Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Dr. Steven Egger: Expert on Serial Murder

Ottis Toole

Ottis Elwood Toole was an arsonist who also enjoyed mutilating corpses and claimed to be a cannibal (possibly for effect). He'd met Lucas in a Skid Row rescue mission in Jacksonville, Florida, and they hit it off and became lovers. Toole was a grade school dropout with an IQ that was borderline mentally retarded. Abandoned by his alcoholic father, he grew up in the custody of his mother and sister, whom he claims dressed him as a girl. His mother supposedly was a religious fanatic, while Toole's grandmother had been a Satanist who took him to help her dig up graves for body parts. Like Henry Lee Lucas, he committed his first murder at age 14, but in this case, he ran over a traveling salesman with his own car. Most notably, Toole confessed to killing Adam Walsh, the son of John Walsh, who went on to develop the TV show America's Most Wanted. 

"Toole was more formidable when I first met him," Egger recalls. "I was doing some training down in Tallahassee for a friend of mine, and he put me in contact with the assistant warden at Stark, their death row. I wanted to meet Toole because I had spent all this time with Lucas, and it was set up to take place on a Saturday."

Egger was left alone for several hours with this strange little man who claimed to kill and eat people. Given his bizarre background, it was no surprise that Toole seemed to want to make an impression. "Toole walked in, sat down and slammed his hand on the desk. He wore a ring, which vibrated and it screwed up my recording. Current Affair had just been there the week before, so he says, 'I suppose you want to hear about my barbeque sauce.' I said, 'Ottis, I don't need this shit. I just don't need it. I've talked to Henry.' And he looked at me and said, 'You haven't talked to Henry.' And I opened my book, which Lucas had signed for me, and said, 'That's Lucas's signature. You recognize it?' He said, 'Yeah.  Maybe I will talk to you.'

Ottis Toole (left) and Henry Lee Lucas
Ottis Toole (left) and Henry Lee Lucas

Even so, he did not offer much. "Out of two hours," says Egger, "I think I got about 15 minutes of accurate information. Ironically, I wasn't able to verify it — his claim that he had been abused by two different stepfathers. I guess the reason that I placed some validity in his comments about that was that he didn't seem to be using it as an excuse. He just talked about the fact that he'd had a lousy childhood."

Asked for his impressions of Toole, Egger offered, "I don't think he was very smart. He was definitely the follower in the Lucas/Toole situation. He probably came across a little stupider than he really is, which means he was a bit cagey. But I don't think he was smart enough to use that to his advantage very often.

"As Park Dietz said, there's a theory that these people have such terrible childhoods but we'll never be able to know because you can't do a decent study on it. All of these people who have been convicted claim they were abused as kids as a way to mitigate their sentence or their responsibility. If I could figure out a way to research that issue I would, but you just can't believe these people."

Nevertheless, Egger does what he can and he participated in some of the early groundbreaking decisions. In fact, that's what led him to write his dissertation on serial murder.

 

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