Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole teamed up to make the deadliest serial murder team in history. Or perhaps not. Due to their seemingly endless confessions and subsequent recanting, combined with alleged “case-clearing” by opportunistic law enforcers, the true totals of the killer duo will never be known for certain. There is no doubt that both were cold-hearted degenerates that took far more than their share of innocent lives.
Both had childhoods that no one would wish on their worst enemy. Lucas was one of nine children born on August 23, 1936, to a prostitute and her legless husband, both of whom were hopeless alcoholics. His mother physically and mentally abused her mate and their children, most of whom were removed from the home or sent away. As for Lucas, he was sent to his first day of school dressed as a girl and reportedly was not allowed to wear shoes. An older brother began engaging in sex with him and introduced him to bestiality in Lucas’ early teens. Adding to this horrid Virginia upbringing was his appearance, which was unattractive even before he lost an eye in an accident at the age of seventeen.
Toole was born in Florida and like Lucas was one of nine children, he being the youngest. He suffered several head injuries during his childhood, resulting in a lifelong struggle with seizures, and was sexually molested. Also like Lucas, Toole reported being dressed in girl’s clothing on occasion, no doubt a factor in his future transvestitism, and engaged in sex with a sibling (in his case an older sister). Toole was also far below average in the attractiveness department and had a speech impediment that made him nearly impossible to understand at times.
Both were already dangerous individuals, and possibly already serial killers, by the time they hooked up in Jacksonville in 1975. Lucas had already killed his mother and raped her corpse while Toole was an accomlished serial arsonist. Lucas began staying with Toole in his mother’s home along with Toole’s young niece Becky Powell. When his mother died, Toole took his niece and Lucas on the road, where all three reportedly engaged in sex with one another. Lucas and Powell even passed themselves off as man and wife though she was barely a teenager and he was in his early forties. During their drifting the trio was surely responsible for several killings. The total number could be anywhere from a few to a few hundred.
Toole and Lucas eventually parted ways, with Powell accompanying her older boyfriend to Texas where they settled down in 1982. Lucas soon murdered Powell and Kate Rich, the woman they had originally stayed with when they first arrived in Texas, in seperate incidents. Lucas had sex with both women’s corpses. He was soon arrested on unrelated charges and confessed to both slayings. For his part, Toole was arrested at about the same time for the arson murder of an old acquaintance in Florida.
The rest of the story is a confusing mess of false confessions and retractions by both killers, especially Lucas, resulting in an almost complete inability to pinpoint what killings the two committed either together and on their own. Lucas was eventually found guilty of ten homocides and sentenced to death in Texas for the murder of the Jane Doe hitchhiker known as “orange socks”, but was eventually pardoned for this killing and re-sentenced to life in prison. Toole also had his death sentence for murder commuted to life and gained additional fame for confessing to the abduction and slaying of six-year-old Adam Walsh, son of “America’s Most Wanted” host John Walsh. Toole later recanted. Toole has since died of cirrhosis in 1996 and Lucas also died of natural causes in March of 2001.