The Story of Henry Lee Lucas, the Infamous Topic of Netflix’s The Confession Killer

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Henry Lee Lucas was a infamous self-proclaimed serial killer who confessed to committing as many as 600 murders. However as detailed by the brand new Netflix documentary collection The Confession Killer, most of those claims have been lies. By archival footage from information channels and police confessional movies, and interviews with regulation enforcement officers and the households of victims, administrators Robert Kenner and Taki Oldham provide a compelling take a look at the fallout wrought by Lucas’ false confessions—and the law enforcement officials who have been greater than keen to associate with them.

Lucas’ confessions, which first emerged in 1983, poured out earlier than the rise of DNA testing that might turn out to be invaluable in fixing legal instances. Regulation enforcement officers throughout the nation, in search of a strategy to shut the numerous open homicide instances on their palms, have been glad to simply accept his claims. Many years later, DNA testing confirmed he’d lied about killing not less than 20 folks. Of the a whole bunch of murders Lucas claimed to be accountable for, not less than three can nonetheless be pinned to him—that of his mom, a girlfriend and his former landlord.

At first, Lucas’ confessions introduced closure to the households of homicide victims throughout the USA. Then, the revelation that he’d made up so most of the claims erased any reduction they’d discovered.

The Confession Killer, which joins Netflix’s robust arsenal of true-crime tales on Dec. 6, is yet one more examination of the hazardous results of police misconduct. Lucas’ story is a testomony to the catastrophe that may observe when police search simple solutions, on this case taking the claims of a conman as a fast manner out of stalled detective work. Right here’s what to know in regards to the true story of Henry Lee Lucas and the compromised system by which he operated.

Henry Lee Lucas had a troublesome upbringing

Whereas the reality of Henry Lee Lucas’ life is marred by numerous lies and inconsistencies, it’s clear that violence and abuse adopted him from the start. Lucas was born to an impoverished household in Blacksburg, Virginia, in 1936. His father was a double amputee and his mom was a prostitute who was stated to have bodily abused him as a baby, in keeping with claims by Lucas included in The Confession Killer and different reviews documenting his life.

In 1960, Lucas killed his mom, for which he served 15 years in jail. In 1983, years after his launch, Lucas was questioned within the deaths of two girls: his teenage girlfriend Becky Powell and his 82-year-old landlord Kate Wealthy. Phil Ryan, the now-retired Texas Ranger who questioned him, says in an interview for the Netflix collection that in his questioning, Lucas let slip that there was a warrant out for his arrest. Ryan arrested Lucas shortly thereafter. It was at this level that Lucas started speaking — and the tales by no means actually stopped.

The homicide claims started to pile up

Lucas admitted to killing Powell and Wealthy, recounting the main points of their deaths to officers. At his arraignment for Wealthy’s homicide, Lucas shot to nationwide consideration after he requested the decide, “What are we going to do about these other 100 women I killed?”

Lucas claimed duty for a spree of murders throughout the U.S. dedicated within the 1970s and early 1980s, which spurred motion in quite a few police departments. All of a sudden, detectives throughout the nation had a lead for instances that beforehand had no conclusions.

“It was a nightmare,” Ryan says within the collection. “It was a circus that would not leave town.”

The variety of folks Lucas claimed to have killed was consistently in flux. Nearly as quickly as he confessed to killing 100 folks, the quantity blossomed to 150, then 200, then to greater than 300. At one level, Lucas claimed he was accountable for killing 600 folks. In accordance with Lucas, he killed folks throughout age vary, intercourse and race all around the United States, utilizing a wide range of violent strategies, from working folks over to stabbing them, and typically decapitating victims after they have been useless.

Journalists had doubts, however regulation enforcement officers listened anyway

Journalists who coated Lucas’ case discovered his confessions suspicious from the beginning. As he started to piece collectively the dates and settings of every homicide Lucas claimed to have dedicated, the reporter Hugh Aynesworth rapidly discovered holes that advised Lucas was not the truth is behind the murders. In a bit printed within the Dallas Occasions Herald in 1985, Aynesworth and the journalist Jim Henderson laid out precisely how the geographical logistics of Lucas’ claims would have made it inconceivable for him to have been at each single homicide scene. For instance, police accepted Lucas’ confession for a Sept. 12, 1981 murder case in Houston, regardless that information confirmed that he was in jail on the time in Maryland. Authorities additionally took Lucas at his phrase for a Sept. 9, 1975 homicide in Tyler, Texas, though employment information confirmed he was working at a mushroom farm in Pennsylvania that day.

Nonetheless, Lucas’ tales appealed to regulation enforcement officers, significantly the Texas Rangers, who used his claims to shut unsolved instances with out providing way more proof, because the documentary collection depicts. Regardless of the discrepancies in his tales, Lucas proved very gifted at choosing up particulars about crime scenes and homicide instances simply from data given to him by law enforcement officials. His prior convictions for murdering his mom and the two other women in Texas solely bolstered his credibility to regulation enforcement as a serial killer. The documentary exhibits footage of Lucas being proven maps of crime scenes and receiving detailed details about murders that he would later wield to inform officers what they wished to listen to.

Lucas turned nearly a prize catch for Jim Boutwell, a former Texas Ranger and the Williamson County Sheriff on the time, who had been investigating a string of murders he thought have been dedicated by a serial killer when the keen confessor got here throughout his radar. Along with now-retired Texas Ranger Bob Prince, the lads organized a process pressure that might coordinate investigations throughout the nation into Lucas’ claims.

Boutwell died in 1993 and subsequently couldn’t be questioned in regards to the selections he made in The Confession Killer. Prince, described within the collection as a “ranger’s ranger,” explains to the filmmakers that the aim of the duty pressure was to aim to piece collectively Lucas’ a number of confessions. Footage within the collection exhibits Prince defending the duty pressure’s selections, at the same time as proof emerged to point out that Lucas was not being truthful. The previous Texas Ranger Phil Ryan, talking within the collection, says Lucas “just wanted to please” regulation enforcement.

For Lucas, there was little incentive to curtail his outlandish claims, particularly as soon as he realized police would deal with him higher him for speaking. The collection exhibits that authorities gave him preferential therapy. Whereas Lucas was held in a jail in Georgetown, Texas, officers allowed him to stroll with out handcuffs and drink strawberry milkshakes. As investigators turned extra accustomed to him, a way of friendliness appeared to emerge between the homicide suspect and the officers wanting into him. Detectives additionally plied Lucas with cigarettes and hamburgers, amongst different rewards, because the confessions streamed out. In 1985, Lucas advised the Dallas Occasions Herald he lied “to show law enforcement doesn’t do its job.”

Lucas was locked up, however victims’ households suffered additional

Ultimately, Lucas was convicted of a complete of 11 murders. In 1984, he was sentenced to loss of life for the 1979 homicide of an unidentified lady who was identified on the time as “Orange Socks” (the lady was identified in 2019 as Debra Jackson). Citing a scarcity of proof connecting Lucas to the homicide, aside from his confession, which he later recanted, then-Gov. George W. Bush commuted the death sentence in 1998, marking the primary and solely time Bush did in order governor. Lucas spent the remainder of his life in jail and died in 2001 of a coronary heart assault.

Whereas officers with the Texas Rangers have been lauded as heroes for locking up a assassin and Lucas reaped the rewards of being on the police’s good aspect, the households of the a whole bunch of homicide victims have been left with out solutions, as The Confession Killer exhibits. DNA testing was in a position to resolve about 20 of the instances—a painful enterprise for a number of the households, who needed to reopen that a part of their lives. Different households, in the meantime, proceed to dwell in limbo.

Write to Mahita Gajanan at mahita.gajanan@time.com.



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