The Henry Lee Lucas Story: Some Bad Things
In Stoneburg, Texas on July 11, 1983, a drifter named Henry Lee Lucas was arrested for the illegal possession of a firearm. As a convicted felon, he was not allowed to have one. Lucas was 46 at the time, and a suspect in the case of two missing women, but thus far the leads were tenuous. Investigators were relieved to be able to lock him up for even a minor infraction, because they figured that once he was in custody they could get him to talk about the women: he had known Kate Rich, 82; and Becky Powell, just a girl at 15, had been Lucas's companion. Witnesses had seen him with Kate on the day she'd disappeared. The one-eyed drifter just looked like bad news waiting to happen. At the very least, he should be able to tell them why Becky was no longer with him.
Lucas was not happy about being locked up, especially because it kept him from coffee and cigarettes. He said that he'd been on the verge of helping to find Kate, but now they could do without his assistance. He was placed in a small cell in the Montague County jail. Lucas claimed later (probably lying) that the police had treated him badly, stripping him, denying him cigarettes, holding him in a substandard cell, and prohibiting his contact with an attorney. He'd endured it for a period of four days and then decided to get their attention.
While talking with one of the jailers, Joe Don, Lucas admitted that he'd done "some bad things." As if to mitigate it, he said that he'd tried and failed to get help. "I have killed for the past ten years," he confessed, "and no one will believe me." Clearly, he was ready to talk, so investigators were positive that they'd soon have the information they needed to wrap up these two cases. Indeed, they did...and then some.
Lucas's story is told in two full-length books, The Confessions of Henry Lee Lucas, by Mike Cox, and Hands of Death, by Max Call (although Call apparently believed everything that Lucas said, which in light of the details below, makes his book less then credible). Lucas has also been featured on several television documentaries, such as A&E's "Myth of a Serial Killer," and the 1986 movie, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, which was recently released in a twenty-year anniversary edition. The Road, a 1988 play by David Earl Jones, was also based on stories Lucas told.After admitting that he had killed, Lucas was charged with the murders of Kate Rich and Frieda "Becky" Powell. He gave the authorities plenty of evidence, including the decomposed pieces of Becky, and at his June 21 arraignment in the Montague County courtroom, Lucas stated that he'd stabbed Kate Rich to death. But then he went on, waiving his right to an attorney, to say that he'd had sex with the body, cut it into pieces and burned it in a wood stove behind his cabin. "I killed Kate Rich," he told a courtroom full of curious cops and reporters, "and at least a hundred more."
The reaction was a stunned silence. One hundred! Either this guy was an out-and-out liar or he was about to officially become the most proficient serial killer in American history. The judge asked Lucas if he'd ever been diagnosed by a psychiatrist and he said he had not (he was lying, since he'd had several assessments during stints in prison). Yet he added, "I know it ain't normal for a person to go out and kill girls just to have sex with them." In response to the judge's next question, Lucas believed he was competent to stand trial, so he was granted a public defender, Don Maxfield, to represent him. When the judge entered a plea of not guilty for Lucas, the drifter asked, "Will I still be able to go on helping find bodies?" He was urged to discuss it with his attorney.
By June 22, thanks to a front page story, Henry Lee Lucas had become a nationally famous serial killer.
The Texas Department of Public Safety had plenty of unsolved murder cases on the books and it appeared that Lucas was good for some of them. The officers began the process by contacting other jurisdictions around the state to facilitate interviews between Lucas and relevant law enforcement officials. Word spread as well to officers in other states with open murder cases, since Lucas had drifted around the country for several years. His descriptions just might fit their Jane Does, so they were granted interviews. In fact, when an officer mentioned to the prisoner where he was from, Lucas would often say, "Oh, yeah, I got me some there in your area."
Not everyone believed him and those with doubts sought corroborating evidence, but it often seemed that Lucas, with his prodigious memory, offered details about a murder that had not been printed in the press, so his descriptions seemed credible. He also told them that he knew how not to leave evidence, and in many cases his confession was the only thing that tied him to a body. That made the requirement for corroboration difficult. Those officers who coordinated the interviews urged all incoming detectives to follow a careful protocol, but ultimately it was the job of each jurisdiction to decide if they accepted Lucas as the killer they sought.
For the court, three psychiatrists were appointed to examine Lucas, and although a gag order was imposed, reporters flocked to Texas to try to get whatever they could, if only a quote from a grocery clerk who had served the homely outlaw some coffee. His notoriety blossomed, and several television news shows requested tapes of interviews.
Lucas signed statements about specific murders and offered drawings of more than seventy bodies to officers who came or requested information, and he soon had seven cases cleared, including one that would become famously linked to him. He described a woman he had killed in 1979 and dumped several years earlier in a culvert off Interstate 35, north of Georgetown, Texas. When found, she wore only a pair of orange socks, so the officers had dubbed her "Orange Socks." Lucas not only described her and confessed to killing her in several statements but also took officers straight to where he had dumped her.
Over several months, he offered more summaries for murders for which he had not yet been questioned, including a husband and wife in one Texas county who had owned a liquor store. Sometimes he murdered to rob and then eliminate witnesses; other times he just enjoyed the transient feeling of power it gave him. Usually he'd quickly killed the girls or women he'd picked up, because he preferred sexual contact with a corpse (although Steven Egger, who interviewed him, indicates in Serial Murder: An Elusive Phenomenon that he was impotent). "To me," he said in an interview, "a live woman ain't nothin.'" Lucas generally used a knife or strangled them, but he was an advocate of trying different methods so as not to leave a pattern that police might link together.
He appeared to be quite buoyant about his arrest, according to American Justice, and to accept with complacency that he could get the death penalty. It seemed that being in prison suited him just fine, especially because he was treated well and probably had better food and shelter than he was used to. He did all he could to cooperate and the officers generally found him congenial. Nevertheless, he would prove to be a trickster.