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Henry Lee Lucas

From Wikipedia and other sources

Henry Lee Lucas (August 23, 1936 – March 12, 2001) was an American convicted murderer. Lucas was convicted of murdering his mother in 1960 and the murder of two others in 1983. He rose to infamy as a serial killer after he confessed to around 600 other murders after his conviction while in prison to the Texas Rangers and other law enforcement officials. Many unsolved cases were closed based on the confessions and officially attributed the murders to Lucas; he was considered the most prolific serial killer in history. Lucas was convicted of murdering 11 people and condemned to death for a single case with an unidentified victim known as "Orange Socks". An investigation by the Dallas Times-Herald newspaper reporter Hugh Aynesworth showed that many of the murders Lucas confessed to were flatly impossible for him to have committed; while the Rangers defended their work, a follow-up investigation by McLennan County District Attorney Vic Feazell and Attorney General of Texas Jim Mattox concluded Lucas was a fabulist who had falsely confessed. Lucas's death sentence was commuted to life in prison in 1998. Lucas himself recanted the confessions as a hoax.

Lucas's case caused a re-evaluation in police techniques and greater awareness of the possibility of false confessions. Investigators did not consider that the petty privileges granted by the "confession" interviews themselves would be a motive to continue confessing - fancy steak dinners, milkshakes, TV privileges, and so on. Investigators also let Lucas see the case files so he could "refresh his memory", making it easy to seemingly demonstrate knowledge of facts that only the perpetrator should know. The police also did not record their interviews, making it impossible to know for sure how much information interviewers accidentally gave Lucas unprompted.

Early life

Lucas was born on August 23, 1936, in Blacksburg, Virginia. Lucas lost an eye at age 10 after it became infected due to a fight. A friend later described him as a child who would often get attention by frighteningly strange behavior.  Aside from this, Lucas' mother was a prostitute who would force him to watch her have sex with clients and cross dress in public.

In December 1949, Lucas' father, Anderson, whose legs had been severed in a railroad accident, died of hypothermia after going home drunk and collapsing outside during a blizzard. Shortly thereafter, while in the sixth grade, Lucas dropped out of school and ran away from home, drifting around Virginia. Lucas claimed to have committed his first murder in 1951, when he strangled 17-year-old Laura Burnsley, who had refused his sexual advances. As with most of his confessions, he later retracted this claim. On June 10, 1954, Lucas was convicted on over a dozen counts of burglary in and around Richmond, Virginia, and was sentenced to four years in prison. He escaped in 1957, was recaptured three days later, and was subsequently released on September 2, 1959.

In late 1959, Lucas traveled to Tecumseh, Michigan to live with his half-sister, Opal. Around that time, Lucas was engaged to marry a pen pal with whom he had corresponded while incarcerated. When his mother visited him for Christmas, she disapproved of her son's fiancée and insisted he move back to Blacksburg. He refused, after which they argued repeatedly during the visit about his upcoming nuptials.

On January 11, 1960, in Tecumseh, Michigan, Lucas killed his mother during an argument regarding whether or not he should return home to her house to care of her as she grew older. He claimed she struck him over the head with a broom, at which point he stabbed her in the neck. Lucas then fled the scene. He subsequently said, All I remember was slapping her alongside the neck, but after I did that I saw her fall and decided to grab her. But she fell to the floor and when I went back to pick her up, I realized she was dead. Then I noticed that I had my knife in my hand and she had been cut. 

She was not in fact dead, and when Lucas's half-sister Opal (with whom he was staying) returned later, she discovered their mother alive in a pool of blood. She called an ambulance, but it turned out to be too late to save Viola Lucas' life. The official police report stated she died of a heart attack precipitated by the assault. Lucas returned to Virginia, then says he decided to drive back to Michigan, but was arrested in Ohio on the outstanding Michigan warrant.  Lucas claimed to have killed his mother in self-defense, but his claim was rejected, and he was sentenced to between 20 and 40 years' imprisonment in Michigan for second-degree murder. After serving 10 years in prison, he was released in June 1970 due to prison overcrowding.


In 1971, Lucas was convicted of attempting to kidnap three schoolgirls. While serving a five-year sentence, he established a relationship with a family friend and single mother who had written to him. They married on his release in 1975, but he left two years later after his stepdaughter accused him of sexually abusing her. Lucas began moving between various relatives and one got him a job in West Virginia, where he established a relationship that ended when his girlfriend's family confronted him about abuse.

Lucas befriended Ottis Toole, and settled in Jacksonville, Florida, where he lived with Toole's parents and became close to his adolescent niece Frieda 'Becky' Powell, who had a mild intellectual impairment. A period of stability followed, with Lucas working as a roofer, fixing neighbors' cars and scavenging scrap.


Powell was put in a state shelter by the authorities after her mother and grandmother died in 1982. Lucas convinced her to abscond and they lived on the road, eventually traveling to California, where an employer's wife asked them to work for her infirm mother, 82-year-old Kate Rich, of Ringold, Texas. Rich's family turned Lucas and Powell out a few days after their arrival accusing them of failing to do their jobs and writing checks on her account. While hitchhiking they were picked up by the minister of a Stoneburg, Texas religious commune called "The House of Prayer". Believing Lucas and the 15-year-old Powell were a married couple, he found Lucas a job as a roofer while allowing the couple to stay in a small apartment on the commune. Powell had become argumentative and homesick for Florida, and Lucas said she left at a truck stop in Bowie, Texas and has never been seen since. According to some of his later accounts Lucas murdered Powell and then Rich.  In addition to confessing, Lucas led the police to remains said to be Powell and Rich, although forensic evidence alone was inconclusive and the coroner stopped short of positively identifying either set of remains. As with most of his alleged crimes, Lucas later denied involvement, but the consensus is he did murder Powell and Rich.

Arrest, confession to murders of Powell and Rich

Lucas was a prime suspect in the killing of Rich. A few months later, in June 1983, he was arrested on charges of unlawful possession of a firearm by Texas Ranger Phil Ryan. Lucas reported that he was roughly treated by bullying inmates in prison and attempted suicide. Lucas claimed that police stripped him naked, denied him cigarettes and bedding, held him in a cold cell, tortured his genitalia, and did not allow him to contact an attorney. After four days, Lucas confessed to the murder of Rich, which confession investigators had good reason to believe was genuine; in addition, he confessed to killing Powell. Lucas then handwrote confessions to 60 additional unsolved murder cases, he was initially credible; police knew that he had truthfully admitted committing two killings. Some investigators, including Ryan, thought many of Lucas's confessions were made up to get out of his cell and improve his living conditions.  They did, however, treat dozens as potentially genuine.

False confession spree

In November 1983, Lucas was transferred to a jail in Williamson County, Texas. A Texas Ranger Task Force was established to handle Lucas and assist in additional law enforcement inquiries from other jurisdictions. In interviews with Texas Rangers and other law enforcement personnel, Lucas continued to confess to numerous additional unsolved killings. It was thought that there was positive corroboration with Lucas's confessions in 28 unsolved murders, and so the Lucas Task Force was established. Eventually, because of Lucas's confessions, the task force officially "cleared" 213 previously unsolved murders. Lucas reportedly received preferential treatment rarely offered to convicts, being frequently taken to restaurants and cafés. Some of his alleged treatment was odd for someone whom the police supposedly believed to be a cunning mass murderer: he was rarely handcuffed, often allowed to wander police stations and jails at will, and even knew codes for security doors.

Later attempts at discovering whether Lucas had actually killed anyone apart from Powell and Rich were complicated by Lucas's ability to make an accurate deduction that seemed to substantiate a confession. In one instance, he explained how he had correctly identified a victim in a group photograph through her wearing spectacles; a pair of glasses were on a table in a crime scene photo shown to him earlier. There were also suggestions that the interview tapes showed that, despite Lucas' supposedly low IQ, he had adroitly read the reactions of those interviewing him and altered what he was saying, thereby making his confessions more consistent with facts known to law enforcement. The most serious allegation against investigators, that they had let Lucas read case files on unsolved crimes and thus enabled him to come up with convincingly detailed confessions, made it virtually impossible to determine if, as some continue to suspect, he had been telling the truth to the Lucas Task Force about a relatively large number of the murders.

In 1983, Lucas claimed to have killed an unidentified young woman, later identified as Michelle Busha, along Interstate 90 in Minnesota. When questioned by police, he gave inconsistent details on the way he murdered the victim and was eliminated as a suspect.

In 1984, Lucas confessed to the murder of an unidentified girl who was discovered shot to death in a field at Caledonia, New York on November 10, 1979. The unidentified girl was referred to at the time as "Caledonia Jane Doe". Investigators, however, found insufficient evidence to support the confession. In early 2015, over 35 years later, "Caledonia Jane Doe" was identified through a DNA match as Tammy Alexander.

Lucas also is believed to have falsely confessed to the 1980 slaying of Carol Cole in Louisiana. Cole was unidentified until 2015.


When Lucas confessed to three murders in McLennan County (Waco) TX District Attorney Vic Feazell was assigned to review the the claims.  Already having potential suspects on the murders before Lucas's confessions, Feazell and his office began investigating the validity of Lucas's claims.  Feazell was introduced to Journalist Hugh Aynesworth thru mutual friend and author Carlton Stowers.  The two compared their notes and research on Lucas and concluded they had stumbled upon a law enforcement hoax orchestrated by the Texas Rangers. Feazell called a Grand Jury to investigate Lucas and his claims while Aynesworth wrote a front page piece for The Dallas Times Herald. Aynesworth and investigators calculated that Lucas would have had to use his 13-year-old Ford station wagon to cover 11,000 miles (17,700 kilometres) in one month to have committed the crimes police attributed to him. After the story appeared in April 1985 and revealed the flawed methods of the Lucas Task Force, law enforcement opinion began to turn against the claims that crimes had been solved.  Vic Feazell prior to his Grand Jury investigation contacted Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox for assistance in investigating Lucas. Together they pieced together what was know as the "Lucas Report". The bulk of the Lucas Report was devoted to a detailed timeline of Lucas's claimed murders. The report compared Lucas's confessions to reliable, verifiable sources for his whereabouts; the results often contradicted his confessions, and thus cast doubt on most of the crimes in which he was implicated. Attorney General Jim Mattox wrote that "when Lucas was confessing to hundreds of murders, those with custody of Lucas did nothing to bring an end to this hoax" and "We have found information that would lead us to believe that some officials 'cleared cases' just to get them off the books". The exposure of the Lucas hoax then backlashed against Feazell who was public about law enforcements mishandling of cases.  DPS head Jim Adams and other law enforcement agencies started investigating Feazell and his office.  After months of inquiry Feazell was arrested on multiple charges by the FBI.  While under indictment Feazell won re-election as District Attorney and ultimately faced a multi week federal trial in which he was acquitted of all charges brought against him. Attorney General Jim Mattox defended Feazell in saying the investigation into Feazell was retaliatory for exposing the Henry Lee Lucas hoax. With Lucas's hundreds of confessions under fire Lucas was taken by Texas Rangers to the Texas Department of Corrections and left on death row.

Commutation of death sentence

Reconstruction of "Orange Socks", which estimates how she may have looked when she was alive.

Lucas remained convicted of 11 homicides. He had been sentenced to death for one, a then-unidentified woman dubbed as "Orange Socks," whose body was found in Williamson County, Texas, on Halloween 1979, even though the court heard that on that date a timesheet had recorded his presence at work in Jacksonville, Florida. Lucas was granted a stay on his death sentence after telling a hearing that the details in his confession came from the case file, which he had been given to read. The sentence was commuted to life in prison in 1998 by Governor George W. Bush. In 2019 "Orange Socks" was officially identified as Debra Jackson.


On March 12, 2001, at 11:00 pm, Lucas was found dead in prison from heart failure at age 64. He is buried at Captain Joe Byrd Cemetery in Huntsville, Texas. As of 2012, Lucas' grave is unmarked due to vandalism and theft.

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