Birthed out of troubled pasts, Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole were lovers and deranged serial killers whose crimes would change American laws.
Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole are either the worst serial killers in American history or the worst liars. They were a pair of star-crossed lovers who traveled across America murdering, raping, burning, and even cannibalizing everyone who crossed their paths. And if Henry Lucas is be believed, they killed thousands.
It’s one of history’s strangest and most unnerving crime stories. The truth is as murky as it comes but the things we know for sure are twisted enough to turn anyone’s stomach.
Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole weren’t just a murdering team. They were lovers.
The two men met in 1976 at a soup kitchen and hit it off from the very first day. They moved fast. Before night fell, Lucas was back at Toole’s home, sharing a bed with a man he just met.
Their lives had run along parallel lines. Both men were raised by abusive mothers who, frustrated that they didn’t have daughters, had forced their sons to wear dresses. Both men had suffered horrible sexual trauma before they turned ten and by the time they met, both men were murderers.
Lucas served ten years in prison for the murder of his own mother. She was a prostitute and, when Lucas was a young boy, she would force him to sit in the room and watch while she serviced her customers.
He lost an eye when he was ten because she ignored an infection for so long that it had to have it removed. She had given him a miserable and hard life — by the time he reached puberty, Henry Lee Lucas was passing his spare time torturing animals and sexually assaulting his own brother.
He was 23-years-old when he killed her. The two had gotten into an argument and she physically confronted her son. She struck Lucas across the face and, in the heat of the moment, Henry Lee Lucas hit back.
“All I remember was slapping her alongside the neck,” Henry Lucas would later tell the police. “When I went to pick her up, I realized she was dead. Then I noticed that I had my knife in my hand and she had been cut.”
Toole’s childhood was even harder. He was assaulted by almost every person he thought he could trust. His mother dressed him up as a girl, his older sister raped him before he’d turned ten, and his father – the worst of them all – prostituted him to a neighbor when he was only five years old.
Toole was already a serial arsonist and a suspect in four murder cases by the time he met Lucas. His first victim was a traveling salesman who tried to pick him up for sex. Toole lured the man out into the woods and then ran the man over with his own car. It was the first time he’d ever killed anyone, but murder for Toole would become an addiction.
Henry Lee Lucas And Ottis Toole’s Cross-Country Massacre
Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole traveled across 26 states, massacring as many people as they would find. They preyed upon hitchhikers, prostitutes, and migrant workers. They would pick them up and lure them off to a quiet area where they would be murdered.
Murder, for them, was just a way for a young couple to bond. They would talk about it openly.
Lucas claims he would even coach Ottis Toole on the best ways to get away with it. “He was doing his crimes all one way,” Lucas would later say. “I started to correct him in his ways, in doing the crime where he wouldn’t leave information.”
Their crimes were horrible. Often, they would sexually assault their victims before they killed them and mutilate them beyond recognition afterward. Lucas would tell people they didn’t feel the slightest moment of guilt, usually before joking about that time he’d crossed two state lines with someone’s severed head in his backseat.
Toole had a penchant for eating their bodies. It was something he and Lucas were caught talking about in a private conversation recorded over a prison phone. The way he talked about it, it sounded like something worth being nostalgic about.
“Remember how I liked to pour some blood out of them?” he asked Lucas. “Some tastes like real meat when it’s got barbecue sauce on it.”
The relationship fell apart when Lucas started seeing Ottis Toole’s 12-year-old niece, Becky Powell. He would later say that he liked having someone young to look up to him, and there was no one better for that than a small child. He grabbed her, ran off, and left Toole alone. Toole was so upset about it that he allegedly killed nine people just to blow off steam.
Henry Lee Lucas and young Becky Powell didn’t make it very far, though. Powell would soon learn just how dangerous of a man Lucas really was after the pair got into an argument while living on a ranch in Ringgold, Texas. There, Lucas lured Becky out into an isolated field, murdered her, dismembered her body, and scattered the pieces in a nearby field. Then, for no reason other than a twisted urge, he lured the woman who owned the ranch out to the same field, killed her, and stuffed her body into a drainage pipe.
It would bring an end to his rampage. Lucas was arrested shortly after, while Toole was separately imprisoned for burning a 64-year-old man alive. At long last, the killer couple was behind bars.
The Confession Killers
Originally, Henry Lucas was only arrested for possession of a deadly weapon, but he was just too eager to incriminate himself for every crime he could. He talked about his murders to anyone who would listen, especially the police.
Toole was a bit more reluctant, but after Lucas started taking police officers on guided tours of their murder sites, he confessed. By his count, they’d murdered 108 people — including Adam Walsh, the son of future America’s Most Wanted host John Walsh. Ottis Toole insisted he was the young boy’s murderer, even arguing with the police when they didn’t believe him, telling them, “Oh, no, I killed him, too, there’s no doubt about that.”
Lucas ended up confessing to literally thousands of murders, although it’s generally accepted that he wasn’t telling the truth about all of them.
As he would later admit, confessing to crimes just won him extra privileges. The police would drive him out to the scene of the crime and even let him get fast food on the way. For a man already on death row, confessing to murder was just a way to spend some time outside.
There’s no telling how much of Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole’s story is true. Their impact, though, endures. The police closed 213 cold cases based on their confession. Four films and two documentaries have been made about their sprees, including the critically acclaimed Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. And Ottis Toole’s alleged murder of Adam Walsh led to the creation of “America’s Most Wanted” and a rewriting of countless child protection laws.
Only three of their murderers have been definitively connected to them. But regardless of how much truth there really is in their story, Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole left a horrible scar on America from which we still haven’t recovered.