Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Henry Lee Lucas: Prolific Serial Killer or Prolific Liar?

Whisper of Demons

Max Call was one of the Texas Rangers who took over the Lucas case. Although Call's book, Hand of Death, is generally discredited, since he not only befriended Lucas but also accepted everything Lucas said at face value (Call even named Lucas as a member of the Lucas Task Force), it may nevertheless the best account available about what Lucas actually said. Call makes it clear that Lucas was getting plenty of attention, a high-security cell, good food, and numerous trips in the company of two Texas Rangers. That's motivation for a man with nothing to keep making up whoppers.

"Henry worshipped Satan," Call writes, "and believed his lies because he found justification for his fantasies in Satan's service." Call believed that Lucas had joined Toole in the so-called Hand of Death cult in the Florida Everglades, and he thought that by writing the book he would be warning people about this dangerous organization. He seems to genuinely believe that Henry Lee Lucas assisted in 360 rapes and murders at the behest of the Hand of Death, which supposedly had links to organized crime and practiced the sacrifice of females. In fact, Lucas indicated that they had recruited and trained him specifically to become a killing machine and he was able to describe just how these supposed sacrifices worked.

Lucas in 1984
Lucas in 1984

Call's gullibility is obvious when he says that Lucas wanted to confess as a way of exposing the cult and it's likely that Lucas keyed into Call's own religious beliefs to hook him and play him. The book is replete with religious ideology, especially when it seems that Becky has found the way out through the Bible. Call seems to like this moral angle, playing it up whenever he can. In addition, he accepts whatever Lucas tells him. For example, Lucas apparently described Toole as a "nice-looking young man," when in fact Toole is closer to winning the contest for homeliest serial killer.

Unfortunately, most of Call's chapter about Lucas's childhood experience with his mother was clearly uncorroborated, and there is no way of knowing how much is factual. Lucas was angry at his mother and he likely skewed the story to make her look as evil as possible. Other authors have picked up on this account, including psychologists and criminologists, so it's important to reiterate that there is little in Lucas's account of his childhood that bears the stamp of corroborated fact. Anything that Call writes about must be viewed with some skepticism, especially since he recreates it as a story, with dialogue and incidents he never witnessed.

As Lucas's death toll climbed to some 600 victims in 27 different states and in Canada, according to some accounts (though others cap it at 360), it began to seem as if he was just a compulsive confessor. He had added in the Satanic cult activity, which at the time seemed to justify his numbers, but it only made some people suspicious that it was all a hoax.


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