Convicted serial killer Henry Lee Lucas in the Williamson County jail in 1979. Lucas died on 13 March 2001 of natural causes in his Texas prison home. (Photo by Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Sygma via Getty Images)

Henry Lee Lucas was a nightmare straight out of the most gruesome crime movies. A sexual deviant and convicted murderer, Lucas and his star-crossed lover, Ottis Toole, committed murder, rape, cannibalism, and more heinous crimes. Lucas would go on to confess to about 600 murders. But the figure is most certainly a lie. Netflix’s latest true-crime offering The Confession Killerwhich releases on December 6, explores how Lucas could go from committing horrific murders to becoming a fabulist who takes responsibility for murders he doesn’t commit. Many researchers have traced his bloodthirsty inclinations to his family background. A glimpse at Henry Lee Lucas’ complicated family issues seems to attest to that.

Henry Lee Lucas Was Abused by His Parents

Henry Lee Lucas was born on August 23, 1936 in Blacksburg, Virginia to Anderson “No Legs” Lucas and Viola Dixon Waugh Lucas. Counting the children from his mother’s previous marriage, Henry was the youngest of nine. His parents were reportedly abusive and sadistic alcoholics whose favorite target was Henry.

A railroad accident had rendered Anderson a double amputee and earned him the nickname “No Legs.” He supposedly sold illegal alcohol and pencils from his wheelchair. By the time Henry was 10, he had become an alcoholic, too. Anderson died of hypothermia in 1949, after collapsing outside during a blizzard.

The brunt of Henry’s psychological damage was said to have come from his mother. A prostitute, Viola reportedly forced Henry to watch her have sex with her clients.

Some sources claim she further abused her young son, forcing him to crossdress in public, starving him and his half-siblings, and allowing him to be sexually abused. The food that the children ate was often stolen from neighbors and stores. And one of Viola’s partners reportedly introduced Henry to bestiality, one of Henry’s many perversions.

As he grew older, Henry would get involved in fights and crimes that would send him to prison for different periods of time.

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Lucas Murdered His Mother

Henry claimed to have committed his first murder when he was 17. The alleged victim was a young girl he tried to sexually assault. However, there’s no evidence to corroborate that. His earliest known murder victim would be his own mother.

After his release from a prison stint in 1959, he went to live with his half-sister, Opal Waugh, in Michigan. During that time, he had planned to marry a woman named Stella, a pen pal he’d corresponded with during his incarceration.

On Christmas that year, Viola arrived at Opal’s place to express her disapproval of Henry and Stella’s engagement. She wanted Henry to move back in with her and take care of her in her sunset years.

According to reports, the argument that followed caused Stella to break up with Henry. Viola’s repeated verbal abuse at the already infuriated Henry resulted in a violent argument.

Viola reportedly broke a broomstick over his head. In retaliation, Henry stabbed her in the neck before fleeing.

Viola didn’t die immediately. When Opal returned home, she found her mother alive in a pool of blood and called an ambulance. But Viola would succumb to her injuries. The official police report stated that she died of a heart attack on January 11, 1960, due to the assault.

Lucas was apprehended for her murder. He claimed to have acted in self-defense and was sentenced to prison. He was released early in 1970, however, due to prison overcrowding.

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Lucas Married a Widow and Single Mother

Soon after his early release, Henry Lee Lucas ended up in prison for five years for the attempted kidnapping of three schoolgirls. While in prison, he corresponded with Maryland resident Elizabeth “Betty” Crawford, said to be a family friend.

They married when he was released in 1975. Crawford had three daughters from her marriage to her deceased husband.

The family of five drifted from one place to another, living off Crawford’s social security payments. They’d eventually return to Maryland, where Crawford accused Lucas of molesting one of her daughters.

Lucas denied the accusation, but they separated anyway. They ended up divorcing in 1977 and Lucas continued the life of a drifter, which would lead to his encounter with Ottis Toole.

When Lucas was on a confession spree, Crawford had publicly expressed her skepticism about his claims.

Lucas and Toole Had a Sexual Relationship

Lucas befriended Ottis Toole in 1976, at a Jacksonville, Florida soup kitchen. Their friendship soon turned sexual and Lucas moved in with Toole’s family in Jacksonville.

They had more in common than sexual trauma and abusive mothers who forced them to crossdress—they shared a mutual love for blood and violence that led them to commit countless murders and violent crimes. At the same time, they worked day jobs while Lucas lived with Toole. They would later tell authorities they were part of a murderous cult, though authorities refuted those claims.

Among Toole’s relatives was his niece, Frieda “Becky” Powell. She reportedly had a mild mental impairment and some accounts claimed that Lucas developed a romantic relationship with her. His homicidal partnership with Toole fell apart when he became involved with Powell.

When Powell was committed to a state shelter, Lucas convinced her to abscond with him, leaving Toole behind. Despite their age difference, they were mistaken as a legal common law couple as they moved between places and jobs.

Powell and Lucas’ relationship soon turned violent as they got into heated arguments. In one such fight, a drunk Lucas stabbed the 15-year-old to death. He would later confess to her murder, along with that of the elderly infirm woman the couple used to work for.

Lucas would eventually be arrested for Powell’s murder. That would be his last arrest. His early murder confessions were credible, but he then went on a confessing spree admitting to several hundred murders.

It was believed that he confessed to the murders to score better prison conditions. But he was ruled out as the perpetrator behind several of the murders he admitted to.

Lucas was convicted of murdering 11 people and sentenced to death for one case. But follow-up investigations revealed he was a fabulist who lied about much of his murderous spree to gloat.

This development led to his sentence being commuted to life in prison in 1998 by then-Governor George W. Bush. Lucas would die of heart failure on March 12, 2001 in his prison cell.

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