"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."
Henry Lee Lucas (August 23, 1936 – March 13, 2001) was an American criminal, convicted of murder in 11 different cases and once listed as America's most prolific serial killer; he later recanted his confessions, and flatly stated "I am not a serial killer" in a letter to researcher Brad Shellady. Lucas confessed to involvement in about 600 murders, but a more widely circulated total of about 350 murders committed by Lucas is based on confessions deemed "believable" by a Texas-based Lucas Task Force, a group which was later criticized by then-Attorney General of Texas, Jim Mattox, and others for sloppy police work and taking part in an extended "hoax."
Beyond his recantation, some of Lucas' confessions have been challenged as inaccurate by a number of critics, including law enforcement and court officials. Lucas claimed to have been initially subjected to poor treatment and coercive interrogation tactics while in police custody, and to have confessed to murders in an effort to improve his living conditions. Amnesty International reported "the belief of two former state Attorneys General that Lucas was in all likelihood innocent of the crime for which he was sentenced to death."
Lucas's sentence was commuted to life in prison in 1998 by then-Governor George W. Bush. It remains the only successful commutation of a death sentence in Texas since the re-institution of the death penalty in Texas in 1982. Lucas died in prison of natural causes. Lucas still maintains a reputation, in the words of author Sarah L. Knox, "as one of the world's worst serial killers—even after the debunking of the majority of his confessions by the Attorney General of Texas."
Lucas was born in a one-room log cabin in Blacksburg, Virginia, the youngest of nine children. His mother, Viola Dixon Waugh, was an alcoholic prostitute. His father, Anderson Lucas, was an alcoholic and former railroad employee who had lost his legs after being hit by a freight train. He would usually come home inebriated, and would suffer from Viola's wrath as often as his sons.
Lucas claimed that he and his brother were regularly beaten by Viola, often for no reason. He once spent three days in a coma after his mother struck him with a wooden plank, and on many occasions he was forced by his mother to watch her having sex with men. Lucas also claimed that his mother would often dress him in girls' clothing. His sister Almeda Lucas supports his story, and she claims that she once had two pictures of Henry as a toddler dressed in girls' clothing. Lucas described an incident when he was given a mule as a gift by his uncle, only to see his mother shoot and kill it. Lucas also claimed that, at the age of eight, he was given a teddy bear by one of his teachers, and was then beaten by his mother for accepting charity.
When Lucas was 10, his brother accidentally stabbed him in the left eye while they were fighting. His mother ignored the injury for four days, and subsequently the eye grew infected and had to be replaced by a glass eye.
In December 1949, Anderson Lucas died of hypothermia, after going home drunk and collapsing outside during a blizzard. Shortly after, Henry dropped out of school in the sixth grade and ran away from home, drifting around Virginia. Lucas claimed that he first practiced bestiality and zoosadism while he was a runaway, and also began committing petty thefts and burglaries around the state. Lucas claimed to have committed his first murder in 1951, when he strangled 17-year-old Laura Burnsley, who 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 released on September 2, 1959.
In late 1959, Lucas traveled to Tecumseh, Michigan to live with his half-sister, Opal. Around this 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, and they argued repeatedly about his upcoming nuptials.
On January 11, 1960, in Tecumseh, Michigan, Lucas killed his mother during the course of an ongoing argument regarding whether or not he should return home to his mother's house to care for her as she grew older. He claimed she struck him over the head with a broom, at which point he struck her on the neck and she fell. 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's 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 attacked his mother only 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.
Lucas drifted around the American South, working a number of mostly short-term jobs. In Florida, he made the acquaintance of Ottis Toole in 1976 and had a romantic affair with Toole's 12-year-old niece, Frieda Powell, who had escaped from a juvenile detention facility. Lucas and Toole both called Powell "Becky," partly to disguise her identity and because Powell preferred it over her given name. In 1978, Lucas and Toole formed what has been called a "homosexual crime team" and embarked on a cross-country murder spree. Lucas would later claim that during this period he had killed hundreds of people, with Toole assisting him in 108 murders. The trio left Florida and eventually settled in Stoneburg, Texas, at a religious commune called "The House of Prayer." Ruben Moore, the commune owner and minister, found Lucas a job as a roofer, and allowed Lucas and Powell to live in a small apartment on the commune.
Powell became homesick, so Lucas agreed to move to Florida with her. Lucas said they argued at a Bowie, Texas truck stop and claimed that Powell left with a trucker. A waitress at the truck stop supported Lucas's account in court. Lucas allegedly carried out many of his later murders with Toole as an accomplice.
Ultimately, Lucas was convicted of 11 homicides. He was sentenced to death for the murder of an unidentified woman dubbed "Orange Socks," as those were the only items of clothing found on her. Her body was discovered in Williamson County, Texas, on Halloween 1979.
Dan Morales, Mattox's successor as Texas Attorney General, concluded that it was "highly unlikely" that Lucas was guilty in the "Orange Socks" case. Though initially skeptical of the Lucas Report, he came generally to support its findings.
Williamson County prosecutor Cecil Kuykendall discounted Lucas as a suspect in the "Orange Socks" case and has stated his opinion that Lucas' confession drew attention from a far more viable suspect, further noting evidence that Lucas was in Florida, working as a roofer, during the time that "Orange Socks" was killed. As cited in an Amnesty International report, Mattox stated that during the time "Orange Socks" was killed, there were "work records, check cashing evidence, all information indicating Lucas was somewhere else. We found nothing tying [Lucas] with the crime he confessed to and was convicted of." Mattox's office decided not to intervene, so certain they were that the state appeals court would overturn Lucas' conviction in the "Orange Socks" case.
Lucas told Shellady that he confessed to the murder in an effort at "legal suicide," and that he "just wanted to die." Lucas expressed what Shellady describes as "deep regret and sorrow" for offering false confessions, stating that he "was not aware how crooked they [Texas authorities] were until it was too late." The Houston Chronicle article also notes that Lucas offered various motives for his confession spree: Improving his conditions, a desire to embarrass police, and feeling guilt over killing Powell and Rich.
Adding to the confusion, however, was Lucas' habit of making confessions, recanting them, then offering more confessions, and again recanting them. Mattox, wary of Lucas' many false confessions, suggested in 1999 that, in the case of Rafael Resendez-Ramirez, "I hope they don't start pinning on him every crime that happens near a railroad track."
Lucas' supposed confidant, Ottis Toole, died on September 15, 1996, from cirrhosis of the liver. He was serving six life sentences in a Florida prison. In 1998, the Texas Board of Pardon and Parole voted to commute Lucas' death sentence to life imprisonment, in accordance with Governor George W. Bush's request. It remains the only successful commutation of a death sentence in Texas since the restoration of the death penalty after Gregg v. Georgia in 1976. On March 13, 2001, Lucas died in prison from heart failure at age 64.
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