Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Dr. Steven Egger: Expert on Serial Murder

Portrait of Henry

"To me," says Egger, "Lucas was the epitome of how you produce a serial killer. He had gender confusion until he went to school, because his mother dressed him in a dress and he had long hair, a fact that was verified by NPR when they interviewed one of his half-sisters. She showed them a picture of Henry in long hair and a dress. He was forced, as far as I could tell, into watching her have sex with her clients. The man whom he thought was his father (and I think that's questionable) had lost both of his legs and so he lived with this amputee, his brother and his mother's boyfriend, who taught him about the birds and the bees by showing him how to have sex with animals. He said that he found it easier to have sex with dead animals, and I think that's why he became a necrophiliac."

Among the cases that were attributed to Henry Lee Lucas during the period when he was claiming so many was the death of a police officer that initially was declared a suicide. "Lucas was convicted of killing a police officer in Huntington, West Virginia," Egger said, "an incident that had been declared a suicide twice — which was bizarre because the man was found sitting in front of his car, handcuffed, with a note to his wife and family, and he was shot in the forehead. It's possible, but most people don't commit suicide that way. Lucas directed the police to the spot where they found this officer and he pled guilty and was given 75 years."

As to how he managed to convince people of murders he actually did not commit, Egger says, "He was real quick to pick up words that I don't think he understood, but he could grasp them in terms of context, and about more than half of the time he was right. He wasn't very well-educated — he never got out of the fourth grade — but he was extremely street smart."

With the information he got from Lucas, Egger was able to assist law enforcement in building a timeline of Lucas's activities. "I helped the [Texas] Rangers with a chronological analysis of where Lucas and Toole had been tracked through NCIC. The Rangers used it in some of their training." The information helped Egger as well to clarify some of his own ideas about the investigation of serial murder.

When asked about his own estimate of the number of Lucas's murders, Egger has a response: "I think Lucas probably killed at least 60 people. He was convicted of eleven. I think he probably started killing very early. His first kill was when he was about fourteen. He was raping a girl and decided he couldn't afford to have a witness. And he continued to tell me that the reason that he killed was that he didn't want to have a witness."

Even if he did not kill that many, Egger still thinks that "he is nevertheless the epitome of the production of a serial killer," based largely on incidents that Lucas reported to Egger that seemed to have contributed to his sense of anger and hurt. "He was out with his brother when they were seven or eight and they were making some kind of a tree house. His brother was using a knife to cut a thick grape vine and he slipped and stabbed Lucas in the eye. So they rushed him to the hospital and of course in rural West Virginia they didn't have the best of doctors. His eye was sutured up and a bandage put on there. So he went back to school a couple days later and he was standing in line for recess. Kids were horsing around and a student reaches back to kind of hit another student and jammed her elbow in Henry's eye, so his eye was basically decimated. They gave him a prosthetic glass eye but the problem was they had not stitched up the tear duct properly, so here's a guy with a glass eye and matter coming out that looked like puss. You can imagine the kind of treatment the kids gave him on the playground and in school. So he became a pariah. He told me that the only thing that he did was go to the movies with his brother. And I guess the movies gave him the idea to travel because his goal when he left home was to simply travel.

"But he also repeatedly talked about his hatred of prostitution. For Lucas, there was no difference between prostitution and women. And he talked about a general hatred because of the way he had been treated. He said he was treated like the dog of the family, having to eat off the floor, having to eat scraps, having to make bootleg liquor."

In addition to Lucas, Egger was able to interview his sometimes partner, Ottis Toole, who was in prison at the same time in Florida for another series of murders. It was a unique opportunity to hear about the same murders from both people on a rare sort of killing team.


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