Warning: Technically, this story may spoil the new Netflix docuseries.
Henry Lee Lucas went down in true crime history when he confessed to killing hundreds of people in the 1980s. It's estimated that the number of people he confessed to killing totaled 600. With the undivided attention of law enforcement and endless strawberry milkshakes at his beck and call, Lucas would recount the gruesome details of each death. It was shocking, sickening, and later proven to be almost completely untrue.
Netflix's latest true-crime docuseries, The Confession Killer, chronicles the confessions made by Lucas and the special relationship he had with law enforcement over the years he spent in prison. "He was able to give them the information, and they believed it. They believed it so much, they began to overlook facts," director Robert Kenner told People. The five-part series was directed by Kenner and Taki Oldham.
That's not to say that Lucas was an innocent man. Far from it. He first went to prison in 1960 for murdering his mother, a crime for which he served 10 years before being released on parole. It wasn't long before he violated his parole attempting to kidnap a 15-year-old girl and was re-incarcerated for another five years, per Biography. Lucas killed two more women — Becky Powell, who Lucas claimed to be romantically involved with, and an elderly woman from whom they were renting a room — shortly after his release in 1975. He was not arrested until 1983 for possession of a deadly weapon.
Shortly after his arrest, Lucas began to confess to countless crimes. For each of his confessions, Lucas was rewarded with special privileges such as fast food, being allowed to walk around without handcuffs, among other preferential treatment. Before long, detectives from 40 states were talking to him about over 3,000 unsolved homicides. He achieved a sinister level of stardom. He was making headlines. People recognized him and asked for his autograph. All along, he knew that most of his confessions were elaborate fabrications and lies. "I made the police look stupid. I was out to wreck Texas law enforcement," Lucas told The Houston Chronicle.
In 1985, two Texas reporters for the Dallas Times-Herald, Hugh Aynesworth and Jim Henderson, concluded a 15-month investigation proving that there was no possible way he was responsible for every murder he confessed to committing. They cited work records, traffic tickets, signed checks, insurance forms, and interviews with Lucas' past landlords and employers. In fact, he couldn't be linked with any certainty to more than three, according to the Washington Post. It came down to the simple explanation that Lucas could not possibly be in two places at once. It is still uncertain whether law enforcement intentionally fed him information so they could tie him to specific cases or whether it was all done unknowingly.
Hundreds of cases were closed based on his confessions. Even when he later recanted the majority of his claims, they were never reopened. Family and friends of the victims believed they had closure only to discover years later that the real killer may never have been brought to justice. “If we were to take a conservative estimate, 70 to 100 cases are still crediting Lucas for the crime, whether formally or informally. Probably 160 or 170 were never re-investigated, which is an incredible number,” said Kenner.
Lucas died in 2001 of a heart attack. Whether he committed the crimes or not, he became partially responsible for hundreds of murders going unsolved. At the time of his death, only three of the murders he confessed to were confirmed to be committed by him.