Henry Lee Lucas was born in Virginia
, the son of an alcoholic father and an alcoholic and abusive mother. The youngest of nine, Lucas' early life was difficult. His mother was physically and sexually abusive, often making the children watch her have sex with clients, and on a number of occasions forcing the young Lucas to wear female clothing. At the age of ten he was accidentally stabbed in the left eye by one of his brothers. The wound was allowed to fester for several days, became infected, and necessitated the removal of the eye, which was replaced by a glass prosthetic. His father died when he was thirteen, and he dropped out of school soon after, fleeing his home and drifting around Virginia. During this time he began to engage in criminal activities and deviant sexual behaviour. His first alleged murder took place in 1951 when he was 15, when he claimed to have murdered a teenage girl who resisted his sexual advances. He was arrested in the summer of 1954 for a number of burglaries and thefts, for which he was sentenced to four years. He served three years before escaping. He was recaptured, and spent two more years in prison, released in early September of 1959.
After his release he travelled to Michigan
to stay with a half-sister. There, in early 1960, he met his mother, with whom his relationship was not good. He assaulted her in mid January of that year, precipitating her death. He claimed self-defence, but was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to twenty to forty years in prison, of which he served ten before being released. After his release he travelled south, travelling throughout the area and taking various odd jobs. He engaged in a number of relationships, but all of them ended badly, often as a result of his violence and sexual depravity. In 1975 he met Ottis Toole, who shared Lucas' homicidal urges, in Florida
. The pair spent some time there, at which point Lucas met Toole's 12-year-old niece Becky Powell, with whom he established a sexual relationship. He and Powell eventually left the area for Texas
, where he found work as a roofer and later caring for an elderly woman. Powell was unhappy in Texas, however, and requested she be allowed to return to Florida. The couple left the employ of the elderly woman, but did not make it far before being taken in at a religious commune, where they spent some time before Becky insisted she be allowed to leave. Lucas agreed and the pair left the commune heading for Florida. Powell was never seen alive again. Lucas returned to the commune, where most people believed the story that Powell had left him. The elderly woman for whom he had worked did not believe the story however, and Lucas killed her.
Lucas was arrested for unlawful possession of a firearm in June of 1983 in Texas. He was held for several days in conditions that he later claimed were inhumane and designed to elicit a confession. He confessed to the murders of Powell and the elderly woman a few days later. He was taken to trial for these murders the fall of that year, and plead guilty, though there was no solid evidence aside from his confessions that tied him to either murder. In open court he alluded for the first time to being responsible for what he claimed was hundreds of murders up and down the country. This confession was seized upon, and numerous police departments began to contact him and the police department holding him. A task force was established to deal with his confessions and to facilitate the closure of cases across the country. On the strength of these confessions a total of 213 murder cases were closed, in addition to one case that had initially been ruled a suicide, though he at some point confessed to or was suspected of over 600 murders. Because of these confessions Lucas enjoyed unprecedented freedoms and comforts in the custody of the Texas Rangers
. Around this time the veracity of his confessions came under fire, as a number of his confessions were riddled with incorrect information, or else evidence suggested that it was impossible for him to have committed them. Despite these lingering questions, he was convicted of 189 total murders, one of which resulted in a death sentence. He was held on death row in Texas for several years before his sentence was commuted by the office of then governor George W Bush
in 1998. He was moved into the prison general population following the commutation, where he spent the remainder of his life. He died of massive heart failure on March 13, 2001. He was 64.
In Other Media
As a notorious serial killer, Henry Lee Lucas has featured in a number of films, television shows and books, many of them documentary or biographical in nature. He appears in a number of documentary films including Acts of Violence
, Death Diploma
, and Murder by Numbers
. He also appears in the television series American Justice
, in the episode "Myth of a Serial Killer", and in an episode of A&E's Biography
. He appears in the 1986 film Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
, where he is played by Michael Rooker, and in the 1996 sequel to that film, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Part 2
, where he is played by Neil Giuntoli. He also appears in the 2009 film Drifter: Henry Lee Lucas
, where he is played by Antonio Sabato, Jr.