Manson.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 December 2008 15:26

Add comment

Security code

Who's Online

We have 107 guests online