Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Henry Lee Lucas: Prolific Serial Killer or Prolific Liar?

Killing Mom

Lucas was born on August 23, 1936 in the backwoods of Virginia to a man who'd lost both legs in a train accident (some sources say this was his stepfather) and a woman named Viola, a half-Chippewa who made a living for her small family with prostitution and bootlegging. Reportedly she was mean when she drank. Lucas said that she would entertain clients in front of him, his brother and his father. (Some sources indicate he had eight siblings.) He even claims (difficult as it is to believe) that when he walked out one time in disgust, his mother found him and beat him for not watching her with a client. He also said that she used to dress him up as a little girl, which humiliated him. Egger says that a half-sister claimed to have a picture of Henry with curls and wearing a dress. Psychologists who later evaluated Lucas indicate that his hatred of his mother was the source of his violent misogyny. Lucas's father reportedly dragged himself outside into the snow one day and contracted a fatal case of pneumonia.

Henry Lee Lucas as a boy
Henry Lee Lucas as a boy

Once when he was five, his mother struck him in the head with a wooden board. He claimed that she knocked him out for a period of three days (some sources say one day, others indicate eleven hours), and thereafter he suffered from headaches, dizzy spells, and blackouts. He also took a knife wound to his left eye, which left him with a vulnerable area on his face that was soon hurt in an accident at school. His damaged eye was replaced with a glass eye that left him with a drooping eyelid. According to Egger, children who knew him found him sullen and antisocial.

Another story Lucas told is that one of his mother's lovers got him interested in bestiality with the slain carcasses of dogs and sheep. He first killed someone, he said, just before he turned 15 in 1951. The reason he murdered this teenage girl was to see what it was like to have sex with a human, or so the story goes. Lucas certainly enjoyed the reactions his tales received, and interviewers duly wrote them down.

Henry Lee Lucas, young
Henry Lee Lucas, young

In 1952, Lucas got into trouble with the law. On June 12, 1952, he burglarized an appliance store and was sent to a reformatory for two years. Upon release, he committed a felony and got four years at the Virginia State Penitentiary. He escaped, stole a car and made his way to Michigan, where he was arrested and returned to prison. When he was finally done with his sentence, he went to live with his half-sister in Tecumseh, Michigan. Then his mother came for a visit. She was 74 at the time.

On January 11, 1960, after drinking too much, Lucas and his mother got into an argument, supposedly over a woman Lucas wanted to marry. He grabbed a knife and plunged it into her neck. (He remembered only that he knocked her a little and she had a heart attack.) Lucas was convicted of second-degree murder and sent to the state prison in southern Michigan. There he tried to commit suicide and was transferred to a forensic psychiatric hospital. For his mother's murder, he served ten years of a 20-year sentence. But then as soon as he was released, he got three and a half years for trying to kidnap two girls. Once he was out, he moved to Pennsylvania and got married in 1975, but abandoned his wife when she accused him of molesting her daughters. That's when the one-eyed killer started to travel. In Florida, he took up with Toole and they went cross country together.


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