This is one of those stories that resonated with me as a true crime writer because I’ve seen it with my own eyes on a case. More on that later.
The Confession Killer is the story of Henry Lee Lucas, a man that confessed to upwards of 300 (or more) murders in the 1980’s. He was a killer. He had murdered his mother and spent time in prison for that crime. Early on in his confessions, he led authorities to the remains of two victims…only their killer could have done that.
The local sheriff and the Texas Rangers had a person in Lucas who was willing to confess to countless crimes, all for a strawberry shake and some cigarettes. He provided details that only the killers could know, or so it seemed. Police from all over the country lined up for 20 minute sessions with Lucas where he would confess to crimes in their jurisdictions and allow them to close the cases. It gave dozens of families closure finally.
Lucas loved the attention and the limelight. He basked in it. For one time in his life, he had importance.
Then a dogged reporter started actually digging into Lucas and discovered proof that with many of his confessions, Lucas was not able to have committed the crimes – he was in other parts of the country. The local sheriff and the Rangers ignored the evidence. I have to say, at first, I thought that the reporter was the real hero of this true crime saga.
If this had been the crux of the story, it would have been a very good documentary. But wait, there’s more!
A young and determined Waco prosecutor spotted the same errors and opened a grand jury investigation into the Lucas task force. The Rangers, the FBI, and the IRS were brought to bear on him, framing him for bribery. Lucas’s information disappeared from law enforcement computers. A massive cover-up was eventually exposed, complete with law enforcement manipulating the media to go after the prosecutor.
So how did he do it? Officers fed him information, led him to crime scenes, gave him photographs of crime scenes and pictures of the victims. Lucas had an uncanny ability to read his audience and give them what they wanted, confessions. They were able to overlook errors he made, or they even corrected him when he made mistakes.
Henry Lee Lucas played them like a cheap fiddle.
As a sidebar: My daughter and I witnessed this ourselves when writing The Murder of Maggie Hume. Michael Ronning had confessed to her murder but it was, most likely a false confession. We watched videos of them taking Ronning to crime scenes and it was eerily similar to what Lucas did. When officers took him out to another murder site that he claimed credit for (Patricia Rosansky) along the river, Ronning didn’t point out the area where they should turn off. One officer we heard on the tape said, “Michael, doesn’t that area over there look familiar to you?” as he pointed to it. Another officer off camera can be heard saying, “Damn it Denny, why don’t you just get out and show him where the body was?”
There are officers that swear to this day that Ronning’s confessions were solid, despite errors that cannot be overlooked. Why? Because they want Ronning to be a serial killer, they wanted to be the officers that closed cases involving such a murderer. That notoriety, of being involved with a serial killer is like winning the Super Bowl for law enforcement.
Which is how Henry Lee Lucas played authorities.
I really enjoyed this short series by Netflix. A solid five out of five stars, perfect for your winter binge watching needs.