Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Dr. Steven Egger: Expert on Serial Murder

Prolific Killer or Prolific Liar?

Henry Lee Lucas
Henry Lee Lucas

In Stoneburg, Texas, on July 11, 1983, the police arrested a one-eyed drifter named Henry Lee Lucas for the illegal possession of a firearm, although they suspected him in more serious crimes. Lucas was 46 at the time, and associated with two women, who were both missing. He'd known Kate Rich, 82, and witnesses had seen him with her the day before she disappeared. The younger one, 15-year-old Becky Powell, had been Lucas' companion. They had rolled into town together, but she was nowhere to be found. He said she had decided to return to Florida, but there was something about Lucas that authorities just did not trust.

After four days in jail, Lucas called to the jailer to admit that he'd done "some bad things." He admitted that he had killed a number of people. After he was charged with the murders of Kate and Becky, he provided plenty of evidence, including showing the police precisely where Becky's decomposed remains were buried. When Lucas was arraigned, he admitted to Kate Rich's murder, but then said that he'd killed at least 100 more. The revelation created instant headlines, and Lucas seemed pleased with his notoriety. He offered interviews, and the more he talked, the more open cases he closed. At an unprecedented event, lawmen came in from all over to fill an auditorium for a day to find out what he might know about their unsolved cases.

Becky Powell
Becky Powell

Lucas confessed in more than 350 cases before he suddenly recanted. No one knew quite what to make of a killer confessing to so many crimes he did not do, but then he insisted that he'd been forced to recant. However, now people began to doubt his credibility. He clearly had manipulated and lied to get favors and attention, but he also seemed to know a great deal about some of the murders.

While it was clear that Lucas had killed his mother during a fight with her when he was a young man, and had recently murdered Becky and Kate, none of the other murders was so resolved. Even the case for which he got the death penalty, a woman known only as "Orange Socks" for the clothing she was wearing when found, there seemed to be evidence in recent years that he could not have committed that murder. In fact, his death sentence for it was commuted by then-governor George W. Bush.

John Wayne Gacy
John Wayne Gacy

Some criminologists believe Lucas was responsible for 40 to 50 murders, but no one knows for sure, because he declared that he'd set out to fool the police and believed he'd done a good job. During that time, as many people clamored for interviews with Lucas, Egger actually managed it. "I got access to him through a friend of mine who had been a producer on 20/20. He got me a connection with a woman who was involved with Texas Child Search. She had already interviewed Lucas and in 1983 she took me along and even showed me how to set up the video recorder."

He spent more than 40 hours with Lucas, taking as much advantage of the opportunity as he could. "I would get up at three o'clock in the morning and leave Huntsville to go to the Williams County Jail in Denton, Texas, and I would interview him in the morning before any of his other interviews. The interview I got was pretty good, except that the woman who had gotten me access brought along one of her friends who was a freelance reporter. We stopped at her house in Austin on the way back to get my car and she wanted to know if she could make a copy of the tape. I really didn't have a lot of control over it, so I allowed her to make a copy. About a year later, a fellow by the name of Joel Norris used my interview to promote a book of his called The Confessions of Henry Lee Lucas. It came with an audiotape shrink-wrapped around, and that was my interview, with my voice dubbed out. In some instances, this can be a pretty cutthroat area of research."

Nevertheless, Egger spent a lot of time with a killer and was able to develop a good impression.


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