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.