Henry Lee Lucas: Serial Killer, Cannibal & Satanist Who Claimed Responsibility For Over 500 Murders

Henry Lee Lucas was a sadistic serial killer, he was convicted of 11 murders but confessed to over 500, the question of how many people this deranged psychopath actually killed remains unanswered.

Henry Lee Lucas (left) and Ottis Toole
Henry Lee Lucas (left) and Ottis Toole

Was Henry Lee Lucas the worst serial killer in American history? Given the glaring inconsistencies in his various confessions, it is impossible to know. He admitted to being, among other things, a cannibal, Satanist, contract killer, and born-again Christian. He claimed more than 500 murders. He might be responsible for over 100. He was convicted of just 11. Perhaps not even Lucas himself could filter fact from fiction in his warped and addled brain.

America's Worst Serial Killer?

Lucas was born in 1936, the youngest of nine children whose home was a one-room log cabin in Blacksburg, Virginia, where his alcoholic father ran an illegal whiskey still. Lucas Sr., who had lost both legs when a freight train ran over his drunken body, was later frozen to death when his wife locked him out of the cabin in mid-winter. She also starved, abused, and brutally beat her youngest son, probably causing him brain damage. He was once in a coma for three days after she hit him with a plank. She earned her living as a prostitute and allowed young Henry to watch her satisfy her clients.

Henry Lee Lucas pictured next to Ottis Toole
Henry Lee Lucas pictured next to Ottis Toole

Henry later said of his mother: "I was brought up like a dog. No human being should have been put through what I was." In 1960, at the age of 23, he took revenge on her by stabbing her to death. It was also suggested that he may have raped her.

Lucas was committed to a mental institution but, against his own better judgment, was chosen for release on parole in 1970. "I told them not to let me loose", he said. "I told them I would do it again. They wouldn't listen." He was soon back inside with a four-year sentence for kidnapping and attempted rape, his victim being a woman who had rejected his advances.

Released again in 1975, by which time he was aged 39, Lucas became a drifter, roaming the American South and taking short-term jobs. In Florida in 1976, he teamed up with Ottis Toole, a transvestite. They became friends and, according to Toole, lovers. The pair continued on the road together taking with them Toole's 12-year-old niece, Becky Powell, who was on the run from a juvenile detention centre.

The unprepossessing Lucas - tattily dressed, unshaven, with straggly hair, and a glass eye - and Becky, who was mentally challenged, seemed to have had a genuinely deep affection for each other. It was possibly the only such relationship he had ever enjoyed, and it ended in 1982 when Becky disappeared while the couple were drifting through Texas. By then, Toole and Lucas had split up, the former returning home to Florida and later being jailed for arson.

In October 1982, Texas Rangers were investigating the disappearance of an 80-year-old widow at Stoneburg when inquiries led to a squalid hut, dubbed by locals "the chicken shack". There, they found the dagger that killed the old lady.

Under interrogation, Lucas confessed not only to her murder and posthumous rape but to a catalog of sex murders across the Deep South and Southwest states. He told of rapes and torture, kidnapping and mutilation, death by gunshot, knife, rope, and even crucifixion. Some were carried out by him alone, some with Ottis Toole. Among his solo victims, he said was the feeble-minded Becky.

Detectives at first believed the confessions were a fantasy, possibly dreamed up to justify a plea of insanity. But Lucas was often able to produce irrefutable evidence. He recalled how he had scattered pillow feathers over the body of a 76-year-old lady he had bludgeoned to death - information that had never been released to the media. Police also obtained verification of many of the crimes from Toole, who consequently had a death sentence added to the 20 years he was serving for arson.

Toole, who died in prison of cirrhosis of the liver in 1996, told Florida investigators: "We picked up lots of hitch-hikers. Lucas killed most of the women himself. Some of them would be shot in the head and chest, and some of them would be choked to death, and some of them would be beaten in the head."

Meanwhile, in Texas, Lucas's official murder confessions rose to 360, although he hinted that he had committed 500 or more - which would have made him the worst serial killer in American history. Some of these confessions he later retracted. But in many cases, his claims enabled the bodies of missing persons to be recovered, most having been raped, sometimes after death.

Lucas needed to be locked up for life. His 1983 trial for the murder of the Texas widow - during which he shocked the jury by telling them he should take into account "another 100" murders - resulted in a 75-year sentence. Then came his trial for murdering Becky, during which he sobbed in court and told the jury that he loved her and didn't want her dead.

His case wasn't helped by a videotaped confession in which he said: "I had sex with her. It's one of those things that I guess got to be a part of my life, having sexual intercourse with the dead." A sentence of life imprisonment resulted, after which a smiling Lucas shook hands with the prosecutor and said: "You did a good job."

Henry Lee Lucas being escorted to trial by the police
Henry Lee Lucas being escorted to trial by the police

In prison, Lucas continued recalling murders he had supposedly committed all over the country. A list of female victims from 19 different states produced a spate of requests from other forces for samples of hair and saliva. But over the months, the information he gave became increasingly bizarre. Lucas's own estimate of his victims grew to about 600. In 1983, frustrated representatives of law enforcement agencies from 19 states gathered in Louisiana to exchange information on Lucas and Toole. They concluded that there were links between the pair and 81 murders, and many of those cases were thereby closed.

Convicted of only 11 of his indeterminate number of murders, with a further 20 murder charges pending, Lucas languished on Death Row in Texas. In June 1999, as a fresh execution date neared, doubts arose about his guilt in the case of one of his unidentified victims, and Texas governor George Bush Jr. stepped in to commute his death sentence to one of life imprisonment.

Lucas died of natural causes in March 2001. Joe Michael Ervin: The Serial Killer Who's Crimes Didn't Surface Until 40 Years After His Death


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