Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Henry Lee Lucas: Prolific Serial Killer or Prolific Liar?

False Confessions

Police are familiar with several types of false confessions, including from people who confess spontaneously to something they did not do. That's usually in response to a high profile case, in the hope of becoming famous. Sometimes it's about misplaced guilt, where the confessor believes he should be punished for something... anything. There are also coerced confessions, usually offered when the person under interrogation is exhausted, naïve, frightened, or mentally impaired. Some people fear that the interrogation will be stressful so they capitulate quickly, but on rare occasions, a person may internalize the event and actually believe he or she did it. That occurs when an interrogator seems confident of the suspect's guilt and may even lie or use manipulative tactics. The characteristics of those most likely to falsely confess include youth, a low IQ, mental illness or confusion, a high degree of suggestibility, a trusting nature, low self-esteem, high anxiety, and a poor memory.

But the person seeking to attach himself to a specific case seems closest to what Lucas did. In Texas Monthly, Draper indicates that the Rangers had been over-eager in their desire to close open cases, so they provided Lucas some of the details he needed to confess. They called it helping to refresh his memory, and he fully exploited it for his own ends. He had nothing whatsoever to lose, but plenty to gain by way of entertainment and feeling empowered.

The Grand Jury votes
The Grand Jury votes

In fact, Lucas confessed to a murder in Little Rock, Arkansas that had already been solved, which made a D.A. there suspicious of his admissions. The same thing happened with West Virginia officials when Lucas claimed credit for killing a police officer whose death was determined to have been a suicide. In another Arkansas case, Lucas could not offer details until after state police had shown him a crime scene video they had made. It was easy, then, for him to give them whatever they needed to tie him to that murder. He also confessed to a killing in Delaware in which there was already a suspect in custody; that suspect eventually confessed as well.

"I set out to break and corrupt any law enforcement officer I could get," Lucas said. "I think I did a pretty good job."

Through "dubious methods," says Draper, "the Rangers extracted literally hundreds of confessions from Henry Lee Lucas." Perhaps Lucas was living by the principle that Egger attributes to him: "If rules benefited him, he went along. If they did not, he broke them." In other words, he cleaved to whatever he thought was in his best interest in the moment.

On June 11, 1984, further investigations of open cases were halted, while many of the "cleared" cases had already been reopened. Lucas was transferred to the state prison at Huntsville, claming that his rights prior to the trial for Orange Socks had been violated. Somehow, he believed that by undermining law enforcement as he had done, he would regain his freedom. He told one officer he would be free in a month.


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