Home Killer Briefs Henry Lee Lucas – The Story of the Confession Killer

Henry Lee Lucas – The Story of the Confession Killer

Henry Lee Lucas confessed to hundreds of murders. Even with no direct evidence linking him to the crime scenes, he shocked authorities with his ability to sketch victims' portraits while citing brutal details of each attack.

Name: Henry Lee Lucas

Moniker(s): The Confession Killer, The Highway Stalker, The Deadly Drifter, The One-Eyed Drifter

Date of Birth: August 23, 1936

Date of Death: March 13, 2001

Victim Count: 3 confirmed, 41+ possible, 3,000 self-alleged

Years Active (confirmed): 1960-1983

Region Active: Southern United States

Date of Arrest: June 11, 1983

Young Henry Lee Lucas.

Photo Credit: El Pensante

Henry Lee Lucas was born the youngest of nine children. The small one-room cabin in Blacksburg, Virginia, seemed to overflow with the large family. Life at home was chaotic, and Lucas’s childhood miserable because of it. His father, having lost both legs in a work-related accident, made his living brewing and selling illegal liquor. His mother was a prostitute, and she held dominion over her husband and children, taking delight in hurting them.

She dressed Lucas as a girl for the first few years of his life. Lucas’s father introduced him to liquor at an early age, and the boy began drinking to cope with his mother’s abuse.

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Once, his mother, Viola, beat him so brutally with a wooden plank that he spent three days in a coma. She often forced him to watch her have sex with various men, some unknown to her son. One man, however, was her lover, called “Uncle Bernie.”

Viola’s torture became increasingly worse as Lucas grew, and by age ten, he stood teetering on the verge of chronic alcoholism. Around this time, his brother injured Lucas’s eye during a fight. Viola neglected the injury for days. By the time Lucas saw a doctor, it was infected so severely that it had to be removed and replaced with a glass eye.

Just as Lucas’s father introduced him to drinking, “Uncle Bernie” introduced him to bestiality and animal torture.

When Lucas was thirteen, his father, Anderson, died of hypothermia after passing out drunk in a blizzard.

By his own account, at around age fourteen or fifteen, he committed his first severe crime. He snatched a girl from a bus stop and beat her unconscious. Once she was out, he raped her and strangled her to death.

Shortly after this, Lucas and two of his brothers got arrested on burglary charges. Lucas was sent to a school for juvenile delinquents and, after the hellish home life he’d known, found it to be almost a treat. The facility had electricity and running water, something he’d never had before. He spent a year there and, upon release, returned to a life of crime.

Lucas was arrested again in 1954, this time on a dozen counts of burglary, and sentenced to six years in prison. Prison was not as welcome a punishment as the boys’ school had been, and Lucas attempted to escape twice. Lucas regained his freedom on September 2, 1959.

Lucas moved in with his sister in Michigan. The last thing he wanted was to see his mother again, but, inevitably, she paid him a visit. She wanted him to come back home and take care of her, but he refused. Things escalated quickly, turning into a yelling match before Lucas abruptly stabbed his mother in the neck. She died practically instantly from the injury; the profuse arterial blood loss causing her to have a heart attack.

Lucas was initially sentenced to twenty-forty years, though he claimed he had killed his mother in self-defense. However, his release came early, after only ten years, due to prison overcrowding. He later claimed he killed two women immediately after his release. He was rearrested just a year later after attempting to kidnap a young girl. He spent three years in prison for this charge.

Upon his release, Lucas married a cousin’s widow, Betty Crawford. The two split up quickly once Betty realized Henry was molesting her two daughters.

Lucas hit the road, drifting across the southern United States. He worked odd jobs here and there, earning just enough money to sustain himself before splitting. He later alleged that, during his travels, he raped and murdered large numbers of women in numerous states.

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Around 1976, Lucas met a man who shared his criminal interests, Ottis Toole. Toole had also suffered through a childhood filled with abuse. Like Lucas, Toole’s mother used to dress him up as a girl. His father prostituted him to a neighbor beginning at the age of five. His sister raped him after he came out as gay. By the time Toole met Lucas, he was a serial arsonist and a suspect in four murders.

According to many, the two began as partners in crime but quickly developed a homosexual relationship. Lucas crashed at Toole’s house in Florida, where he met Toole’s mentally disabled ten-year-old niece, Frieda “Becky” Powell. Lucas was immediately attracted to her and began grooming her to be his lover.

Lucas and Toole began to work for a roofing company. Lucas claimed he and Toole began killing women together, as many as one hundred and eight in the two years they worked for the company. Sometimes, he said, they killed on the orders of a satanic, cannibalistic cult called, “The Hands of Death.”

Lucas claimed Toole liked to crucify his victims and, once they were dead, barbeque and eat them. Lucas stated he never took part in the cannibalism since he didn’t like barbeque sauce.

In 1981, Lucas, Toole, and Becky moved to Stoneburg, Texas. Becky, now fifteen, had begun both a romantic and sexual relationship with Lucas. She was in love with him, but she was desperately homesick. She begged him to take her back to Florida. So, the two stole away in the night. Toole later claimed he was so enraged by this that he went on a killing spree for the next year, killing nine people.

henry lee lucas crime_2

Photo Credit: Lost Laurel

Lucas found a job working for an elderly woman named Kate Rich in Texas. He and Becky moved in with her but were kicked out by her neighbors when they discovered Lucas had been writing checks in Kate’s name.

Becky and Lucas found shelter in a Pentecostal commune called the House of Prayer. The two claimed to be a married couple, and the commune gave them a shack to live in and gave Lucas work as a roofer.

The relationship between Becky and Lucas grew rocky. On August 24, 1982, after a heated argument, Lucas lured Becky out to a secluded field and murdered her. After dismembering her body, Lucas scattered the pieces around the field.

Shortly after, on September 16, he convinced Kate Rich to help him search for Becky. He claimed Becky had run off with a trucker following an argument they’d had at a truck stop. During the “search,” Lucas lured Kate to the same field where he had murdered Becky. He killed Kate then stuffed her body in a drainage pipe.

Lucas returned to drifting for a month before finally returning to the House of Prayer. By now, he was a suspect in the disappearance of Kate Rich. Upon learning this, he retrieved Kate’s remains from the drainage pipe and incinerated them in a stove.

On June 11, 1983, Lucas was arrested for illegal firearm possession. Shortly after his arrest, he confessed to both murders, though he claimed it was to escape the harsh treatment of the Texas Rangers. At his arraignment, he asked the judge, “What are we going to do about the other hundred women I killed?”

This question began Lucas’s long-lasting farce. Lucas began to confess to other crimes, and once the confessions started, they just kept coming.

With each confession, Lucas would be given various privileges such as fast food and having his handcuffs removed. He was quickly making national headlines. So were the officers who were interviewing him.

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Detectives from across the country flocked to Lucas in hopes of solving fruitless cold cases that had bugged them for years. In total, detectives attempted to pin three thousand homicides from forty different states on Lucas. And Lucas went along with it, giving confessions with sometimes vague, general details.

He later admitted he had lied to detectives, stringing them along and toying with them in an attempt to make them look stupid. “I was out to wreck Texas law enforcement,” he told The Houston Chronicle.

Though authorities seemed to believe every word of his, two reporters from The Dallas Times-Herald, Hugh Aynesworth, and Jim Henderson, did not. After conducting a fifteen-month investigation of their own, they determined there was no way Lucas was responsible for all three thousand murders.

The proof to back their conclusion was traffic tickets, signed checks, work records, insurance forms, and interviews with Lucas’s landlords. All sources proved he was not in the right places at the time in which the murders occurred. In fact, they could not link Lucas to more than three murders: his mother, Becky Powell, and Kate Rich.

Despite the glaring lies, authorities closed many cold cases after Lucas confessed to them and never reopened them even after he recanted the confessions.

Toole backed up Lucas’s claims about the murders they had committed together. He, too, was beginning to confess to various murders. He first confessed to the abduction of six-year-old Adam Walsh, whose case will be reviewed in an upcoming article. He had initially been arrested on arson charges but was now a suspect in countless murders.

“We picked up lots of hitchhikers, you know,” Toole said to Florida investigators. “And Lucas killed most of the women hisself [sic].” Toole said that, when he dressed up as a woman, he could get plenty of hitchhikers to ride with him and Lucas.

Investigators found it hard to believe that the six-foot, snaggle-toothed man made that beautiful a woman.

It was around this time that Toole and Lucas took part in interviews in which they explained that a satanic cult often ordered them to kill. Lucas explained how the cult promoted cannibalism. Toole backed up these claims.

“And you know,” Toole said. “One time, you filleted some of them bodies and I did too… tastes like real meat when you’ve got barbeque sauce on it, don’t it?”

Lucas’s claims began to grow more and more absurd. At one point, he claimed to be the supplier for the cyanide used in the mass-suicide at Jonestown. He took credit for murders in Japan and Spain, despite never having left the United States. He even claimed to murder a Virginia schoolteacher who was still alive.

Eventually, the media grew fed up and refused to give him the attention he so enjoyed. Newspapers accused the Texas authorities of having Lucas make these confessions to brush unsolved murders under the rug.

On April 2, 1984, Lucas’s trial for a fourth murder, that of a Jane Doe referred to by police as “Orange Socks,” began. She had been found mostly nude on Halloween night 1979, save for the orange socks she wore. He had confessed to her murder but recanted it. However, he was convicted and sentenced to death. Only after the fact would it be noted that, according to work records, Lucas was in Florida at the time of the murder.

In 2019, “Orange Socks” was identified as Debra Jackson.

Lucas was convicted of nine murders in total. Despite having recanted his confession to the murder of Debra Jackson, the confessions kept coming. Lucas’s actions were in his favor; instead of being sent to death row, he was housed comfortably in a cell at task force headquarters.

By April 1985, the Attorney General grew doubtful of Lucas’s confessions. Before long, authorities sent Lucas to death row.

henry lee lucas crime

Photo Credit: Murderpedia

He later recanted his three thousand murder confessions. Journalists asked Lucas how he had confessed details that, as the police put it at the time, “only the killer would know.”

He explained that he would sift through files and crime scene photos and give investigators “bits and pieces.” Then they would take him out to “locate” the scene of the crime, which, inevitably, he would.

“[I wish] I had kept my mouth shut,” he later said. “I do regret speaking up […] I wanted to open people’s eyes to what was going on in law enforcement, how they didn’t care if they got the right person or not.”

Then-governor George Bush commuted Lucas’s death sentence to life imprisonment on June 26, 1998. Reportedly, Lucas became a born-again Christian before dying of natural causes on March 13, 2001, aged 64.

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