If you’re into true crime at all, you’ve heard of Henry Lee Lucas. I mean, how could you not have? He’s the Confession Killer. The Damned Drifter. The Toothless Tyrant. I can keep going, but you get the picture. He’s a famous face in the world of true crime, and, if he is to be believed, Lucas is the most prolific serial killer since Ivan the Terrible.
That’s the thing, though. Can he be believed? This question is at the heart of The Confession Killer, the new 5-part limited series from Netflix and directors Robert Kenner and Taki Oldham. Did Henry Lee Lucas tell the truth to the Texas Rangers and the thousands of detectives he met with in the early 80’s, or was he just a sick man looking to please those he saw as authority figures?
“After bingeing the entire series in one sitting, I can comfortably say that The Confession Killer is one of my favorite serial killer documentaries ever. Each of the five 45-minute episodes is intricately detailed, honest, and absolutely maddening.”
After bingeing the entire series in one sitting, I can comfortably say that The Confession Killer is one of my favorite serial killer documentaries ever. Each of the five 45-minute episodes is intricately detailed, honest, and absolutely maddening. They focus on the victims of the crimes more than most documentaries, and do their best to show the true human collateral damage of murder. As you sit and watch these family members recount their stories, you are struck in the heart with the knowledge that men like Henry Lee Lucas don’t just end lives, they end whole generations of families. They end communities. They end the very sense of humanity.
The focus of the docu-series is the accusations of false confessions from Lucas. Kenner and Oldham inundate us with hours of confessional footage and extremely candid interviews from the main players involved. We watch as Lucas is transformed from an open-and-shut killer of his former roommate and underage girlfriend, to a whirlwind celebrity of the media and hopeful police departments.
Let’s get this out of the way right now: Henry Lee Lucas is a bad guy. He has spent his whole life inflicting pain on others. He murdered his mother. He molested his wife’s two daughters and attempted to kidnap another child. He seduced and groomed an 11-year old girl named Becky who he eventually “wed” when she was 15 and then murdered, desecrated, and buried in multiple shallow graves in the desert. When his and Becky’s mutual friend Kate became suspicious, Henry killed her, too. These things we know for certain. He is a multiple murderer, rapist, child molester, and thief. Is he a serial killer? Technically, yes, but he is not the boogeyman that the Texas authorities created for their own advancement.
The Confession Killer can skew to the anti-police side of the spectrum with their coverage of the Texas Rangers. I don’t think that it’s bias, per se, but rather the facts that make us feel that way. We are introduced to two former law enforcement officers, one a Ranger (Bob Prince) and one a Sherriff (Jim Boutwell), who have insisted for decades that everything Lucas confessed to is the truth. They have intimidated those that question them, bullied other officers into finding cases to clear, and manipulated Lucas to the point of giving him a nervous breakdown. You can see them, in interviews with Lucas, feeding him information and asking him leading questions to get the answers they need to clear a case. So, instead of being an anti-police series, I think it is an anti-two-specific-policemen series. Every other law enforcement officer in the film is treated fairly and without bias. Sometimes, bad people hold positions of authority and abuse the trust of those they are meant to serve to remain in power. That’s should shock absolutely no one.
“The Confession Killer can skew to the anti-police side of the spectrum with their coverage of the Texas Rangers. I don’t think that it’s bias, per se, but rather the facts that make us feel that way.”
During their interviews with Lucas, the Texas Rangers managed to help clear over 200 murder cases all over the United States. They coordinated the time slots given to other detectives, controlled the narrative surrounding the confessions, and pumped Henry full of all the milkshakes, cheeseburgers, cigarettes, and coffee that he could handle. The problem with these confessions, as the series lays out in plain detail, is that almost all of them are blatantly false. They have several murders that occurred thousands of miles away from one another, within days, when Lucas is signing insurance papers on the other side of the country. One of these purported murder trips has Lucas, Ottis Toole, and Becky traveling 11,000 miles in the span of one month, killing, raping, and robbing all along the way.
So, what’s the big deal, right? Lucas is obviously a murderer and rapist, so why not let him take the heat and get executed by the State? The problem is, for every one of the false confessions Lucas delivered, for every murder he took credit for that wasn’t true, an actual killer walked free. The families were never served the justice that they deserved, and countless more families were destroyed by a murderer being allowed to roam the dark roads of America. How many more people were killed by someone that, thanks to the Texas Rangers and Henry Lee Lucas, was never held accountable for what they did in the past?
The final episode of the series ends with this stat: Of the 200 cases cleared by the Texas Rangers and Lucas, 20 of them have already been resolved through DNA evidence. That’s 20 men that walked free for 30 years, simply because it was easier for detectives to blame a serial killer than to actually fight for the truth. Also, it means that there are still 180 murders out there, living in neighborhoods much like yours. Walking the aisles of Wal-Mart just like you. Watching your loved ones as they leave the house.
Without Henry Lee Lucas and the blatant corruption from the Texas authorities, the world would be a safer place. Unfortunately for the families, and for all of us, ego and power won the day in the Georgetown jail. Sure, the families were given a form of justice, but what good is closure when it isn’t the truth. Thanks to this brilliant documentary, we have a better understanding of what the truth means and how we should never settle for anything less.
“Thanks to this brilliant documentary, we have a better understanding of what the truth means and how we should never settle for anything less.”
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