by Patrick H. Moore
Henry Lee Lucas (the real life inspiration for Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer) loved confessing to murders whether he’d committed them or not. At one point he claimed to have whacked over 300 people. All his life he was desperate for attention and when someone was kind enough to give him the time of day, as likely as not he would murder them for thanks.
This is a case where “nurture” may well trump “nature.” Henry was born in 1936 and his childhood was abominable. Like Charles Manson’s mother, his mother Viola turned tricks for a living. Apparently, there weren’t any motels handy; Henry spent his formative years watching Mom service her clients right there on the dirt floor of their hardscrabble cabin in Blacksburg, Virginia. As if this wasn’t bad enough, Henry’s dad Anderson Lucas also had to watch. You see, poor Anderson had lost his legs in a railroad accident and couldn’t get around.
According to Jon C. Hopwood at IMDbPro, Anderson not only had to watch Viola cavort with her johns; he also had to absorb a generous daily dose of violence from her work-roughened fists. Viola used her poor hapless husband as a punching bag. Finally, Anderson decided he’d had enough. He went outside and fell asleep in the snow while Voila was entertaining a customer. This led to pneumonia and Anderson gratefully shuffled off this mortal coil.
After that Henry had to bear the brunt of the punishment that had previously been divvied up between him and his dad.
Viola really knew how to stick the knife in. When Henry started school (a year late at the age of 7) Viola dressed him as a girl. She even coiffed his hair into sausage curls and then sent him off to the schoolhouse, barefoot and humiliated. Naturally, the other kids gave him hell. Much worse, however, was Viola’s reaction when a compassionate teacher gave Henry a second-hand pair of shoes. It was a beating Henry wouldn’t soon forget. Viola once beat Henry with a a piece of lumber that put him in a coma, off and on, for three days. Viola’s live-in lover, Uncle Bernie (yes, she had a lover in addition to her johns), took pity on the boy and took him to the hospital. Despite this one good deed, Uncle Bernie was hardly a bargain. He introduced Lucas to the joys of bestiality, teaching the boy how to kill hapless and unhappy animals after they had been tortured and sexually abused. Sometimes, Henry would try to adopt an animal and keep it as a pet, but Viola would methodically kill them. No one remembers how it happened, but on one occasion Henry sliced one of his eyes and needed immediate medical attention. Viola refused and Henry went through the rest of his life with only one eye.
It’s easy to understand why Henry developed a hatred for the fairer sex.
In March 1951, the 15-year-old Henry Lee Lucas picked up a 17-year old girl near Lynchburg, Virginia, propositioned her, then strangled her when she resisted the advances of this loathsome Lothario. He buried the corpse in the woods near Harrisburg, Virginia. (Lucas confessed to the murder in 1983.) Three years later, he was sent to prison for six years, convicted of the crime of burglary. Lucas escaped from prison twice in 1957, but was caught each time.
After getting out of the hoosegow in September of 1959, for somewhat inexplicable reasons, Henry moved back in with his mother. this didn’t last long. One night, both Henry and his mother were drunk. Viola had the bright idea of hitting her son with a broom. Henry didn’t take kindly that and son and stabbed her. That was the end of the road for Viola:
After his arrest, Lucas confessed that he had sexually assaulted his mother’s corpse, though he soon recanted, a pattern of behavior that was a harbinger of things to come.
This time Henry was sentenced to 20-40 years in prison for killing his mother. They recognized that Henry had problems and transferred him to the state hospital for the criminally insane. Six years later he was paroled and moved in with relatives in Tecumseh, Michigan. It’s amazing that his “loved ones” would take him in, but family bonds, as we all know, are very powerful. Henry soon molested two teenage girls. Though the charges were later reduced to simple kidnapping, he was sent back to the state penitentiary. He was paroled in August 1975, even though Henry warned them that he would kill again. No one listened; instead Henry went to work on, of all things, a mushroom farm. He also married his cousin’s widow. The relationship lasted for two years but then his wife divorced him after discovering that he had molested her daughters by a previous marriage.
Cast out, Henry Lee Lucas became a drifter, roaming throughout the South, allegedly killing female hitch-hikers as he moseyed along Interstate 35 in the Lonestar state of Texas. Fatefully, the 40-year old, one-eyed bisexual met the 29-year-old homosexual drifter Ottis Toole in a Florida soup kitchen in late 1976.
They hit it off immediately, becoming lovers and boon traveling companions; whether they actually were serial killers together is still clouded in mystery, though it likely is true.
In 1978, while living with with Ottis’ mother and sister in Jacksonville, Florida, Henry fell in love with Toole’s 10-year old female cousin, Frieda “Becky” Powell, whom he eventually adopted and lived with as husband and wife. Henry and Ottis worked for a local roofing company for a while but this didn’t last. Soon they were back on the road, two men born to ramble.
When Ottis’ mother and sister died in 1981, Becky and Frank were placed in juvenile homes. This didn’t sit well with Henry. He returned to Jacksonville and managed “to spring” Becky and Frank. Then they all went on the road together where they were exposed to the depravity of their murderous traveling show. Henry and Becky became common-law husband and wife. Henry was 30 years her senior. When the child welfare authorities got wind of this, Becky fled to California with Lucas. Frank eventually wound up in a psychiatric facility in 1983. By this point, he’d seen too much depravity.
Becky and Henry made it back to Texas and wound up at the All People’s House of Prayer, a religious commune. Becky grew homesick and she and Henry hitchhiked back to Florida. Unfortunately for Becky, one night they had an argument and Becky slapped Lucas. This was a mistake. Henry was very good with a knife and that was it for Becky. He dismembered her corpse before returning to Stoneburg,
Henry claimed Becky headed for greener pastures with a passing truck driver. Three weeks later, he was on the lam one day after the disappearance of Kate “Granny” Rich, a local octogenarian. Then, one week later he showed up again in Stoneburg, the day after Rich’s home was destroyed by a mysterious fire.
Finally, on June 11, 1983, Henry’s luck ran out. He was arrested as a felon in possession of a handgun. No one really knows why, but over the next few days Henry spilled his guts. Becky’s murder and dismemberment had been bothering him and he had returned to the field where he had scattered her body parts to commune with the soul of his beloved. On the night of June 15th, Lucas summoned the jailer:: “I’ve done some bad things,” he began.
One the faucet was turned on, there was no way to turn it off. Henry Lee Lucas confessed to the murder of Granny Rich. That was just the beginning. Eventually, body-count had risen to somewhere between 150 and 360, and, staggeringly, reached the 500 to 600 range when he factored in killings by his friends.
Lucas implicated his erstwhile pal Ottis Toole in many of the murders, furthermore claiming that he and Toole had committed many murders as a hit-squad directed by a Satanic cult, “The Hand of Death,” that Toole had introduced him to. A cannibal, Toole sometimes ate the flesh of their victims, although Lucas didn’t join him in his insalubrious repast.
Toole, who was serving time on a Florida arson charge, had no problem being implicated by his former lover:
In fact, he offered confessions of his own. By October 1983, police were sure that Toole and Lucas had committed at least 69 killings… The number was increased to 81 at a January 1984 press conference, and by March 1985, 90 murders had been attributed to Lucas in 20 states, and he and Toole were credited with a further 108 killings. Police would eventually claim over 200 murders were solved due to Lucas’ confessions, as Lucas was taken to various states and had his memory prodded about unsolved killings.
At his trial, Lucas took responsibility for over 600 murders. He even claimed to have supplied People’s Temple stalwart Jim Jones with the cyanide to effect the Guyana massacre. Ottis Toole, now on Florida’s Death Row for murder, corroborated much of Lucas’ confession, including his claims to have committed hundreds of murders, singly and as a duo.
Henry Lee Lucas, of course, later changed his mind about his confessions. He claimed his whole wild tale was merely to improve his living conditions in jail. He eventually took credit for one murder, that of his mother. Because the authorities were never really sure how many murders could really be attribute to Henry, his multiple death sentences were commuted to life in prison by Governor George W. Bush; it was the sole death sentence ever vacated by the then-governor. This allowed Henry Lee Lucas to die a peaceful death in prison.
A few final notes on Henry:
He had an estimated IQ of 84, which is well below normal.
But Henry could express himself and was not shy about self-evaluation:
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 2 or 3 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.
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