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The False Confessions of Henry Lee Lucas, America’s Most Notorious Fake ‘Serial Killer’

Henry Lee Lucas (1936- 2001) is the subject of Netflix’s brilliant new original documentary “The Confession Killer,” a series that convincingly questions whether Lucas was even a serial killer at all.

The “Confession Killer” is backed by archival footage, including Lucas’ police confession videos and broadcast reports, as well as interviews with the key players. The personality and demeanor of Lucas is laid bare.

The five-part series dove into the mechanics of a deeply flawed justice system/Star Chamber and the psychology of false confessions.

Starting in 1960, Lucas served 10 years in prison for the slaying of his mother, who was described as extremely abusive.

In June 1983, Lucas was arrested for unlawful possession of a firearm. Later, he confessed to the murders of Frieda Powell and Kate Rich. In addition to confessing, Lucas led the police to remains said to be Powell and Rich, although forensic evidence alone was inconclusive. The coroner stopped short of positively identifying either set of remains.

His participation in this investigation would serve to boost his credibility in later confessions to other crimes.

Beyond the sheer number of confessions, Lucas engaged in a certain elan about the details, including describing necrophilia and all manners of murder and mayhem.

He was the man who killed Jimmy Hoffa — he said.

And he oversaw the delivery of poison to the Rev. Jim Jones’ compound in Guyana — he said.

These incredulous claims were buried beneath the performance about Henry’s “regular” killings that was being amassed by the Texas Rangers.

Texas Rangers seemed to firmly believe in Lucas’s widespread guilt, and helped facilitate interviews between Lucas and other law enforcement officials. Lucas and the Task Force conducted an 18-month confession spree out of the Georgetown, Texas jail house.

Of the approximate 213 murders that the Texas Rangers and other jurisdictions “cleared” and credited to Lucas, no DNA has been found to link him to the crimes. This despite Lucas also “confessing” to being a serial rapist.

Lucas’ treatment in jail was not what you’d expect for someone accused of such atrocities. He was rarely handcuffed, was rewarded with milkshakes, steaks, restaurant excursions and T.V. privileges. He would meet with and hold court around reporters and television crews that ultimately made him a household name.

He was filmed roaming freely around the jail when he left his “office,” where the Lucas Task Force worked. He even knew codes for security doors. “Confessions” were rewarded with more privileges and compliments.

Investigators also allowed Lucas to see case files to “refresh his memory,” giving him access to knowledge only perpetrators would know.

Interview tapes shown in the Netflix series depict Lucas reacting to and gauging those interviewing him and then altering his narrative, thereby making his confessions more consistent with facts known to law enforcement. When he was in doubt about what to say, Henry would just admit he couldn’t remember certain details but would divert and repeat facts that were better established.

He was flown on private aircraft to crime scenes, where he could often be seen in the documentary being coached through crime details and dump sites. Henry would take his time, enjoying the attention and fresh air.

News crews were on hand to add to the excitement and attention, which Henry (and the Rangers) seemed to relish.

Lucas also had mental lapses and blanks in his memories (dissociative state) that may have contributed to the filling in of details. Dissociative state is seen in many violent criminals. This was combined with a compulsive need to please his handlers.

Lucas in his earlier life had enough bad experiences in prisons to attempt to mitigate against that by acting fully cooperative. Like many criminal minds he was only concerned about the now, not future implications.

The homicide investigators themselves were rewarded by society for closing cold cases. But rather than dig deeper into each case, law enforcement was lazy and too aggressive in closing them.

Lucas himself later recanted the confessions as a hoax.

“I don’t think anybody, a human being anyway, could kill 600 people. I made up some of the worst details you’ve ever heard, like how to mutilate a human being,” Lucas told a reporter from the Detroit News some years later. “I told them I cut this one girl up in pieces and made hamburger out of her. I didn’t do any such thing.”

The Dallas Times Herald in the 1980s was first to note discrepancies in his claims of murders that clashed with his actual whereabouts. The newspaper noted that he would have had to have driven 11,000 miles to carry out eight separate murders in October 1978 alone.

An investigation by the Texas state attorney general concluded that Lucas was a “fabulist” who had falsely confessed.

Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox documented that Lucas was in other locations, typically across the country, when the confessed killings occurred.

Despite the storyline that Lucas was an unemployed drifter; in reality, he spent considerable time working and living in Jacksonville, Florida, during this period. He also left a wide paper trial. He was a known and popular factor in his neighborhood, and a number of people provided reliable alibis.

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.”

One skeptical homicide investigator even tested Lucas with a fabricated crime, to which he also confessed.

In another example, in 1983, Lucas claimed to have killed an unidentified young woman, later said to be 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.

Star Chamber Justice Enters the Equation

There was a revealing thread running through the series — something that we call the star chamber justice system (corrupt justice). This is the conflict between the Texas Rangers and McLennan County (Waco) District Attorney Vic Feazell, who said the Rangers and other officers retaliated against him for questioning Lucas’ serial killing claims.

The district attorney became involved in the case after Lucas confessed to the murder of 28-year-old Joshlyn Annette Calvin. This caught Feazell’s scrutiny because he had already convicted someone else for the murder. An investigation from Feazell’s office had also turned up evidence that Lucas was actually in Florida at the time of Calvin’s death and could not have possibly committed the killing.

After Lucas claimed to be behind Calvin’s murder, Feazell began to question Lucas’ confessions, and the five in his county in particular. He eventually uncovered evidence that police were feeding information to Lucas beforehand.

Feazell alleges there was a nasty underhanded intimidation campaign that began with threatening calls in the middle of the night and even included his dog being poisoned after he cast doubt on Lucas’ claims.

The district attorney was then subjected to a smear campaign via a documentary from local Texas news station WFAA-TV. It claimed that Feazell took bribes from local attorneys to influence cases.

In the Netflix series, local attorneys today can be heard confirming an organized and outrageous intimidation campaign to support the false corruption allegations.

The inflammatory documentary about him eventually resulted in an FBI investigation and an indictment on bribery charges, according to a 1986 Associated Press report. Feazell was acquitted on all charges about a year later.

In 1991, a jury sided with Feazell in a lawsuit against the news station that defamed him. He was awarded $58 million in damages.

With DNA now in use, about 20 cases have cleared Lucas, and a growing handful of “Lucas cases” to date are attributed to others.

Some cases are being reopened but, incredibly, police are still balking in most instances.

A private independent investigative group hired by family members of victims caught up in these hoax confessions have received resistance from law enforcement. DNA testing has also been moving slowly.

Several hundred cases are still in limbo, with the real killers in the clear.

Meanwhile, Lucas, who died in 2001, remains publicized as one of America’s most prolific murderers.

Winter Watch Takeaway

Other than the three murders of the women his life, it appears that Lucas has not been tied through physical or DNA evidence to any of his confessed crimes. This is especially suspicious considering that he is an admitted serial rapist as well as confessed murderer.

Phil Ryan, the Ranger who arrested Lucas, said, “If anybody deserves to die for something he didn’t do, I’ve never met a better candidate than Henry.”

Given the level of Henry’s destructive discordian pathological lying, such a sentiment is understandable. Indeed, Lucas’ real identity is the lie — a widespread consuming theme we continually write about on these pages.


6 Comments on The False Confessions of Henry Lee Lucas, America’s Most Notorious Fake ‘Serial Killer’


    Henry Marshall, the son of a farmer, was born in Robertson County, Texas, in 1909. He studied chemistry at the University of Texas before becoming the only teacher at the Nesbitt Rural School. The school was forced to close in May, 1932, a victim of the Great Depression.

    Marshall managed to find work at a Franklin gin company. However, in August, 1934, Marshall became a clerk with the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA). He worked at the agency’s Robertson County office. Marshall was a good worker and it eventually held a senior post in the agency.

    In 1960 Marshall was asked to investigate the activities of Billie Sol Estes. Marshall discovered that over a two year period, Estes had purchased 3,200 acres of cotton allotments from 116 different farmers. Marshall wrote to his superiors in Washington on 31st August, 1960, that: “The regulations should be strengthened to support our disapproval of every case (of allotment transfers)”.

    When he heard the news, Billie Sol Estes sent his lawyer, John P. Dennison, to meet Marshall in Robertson County. At the meeting on 17th January, 1961, Marshall told Dennison that Estes was clearly involved in a “scheme or device to buy allotments, and will not be approved, and prosecution will follow if this operation is ever used.”

    Marshall was disturbed that as a result of sending a report of his meeting to Washington, he was offered a new post in Washington. He assumed that Bille Sol Estes had friends in high places and that they wanted him removed from the field office in Robertson County. Marshall refused what he considered to be a bribe.

    A week after the meeting between Marshall and Dennison, A. B. Foster, manager of Billie Sol Enterprises, wrote to Cliff Carter, a close aide to Lyndon B. Johnson, telling him about the problems that Marshall was causing the company. Foster wrote that “we would sincerely appreciate your investigating this and seeing if anything can be done.”

    Over the next few months Marshall had meetings with eleven county committees in Texas. He pointed out that Billie Sol Estes scheme to buy cotton allotments were illegal. This information was then communicated to those farmers who had been sold their cotton allotments to Billie Sol Enterprises.

    On 3rd June, 1961, Marshall was found dead on his farm by the side of his Chevy Fleetside pickup truck. His rifle lay beside him. He had been shot five times with his own rifle. Soon after County Sheriff Howard Stegall arrived, he decreed that Marshall had committed suicide. No pictures were taken of the crime scene, no blood samples were taken of the stains on the truck (the truck was washed and waxed the following day), no check for fingerprints were made on the rifle or pickup.

    Marshall’s wife (Sybil Marshall) and brother (Robert Marshall) refused to believe he had committed suicide and posted a $2,000 reward for information leading to a murder conviction. The undertaker, Manley Jones, also reported: “To me it looked like murder. I just do not believe a man could shoot himself like that.” The undertaker’s son, Raymond Jones, later told the journalist, Bill Adler in 1986: “Daddy said he told Judge Farmer there was no way Mr. Marshall could have killed himself. Daddy had seen suicides before. JPs depend on us and our judgments about such things. we see a lot more deaths than they do. But in this case, Daddy said, Judge Farmer told him he was going to put suicide on the death certificate because the sheriff told him to.” As a result, Lee Farmer returned a suicide verdict: “death by gunshot, self-inflicted.”

    Sybil Marshall hired an attorney, W. S. Barron, in order to persuade the Robertson County authorities to change the ruling on Marshall’s cause of death. One man who did believe that Marshall had been murdered was Texas Ranger Clint Peoples. He had reported to Colonel Homer Garrison, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, that it “would have been utterly impossible for Mr. Marshall to have taken his own life.”

    Peoples also interviewed Nolan Griffin, a gas station attendant in Robertson County. Griffin claimed that on the day of Marshall’s death, he had been asked by a stranger for directions to Marshall’s farm. A Texas Ranger artist, Thadd Johnson, drew a facial sketch based on a description given by Griffin. Peoples eventually came to the conclusion that this man was Mac Wallace, the convicted murderer of John Kinser.

    In the spring of 1962, Bille Sol Estes was arrested by the FBI on fraud and conspiracy charges. Soon afterwards it was disclosed by the Secretary of Agriculture, Orville L. Freeman, that Henry Marshall had been a key figure in the investigation into the illegal activities of Billie Sol Estes. As a result, the Robertson County grand jury ordered that the body of Marshall should be exhumed and an autopsy performed. After eight hours of examination, Dr. Joseph A. Jachimczyk confirmed that Marshall had not committed suicide. Jachimczyk also discovered a 15 percent carbon monoxide concentration in Marshall’s body. Jachimczyk calculated that it could have been as high as 30 percent at the time of death.

    On 4th April, 1962, George Krutilek, Estes chief accountant, was found dead. Despite a severe bruise on Krutilek’s head, the coroner decided that he had also committed suicide. The next day, Estes, and three business associates, were indicted by a federal grand jury on 57 counts of fraud. Two of these men, Harold Orr and Coleman Wade, died before the case came to court. At the time it was said they committed suicide but later Estes was to claim that both men were murdered by Mac Wallace in order to protect the political career of Lyndon B. Johnson.

    The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations also began to look into the case of Billie Sol Estes. Leonard C. Williams, a former assistant to Henry Marshall, testified about the evidence the department acquired against Estes. Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman also admitted that Marshall was a man “who left this world under questioned circumstances.”

    It was eventually discovered that three officials of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration in Washington had received bribes from Billie Sol Estes. Red Jacobs, Jim Ralph and Bill Morris were eventually removed from their jobs. However, further disclosures suggested that Orville L. Freeman, might be involved in the scam. In September, 1961, Billie Sol Estes had been fined $42,000 for illegal cotton allotments. Two months later, Freeman appointed Estes to the National Cotton Advisory Board.

    It was also revealed that Billie Sol Estes told Wilson C. Tucker, deputy director of the Agriculture Department’s cotton division, on 1st August, 1961, that he threatened to “embarrass the Kennedy administration if the investigation were not halted”. Tucker went onto testify: “Estes stated that this pooled cotton allotment matter had caused the death of one person and then asked me if I knew Henry Marshall”. As Tucker pointed out, this was six months before questions about Marshall’s death had been raised publicly.

    However, the cover-up continued. Tommy G. McWilliams, the FBI agent in charge of the Henry Marshall investigation, came to the conclusion that Marshall had indeed committed suicide. He wrote: “My theory was that he shot himself and then realized he wasn’t dead.” He then claimed that he then tried to kill himself by inhaling carbon monoxide from the exhaust pipe of his truck. McWilliams claimed that Marshall had used his shirt to make a hood over the exhaust pipe. Even J. Edgar Hoover was not impressed with this theory. He wrote on 21st May, 1962: “I just can’t understand how one can fire five shots at himself.”

    Dr. Joseph A. Jachimczyk also disagreed with the FBI report. He believed that the bruise on Marshall’s forehead had been caused by a “severe blow to the head”. Jachimczyk also rejected the idea that Marshall had used his shirt as a hood. He pointed out that “if this were done, soot must have necessarily been found on the shirt; no such was found.”

    The Robertson County grand jury continued to investigate the death of Henry Marshall. However, some observers were disturbed by the news that grand jury member, Pryse Metcalfe, was dominating proceedings. Metcalfe was County Sheriff Howard Stegall’s son-in-law.

    On 1st June, 1962, the Dallas News reported that President John F. Kennedy had “taken a personal interest in the mysterious death of Henry Marshall.” As a result, the story said, Robert Kennedy “has ordered the FBI to step up its investigation of the case.”

    In June, 1962, Billie Sol Estes, appeared before the grand jury. He was accompanied by John Cofer, a lawyer who represented Lyndon B. Johnson when he was accused of ballot-rigging when elected to the Senate in 1948 and Mac Wallace when he was charged with the murder of John Kinser. Billie Sol Estes spent almost two hours before the grand jury, but he invoked the Texas version of the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer most questions on grounds that he might incriminate himself.

    Tommy G. McWilliams of the FBI also appeared before the grand jury and put forward the theory that Henry Wallace had committed suicide. Dr. Joseph A. Jachimczyk also testified that “if in fact this is a suicide, it is the most unusual one I have seen during the examination of approximately 15,000 deceased persons.”

    McWilliams did admit that it was “hard to kill yourself with a bolt-action 22”. This view was shared by John McClellan, a member of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. He posed for photographs with a .22 caliber rifle similar to Marshall’s. McClellan pointed out: “It doesn’t take many deductions to come to the irrevocable conclusion that no man committed suicide by placing the rifle in that awkward position and then (cocking) it four times more.” (see picture below)

    Despite the evidence presented by Jachimczyk, the grand jury agreed with McWilliams. It ruled that after considering all the known evidence, the jury considers it “inconclusive to substantiate a definite decision at this time, or to overrule any decision heretofore made.” Later, it was disclosed that some jury members believed that Marshall had been murdered. Ralph McKinney blamed Pryse Metcalfe for this decision. “Pryse was as strong in the support of the suicide verdict as anyone I have ever seen in my life, and I think he used every influence he possibly could against the members of the grand jury to be sure it came out with a suicide verdict.”

    In 1964 the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations reported that it could find no link between Marshall’s death and his efforts to bring to an end Billie Sol Estes’ cotton allotment scheme. The following year Estes went to prison for fraud relating to the mostly nonexistent fertilizer tanks he had put up for collateral as part of the cotton allotment scam. He was released in 1971 but he was later sent back to prison for mail fraud and non-payment of income tax.

    Clint Peoples retired from the Texas Rangers in 1974 but he continued to investigate the murder of Henry Marshall. In 1979 Peoples interviewed Billie Sol Estes in prison. Estes promised that “when he was released he would solve the puzzle of Henry Marshall’s death”.

    Billie Sol Estes was released from prison in December, 1983. Three months later he appeared before the Robertson County grand jury. He confessed that Henry Marshall was murdered because it was feared he would “blow the whistle” on the cotton allotment scam. Billie Sol Estes claimed that Marshall was murdered on the orders of Lyndon B. Johnson, who was afraid that his own role in this scam would become public knowledge. According to Estes, Clifton C. Carter, Johnson’s long-term aide, had ordered Marshall to approve 138 cotton allotment transfers.

    Of course, the authorities have never re-investigated the Henry Marshall case. In fact, attempts have been made to prevent these charges entering the public domain (see the way the television documentary on LBJ was banned).

    I believe that Henry Marshall’s death is linked to the assassination of JFK. Remember, in 1963, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations were still investigating the Henry Marshall case. We also know that JFK and RFK were taking a close interest in the case. The Marshall murder was only one of three Senate investigations that was linking LBJ with serious crimes. Bobby Baker and the TFX contract were also being investigated in 1963. When LBJ became president he was able to control the reports that came out of these investigations.

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