"Killing someone is just like walking outdoors. If I wanted a victim, I'd go and get one."
Henry Lee Lucas, a.k.a. "The Confession Killer", was a serial killer who claimed responsibility for over 600 murders.
"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 two or three 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."
Lucas was born in Blacksburg, Virginia in 1936. His father, Anderson "No Legs" Lucas, had lost his legs in a workplace accident by a railroad, forcing him to make a living by manufacturing alcohol illegally, and was an alcoholic. He also introduced Henry to alcohol at a young age. Henry's mother, Viola Dixon Lucas (née Waugh) was a prostitute as well as an alcoholic and ruled the household, a one-room log cabin. Henry was the youngest of their nine children and often suffered Viola's rage, as would his father and brother. When Henry was eight years old, he was beaten by her on the head with a wooden plank so hard that he spent three days in a coma. She would also make him watch her have sex with her lover "Uncle Bernie", along with a number of other strange men, and dress him up in girls' clothing. She also shot and killed a mule Henry was given by an uncle and abused him for accepting a teddy bear at school. When Lucas was ten years old, he suffered an accidental injury to his left eye during a fight with his brother. The injury was ignored by Viola for days until it was infected so badly that the eye had to be removed and replaced with a glass eye. By that age, Henry was already almost an alcoholic. His older half-brother and Uncle Bernie had also introduced him to bestiality (sex with animals) and animal torture.
In 1949, Anderson Lucas passed away from hypothermia after passing out drunk in a blizzard. Aged 14 or 15, by his own less-than-reliable account, Henry had his first human sexual experience, abducting an unknown teenage girl from a bus stop, beating her unconscious and then raping her and strangling her to death; some sources name this victim as 17-year-old Laura Burnley, who disappeared in March of 1951. The next year, Lucas received his first prison sentence when he and two of his half-brothers were arrested for burglary. He spent a year at a school for juvenile delinquents in Beaumont, which with its electricity and running water was luxurious compared to the cabin he lived in. In June 1954, he was sentenced to six years' incarceration for a dozen counts of burglary and was released on September 2, 1959, after two failed escape attempts. He moved to his sister's place in Tecumseh, Michigan, but Viola soon caught up with him. When she wanted him to come back to take care of her, they got into an argument that resulted in her death when he stabbed her in the neck, causing her to have a fatal heart attack. Though he claimed self-defense, he was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to 20-40 years in prison.
Killings, Confessions and IncarcerationAfter being released due to prison overcrowding in June 1970 after serving only ten years of his sentence, Lucas was sentenced to another three and a half years in prison for trying to kidnap two young girls. After being released, he went to Pennsylvania, where he worked at a mushroom farm, and got married to Betty Crawford, the widow of a cousin, in 1975, but left her when she accused him of molesting her two daughters. At this point, he started drifting around the American South, supporting himself through various odd jobs and, by his own account, began what became a long series of murders, traveling along highways and raping and murdering women. In 1976, he met Ottis Toole (see the below section), a fellow sexual deviant from Jacksonville, Florida, at a soup kitchen in Florida and the two struck up a friendship. Lucas moved into Toole's home in Jacksonville, where he fell in love with his 10-year-old niece, Frieda "Becky" Powell.
From 1979 to 1981, Lucas and Toole worked together at a roofing company (some sources claim they were in a homosexual relationship). Lucas later claimed to have committed hundreds of murders during that time, 108 of which were committed together with Toole, sometimes on the orders of a satanic, cannibalistic cult called "The Hands of Death". He also claimed that Toole's preferred M.O. in these killings was to crucify his victims, then barbecue and eat them (though none of the known murders he confessed to were committed that way). Lucas claimed that he never took part in those acts himself because he didn't like barbecue sauce. Shortly after they and Becky moved to Stoneburg, Texas, Becky, who had become smitten and sexually active with Lucas, had begun feeling homesick. He agreed to move to Florida with her and they ran away together. Toole was left behind and, he later claimed, became so enraged that he spent a little over a year killing a total of nine people in six different states.
Lucas got a job working for the elderly Kate Rich in Texas, living together with Becky. The two were later kicked out by her neighbors when it was found that he had been cashing checks written in her name. They found a brief home at the House of Prayer, a Pentecostal commune in the area. The head of the group, Ruben Moore, gave Lucas and Becky, who claimed to be a married couple, a shack to live in and hired Lucas as a roofer. On August 24, 1982, he drove with her to a field in Denton, Texas and killed her, dismembered her body and scattered the pieces in a nearby field. Three weeks later, on September 16, he convinced Kate Rich to join him in a search for Becky, killing her in Ringgold, Texas, on a camping ground and stuffing the body into a drainage pipe.
After drifting for a month, he returned to the House of Prayer, where he spent his last days as a free man. Upon learning that he was a suspect in Rich's disappearance, he returned to the body, took it to the House of Prayer and incinerated it in a stove. He took a polygraph test and passed it. On June 11 the following year, Lucas was arrested for illegal firearm possession. He was eventually charged with Rich's and Becky's murders, but later claimed he had confessed to them in order to escape the harsh treatment he endured from the Texas Rangers. Bone fragments presumed to be Rich's were found in a stove at the House of Prayer and skeletal remains of the same sex and approximate age as Becky were found in the field where Lucas claimed to have killed her, though the coroner wouldn't positively identify them as who they were claimed to be.
After four days in jail, Lucas pleaded guilty to the two murders in court and shocked everyone by claiming to have committed over a hundred additional murders. Over the following year and a half, he kept pouring out confessions to hundreds of murders. A "Lucas Task Force", led by the Texas Rangers, was formed to examine the validity of his claims. In November, he was transferred to Williamson County, Texas, where he confessed to 213 unsolved murders. Over time, Lucas' confessions just kept on coming. Authorities flew him across states, where he was allowed stays in motels and served steaks and milkshakes. Among the murders he confessed to was the death of Patrolman Clemmie Curtis in West Virginia, which had previously been deemed a suicide. Eventually, a detective from Dallas, Texas, who felt uncertain as to whether Lucas' claims were true, made up some crimes to see if Lucas would confess to them as well, which he did. Another detective, Linda Erwin from Dallas, did the same thing with the same results.
Lucas' claims soon became increasingly outlandish; he told the authorities about "The Hands of Death", he claimed to have supplied the poison used in the mass suicide of the Peoples Temple in Jonestown, and he claimed to have committed additional murders in Japan and Spain even though he had never left the country and also to have killed Jimmy Hoffa. The media soon claimed that the whole Lucas affair was a hoax by law enforcement to clear up some unsolved crimes. The Texas Attorney General's office ordered a study comparing a reliable timeline of Lucas' whereabouts to the murders he confessed to based on work records, prison records, etc. In most cases, his claims were found to have been contradictory; among the murders he had confessed to was that of a Virginia schoolteacher who turned out to be alive. At one point, an article in The Dallas Times Herald pointed out that, in order for the timeline of his alleged crimes to work, Lucas would have had to travel 11,000 miles (more than four times the width of the continental U.S.) in his 13-year-old station wagon in just a month.
In the end, Lucas was found guilty of nine murders in Texas, including those of Becky Powell and Kate Rich, and the killing of Officer Curtis in West Virginia. He received a death sentence for the 1979 murder of an unidentified woman in Texas known only as "Orange Socks", after the only piece of clothing the body wore when it was found. This, however, was one murder he couldn't have committed, as work records show that he was working as a roofer in Florida at the time. He soon began recanting his many confessions, admitting only to having killed his mother, Becky Powell and Kate Rich, though he once flatly stated that he "[was] not a serial killer". In 1998, six days before his execution, his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by the then-Governor of Texas, George W. Bush. On March 13, 2001, Lucas died in prison from a heart attack. He was buried in at the Captain Joe Byrd Cemetery in Huntsville, Texas.
Ottis Elwood Toole was born in Jacksonville, Florida in 1947 and came from a background similar to that of Lucas. His mother was an abusive religious fanatic. He claimed that he had been sexually abused by his own family after coming out as gay at a young age. He also claimed that his grandmother had been a Satanist who had taught him self-mutilation and grave-robbing. He had an estimated IQ of only 75 and was also diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD. He frequently ran away and was a serial arsonist at a young age, being a pyromaniac. It is uncertain how he got around between 1966 and 1973, but it's believed he made a living through panhandling and prostitution. As he hitchhiked around the American South, he was a prime murder suspect on different occasions, but was never arrested. After Lucas left with Becky Powell, Toole allegedly began his career as a serial killer.
On January 12, 1982, he locked in a man named George Sonnenberg in his house and set the building on fire, killing him. After being arrested on April 1984, he confessed to more murders and was convicted of six or three (sources vary on how many actual convictions he had), including the death of Sonnenberg. Another murder for which he was convicted was the shooting of Ada Johnson, 19, in Florida. One murder he claimed responsibility for was an attack on a massage parlor during which two women, one of whom died, were stabbed and set on fire. Because another man had been convicted of the murder, the prosecutors didn't accept his claim and Toole withdrew his confession: "Okay, if you say I didn't kill her, maybe I didn't." Among his alleged victims was six-year-old Adam Walsh, who was asphyxiated to death in Hollywood, Florida in 1981 after disappearing from a mall. Only the head of the body was recovered. Though Toole, according to his niece, claimed responsibility for the murder on his deathbed in 1996, he was never tried for it. Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, who was living in Miami Beach at the time and later became known for sexual crimes against children and for decapitating his victims, also became a suspect. In 2008, Toole was officially named the killer by Florida police, though his confession has been met with some skepticism since Toole and Lucas claimed responsibility for so many other murders tha weren't linked to them.
Murders for which Toole claimed responsibility, though he was cleared of or never convicted of almost all of them
- c. 1961, unspecified location(s):
- Unnamed travelling salesman (run over with a car)
- Unnamed woman (strangled)
- September 24, 1968, Savannah, Georgia: Unknown woman (strangled and burned)
- April 18, Lincoln, Nebraska: Patricia Webb, 24 (shot)
- September 19, Colorado Springs, Colorado:
- Yun Lee (survived; stabbed, her throat slashed, and set on fire)
- Sun Ok Cousin (raped, shot, stabbed and set on fire)
- October 10, Pueblo County, Colorado: Ellen Holman, 31 (shot three times in the head with a .38)
- July 31, Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Alice Daubon, 70 (robbed, sexually assaulted with a toilet plunger, and strangled with wire)
- August 16, Pueblo, Colorado: Sharon Marie Copp, 35 (sexually assaulted, tortured, and killed by blunt-force trauma; dismembered post-mortem)
- February 12, Houston, Texas: Bernice Price Erdman, 76 (beaten to death with his fists and a frying pan)
- March 1, Waldo, Florida: Julie Cohen (shot)
- November 30, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: Tina Williams, 17 (shot twice in the head with a .38)
- December 19, Houston, Texas: John Carter Swint, 66 (shot in the back of the head with a shotgun)
- January 18, 1979, Houston, Texas: Alfredo Trevizo (stabbed once in the chest, stomach and right thigh)
- February 6, 1980, Pensacola, Florida: David Schallart, 19 (shot five times in the head)
- July 27, 1981, Hollywood, Florida:
- Adam Walsh, 6 (asphyxiated and decapitated post-mortem, allegedly with a machete)
- Joana Holter, 46 (slashed to death, allegedly with the same machete used to decapitate Adam Walsh)
- January 12, 1982, Jacksonville, Florida: George Sonnenberg, 65 (convicted of the murder; trapped in a house that was set on fire)
- February 1983:
- Fort Walton Beach, Florida: Ada Johnson, 19 (convicted of the murder; shot in the head)
- Tallahassee, Florida: Silvia Rogers, 19 (convicted of the murder; strangled)
"I killed 'em every way there is except poison. There's been strangulations, there's been knifings, there's been shootings, there's been hit-and-runs..."
Lucas killed his mother by stabbing her in the neck, which caused her to have a heart attack. Becky Powell and Kate Rich were also killed with a knife, after which Lucas engaged in necrophilia with their corpses and later disposed of them outdoors. Powell was also dismembered and decapitated. Kate Rich, on the other hand, was stuffed into a drainage pipe whole and burnt a month later. Lucas, by his own account, would then return to the body to engage in necrophilia with it while it was in the pipe.
- There is a serial killer named Bobbie Joe Long, a.k.a. The Classified Ad Rapist, who killed at least ten women and raped at least 50 in Florida. He is currently on death row and is, according to TruTV, a distant cousin of Henry Lee Lucas.
- A loose adaptation of Lucas's life with Toole and Powell, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, was made in 1986. It portrays him and Toole as unstable sociopaths who enjoy killing people at random, not unlike the way the two portrayed themselves while they were confessing to murders. A recurrence in the movie is the murder of Lucas' mother, which the movie Lucas sometimes mentions committing, always naming a different cause of death. Lucas was portrayed by Michael Rooker, who later played a sheriff in the Criminal Minds episode House on Fire.
- Two murders for which Lucas was convicted, those of Laura Marie Purchase and Laura Jean Donez, are suspected of being part of a pattern of killings near major roadways in Montgomery County, Texas between 1980 and 1983. Purchase and Donez had both been beaten on the head, raped, strangled and then set on fire, as was another victim in these killings, Barbara Gale Whitten. Because Donez was set on fire with a road flare, along with the fact that some victims were last seen at truck stops and were found near major roadways, some suspect that the killer was a truck driver.
- Lucas's case bears some similarity to a Swedish man named Sture Bergwall, a.k.a. Thomas Quick, who confessed to over 30 murders he hadn't committed and was convicted of eight in Sweden and Norway even though there was no forensic evidence linking him to any of them and his testimonies and reconstructions were largely inconsistent with the facts, even after he had done research on the crimes in libraries while on leave. Among the crimes he confessed to was the alleged murders and cannibalizations of two Somalian boys who disappeared from a Norweigan refugee facility but were found to be alive in Sweden and Canada while the police were conducting a search for their bodies. He also claimed to have had a number of accomplices in some of his crimes; all of the people he named categorically denied any involvement and none was ever found guilty or tried for the crimes. Recently, he recanted all of his confessions, claiming not to have killed anyone. Over the years, more and more of his convictions were overturned. As of March 19, 2014, he has been released from psychiatric care and is a free man. The deaths for which he was convicted were:
- November 13, 1976 (date of disappearance): Charles Zelmanovits, 15 (found dead in 1993; suspected to have died of exposure or by accident)
- November 7, 1980: Johan Asplund, 11 (disappeared; was never found)
- August 21, 1981: Trine Jensen, 17 (bludgeoned)
- July 13, 1984: Marinus and Janni Stegehuis (both stabbed to death)
- June 25, 1985: Gry Storvik, 23
- June 11, 1988: Yenon Levi, 24 (was beaten to death)
- July 3, 1988 (date of disappearance): Therese Johannesen, 9 (disappeared; was never found; possibly alive)
On Criminal Minds
Lucas has to date only been mentioned once on Criminal Minds, in the pilot episode Extreme Aggressor. In the end of the episode, Hotch is discussing names for his then-unborn son with Gideon and is troubled by the fact that he knows of a killer with the same first name. When Hotch mentions "Henry", Gideon completes it "Lee Lucas". Also, he seems to have inspired some of the background of serial killer Adam Jackson, whose abusive father also made him wear girls' clothing. Coincidentally, two of Lucas's alleged victims, Estella Montoya and Katherin L. Robinson, were killed in Corpus Christi, Texas, the town Adam was from.
In Season Seven, Lucas was the direct inspiration for the Thomas Yates case discussed in the episode Profiling 101. This is a correct revelation, as both killers were physically and psychologically abused by their mother figures (Lucas by his own mother, Yates his maternal grandmother), in which one of the punishments inflicted upon them was forced dressing into girls' clothing. Both also continuously gave confessions to hundreds of unsolved murders, though Yates was sincere and truthful while Lucas, for whatever reason, lied; some say it was a hoax to clear up unsolved murders. Also, like Yates, Lucas killed his confirmed victims by stabbing them.
In Season Eight, Lucas seems to have also been the inspiration for John Myers, a.k.a. "The Silencer". Both were abused by their mothers (who were their first victims), were similar in appearance (especially with their left eyes), and killed three women (Myers killed three women prior to his arrest and incarceration, while all three of Lucas's confirmed victims were women). In addition, Myers killed his victims in Texas (the same state where Lucas committed most of his murders, both confirmed and alleged).
Lucas having a mother who was prostitute, being forced to watch her have sex with men, and then later killing her as his first victim is similar to prolific serial killers Billy Flynn and Frank Breitkopf (although in Frank's case, this was only implied). Like Lucas, Flynn was also arrested and incarcerated for killing his mother.
- Evil Beyond Belief (2009)
- The Killer Book of Serial Killers (2009)
- TruTV Crime Library articles about Lucas
- Radford University's summary of Lucas
- Murderpedia's article on Lucas
- Crimezzz articles:
- VicFeazell.com document with list of Lucas' and Toole's confessions and a timeline of Lucas' life
- The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers on Google Books
- Lucas' IMDb biography
- Carpenoctem's article about Ottis Toole
- Houston Chronicle articles:
- Pittsburgh Press article about alleged victim Linda Phillips
- KCBD article about alleged victim Dianna Lynn Bryant
- murderdatabase.co.uk list of Lucas' convictions
- SondraLondon.com article about the crimes of Lucas and Toole
- Newspaper clippings about Lucas' convictions
- Houston Press blog about some of Lucas' alleged victims
- Discovery clip about Lucas' confessions
- Biography Channel bio of Lucas
- Sun Sentinel article about Lucas' confessions
- Statesman.com article about Lucas
- Associated Press article about Clemmie Curtis
- Democrat & Chronicle article about Tammy Alexander
- UPI National News Brief's article on Deion Wilkinson
- Lubbock Avalanche-Journal's article on Deborah Williamson
- Google News's article about Lucas's alleged murder of Beverly Luttrell
- The Denver Post's article on Sharon Copp