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True story behind Netflix’s The Confession Killer – fact checking Henry Lee Lucas doc

Henry Lee Lucas admitted to killing 600 people - then withdrew his confession

The Confession Killer — 
Henry Lee Lucas (center) being escorted by Ranger Bob Prince (left) and task force

Netflix’s true crime documentaries just keep coming, and mere weeks after the release of The Devil Next Door its next one has a twist – a man thought of as one of the world’s most prolific serial killers is apparently a fraud.

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The Confession Killer charts the case of Henry Lee Lucas, who gained notoriety after confessing to over 600 murders only for most of them to be discredited several years later.

In a case where fact and fiction are so intertwined, here’s what we know for sure about Netflix‘s latest true crime doc.

Lucas had a poor upbringing

Lucas was born in 1936 in a one-room log cabin in the mountainous town of Blacksburg, Virginia, the youngest child of Viola and Anderson Lucas. Lucas’ mother Viola allegedly abused him, forcing him to cross-dress at school until a court order put an end to it. He lost an eye aged 10 after it got infected following a fight with his brother, not receiving hospital treatment for three days Lucas’ double amputee father Anderson died of hypothermia in 1949, and Lucas ran away soon after.

Claims of first murders

Here’s where things get a bit hazy. Lucas claimed to have killed his first victim, a 17-year-old girl, 1n 1951 when he was aged only about 15, only to later retract this claim.

While drifting around Virginia he was arrested and sentenced to four years in prison, and following a short-lived escape attempt was eventually released in 1959.

Upon release, Lucas was engaged to marry a pen pal he had corresponded with while in prison, who his mother disapproved of. The two also argued over his mother’s insistence that he move back in and care for her, and in 1960 Lucas stabbed her after an argument.

Lucas claimed to have killed her in self-defence but was convicted of second-degree murder. Despite being sentenced to 20-40 years, Lucas was released 10 years later due to overcrowding.

Drifter Years

Lucas was imprisoned again in 1971 for attempting to kidnap three schoolgirls, and upon release was married for two years to another prison pen pal. Following the marriage breakdown, Lucas moved between relatives and jobs for several years.

Lucas befriended Ottis Toole, who also later confessed to murders then recanted them. Lucas became close with Toole’s niece Frieda Powell, and the two ran away to California where they worked for elderly Kate Rich. Rich’s family eventually turned them out, and Lucas and Toole stayed at a Texas religious commune.

In June 1983 Lucas was arrested for unlawful possession of a firearm, eventually confessing to the murders of Frieda Powell and Kate Rich and leading police to their alleged remains.

False Confessions

This is where the Netflix documentary gets really in-depth: Lucas confessed to several more unsolved killings, thought to be corroborated enough for the Lucas Task Force to be established.

Lucas confessed to over 600 murders, was interviewed for over 3000 homicides in over 40 states. Law enforcement closed nearly 200 cold cases.

Lucas was given restaurant meals, milkshakes, and cigarettes for his confessions, and crucially was allegedly allowed to look at the case file of murders he was confessing to, making it extremely difficult to be sure how Lucas knew of details about the murders.

Were Lucas’ confessions discredited?

In 1985 The Dallas Times-Herald newspaper undertook an investigation into the confessions. They found it impossible for Lucas to have committed so many murders, claiming Lucas would have to cover 11,000 miles in a month in his old station wagon.

A year later Lucas himself recanted the confessions, citing police’s bribery of food his reasoning. However, Lucas remained convicted of 11 homicides. He was sentenced to death for one of them until then-Governor George W. Bush commuted the sentence to life in prison in 1998.

DNA evidence has proved that Lucas did not kill 20 of his alleged victims.

How did Henry Lee Lucas die?

Lucas died of heart failure in prison in 2001.

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The Confession Killer is streaming now on Netflix