The Heinous Crimes Of Henry Lee Lucas And Ottis Toole, The Confession Killers

Published May 20, 2018
Updated September 29, 2020

Birthed out of deeply troubled pasts, Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole were lovers and deranged serial killers who terrorized America in the 1960s and 1970s.

Henry Lee Lucas And Ottis Toole Mug Shots

Wikimedia CommonsThe mug shots of Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole.

Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole were a pair of star-crossed lovers who traveled across America murdering, raping, and even cannibalizing anyone who crossed their paths. And if Henry Lucas is to be believed, they killed more than 600 people together — an astounding claim.

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 about Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole are twisted enough to turn anyone’s stomach.

Kindred Killers

Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole 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 10. And by the time they met, both men were murderers.

Henry Lucas And Ottis Toole

YouTubeA rare photo of Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole together.

Lucas served 10 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 10 because she ignored an infection for so long that he had to have it removed. She had given him a miserable life. By the time he reached puberty, Lucas was passing his spare time torturing animals and sexually assaulting his own brother.

He was 23 years old when he killed his mother in 1960. 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,” 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 10, 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 murder victim was a traveling salesman who tried to pick him up for sex in the early 1960s.

Toole was only 14 years old when he lured that man out into the woods and then ran over him with his own car. It was the first time he’d ever killed anyone, but murder for Toole would become an addiction.

Considering the deeply troubled pasts of these two men, it didn’t take them long before they decided to embark on a murdering spree together.

Henry Lee Lucas And Ottis Toole’s Cross-Country Massacre

Ottis Toole In Custody

Getty ImagesOttis Toole in custody in front of a police station in Jacksonville, Florida.

Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole traveled across 26 states in the 1970s, murdering as many people as they could find. They preyed upon hitchhikers, prostitutes, and migrant workers. They would pick them up and lure them off to a quiet area to kill them.

Murder, for Lucas and Toole, was just a way for a young couple to bond. They would talk about it openly.

Lucas later claimed he would coach Toole on how 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 later say they didn’t feel the slightest moment of guilt. He once even joked that he 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 discussing in a private conversation over a prison phone years later after they had both been arrested. The way Toole talked about cannibalism, it almost 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.”

Henry Lucas And Ottis Toole Victim Orange Socks

Wikimedia CommonsA police recreation of one of Lucas’s alleged victims, known as “Orange Socks,” because that was the only item of clothing found on her mutilated corpse. Georgetown, Texas.

The relationship fell apart when Lucas allegedly became interested in Ottis Toole’s young teenage 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 child. He ran off with her 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 Powell out into an isolated field, murdered her, dismembered her body, and scattered the pieces in the 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.

Soon after this rampage, Lucas was arrested in Texas in 1983. Meanwhile, Toole was separately imprisoned in Florida in 1984 for burning a 64-year-old man alive. At long last, the killer couple was behind bars.

The Confession Killers

Henry Lee Lucas And The Police

Getty ImagesHenry Lee Lucas is escorted to his capital murder trial by the police.

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 any police officer who would listen.

Toole was a bit more reluctant, but after Lucas started taking cops on guided tours of their murder sites, Toole began backing up his former lover’s claims. By his count, they’d murdered 108 people — including 6-year-old 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.”

Adam Walsh

Wikimedia CommonsAdam Walsh in St. Lucie County, Florida. 1981.

Meanwhile, Lucas ended up confessing to more than 600 murders total, although it’s generally accepted that he wasn’t telling the truth about all of them.

As Lucas would later admit, confessing to crimes 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 who had already been sentenced to death row, confessing to murder upon murder was just a way to spend some time outside.

“I made the police look stupid,” Lucas later boasted. “I was out to wreck Texas law enforcement.”

The Confession Killer Docuseries On Netflix

The Confession Killer Still

NetflixA still from the Netflix docuseries The Confession Killer.

Considering that Henry Lee Lucas and Otis Toole’s true body count remains unknown, it’s only natural that people would wonder how many of their confessions were lies.

A new docuseries on Netflix called “The Confession Killer” aims to get closer to the truth. Debuting on Dec. 6, this series focuses on Henry Lee Lucas’s role in the murders — and his jaw-dropping claims that he later made to law enforcement.

The trailer for the five-part series shows Lucas enjoying the attention that police gave him due to his many confessions — even those that may have been false.

The official trailer for Netflix’s The Confession Killer.

His never-ending list of admissions led to the Texas Rangers establishing a “Henry Lee Lucas Task Force,” specifically assigned to oversee the crimes that the serial killer claimed to be responsible for committing.

At first, every story Lucas told seemed like the real deal. After all, he offered a gratuitous amount of grisly details of his supposed crime scenes.

He even drew detailed pictures of his alleged victims — much like another prolific serial killer named Samuel Little. Lucas’s pictures were so precise that they even included eye color.

But then, his confessions began to slowly unravel.

Henry Lee Lucas

Getty ImagesHenry Lee Lucas in the Williamson County Jail in 1979.

Law enforcement began to pick up on some major discrepancies in Lucas’s timelines. Plus, DNA testing started to contradict some of his stories. It didn’t help that Lucas didn’t offer much hard evidence to back up his increasingly farfetched tales.

It was later revealed that some members of the task force assigned to him secretly provided him with evidence and asked him leading questions in attempts to get more confessions. That said, some Texas Rangers remained convinced that he was telling the truth about at least some of the murders.

“I remember him trying to cop to one he didn’t do,” said retired Texas Ranger Glenn Elliott. “But there was another murder case where I’ll kiss your butt if he didn’t lead us right to the deer stand where the murder took place. Ain’t no way he could’ve guessed that, and I damn sure didn’t tell him. I think he did that one.”

Henry Lee Lucas And Ottis Toole’s Impact

Henry Lee Lucas In Prison

Getty ImagesLucas in prison in 1997. He was later pardoned from death row and sentenced to life imprisonment.

There’s no telling how much of Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole’s story is true. Their impact, though, endures. The police cleared 213 unsolved cases based on their confessions.

A district attorney named Ken Anderson who prosecuted Lucas said he believed the murderer had killed anywhere from three people to a dozen.

“I don’t think he knew exactly,” Anderson said. “It’s difficult to imagine you can rely on anything he said, but the fact remains he was a serial killer, even though we’re unable to pinpoint the exact number.”

Lucas died of heart failure in jail in 2001, so any definitive answers of how many people he killed died with him. Meanwhile, Toole died of liver failure in jail in 1996.

And yet, people today are still trying to get to the bottom of this twisted, bizarre story. Other than The Confession Killer docuseries, two other documentaries and four films 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.

That said, the possibly false confessions from the killers have had horrifying consequences for the families of murder victims. They went from feeling a sense of closure that Lucas and Toole were behind bars to questioning whether those men had even killed their loved ones in the first place.

In the worst case scenario, the real killers behind some of the fake admissions might even still be out there. It’s no wonder why some families are now lobbying to get cases reopened, years after the couple’s confessions closed them up.

Regardless of how much truth there is to this story, it’s undeniable that these serial killers left a horrible scar on America from which we still haven’t recovered.

If you think your stomach can handle more serial killers after reading about Ottis Toole and Henry Lee Lucas, see how it does against the twisted stories of Edmund Kemper and Richard Speck.

Mark Oliver
Mark Oliver is a writer, teacher, and father whose work has appeared on The Onion's StarWipe, Yahoo, and Cracked, and can be found on his website.