Remembering Henry Lee Lucas

One can teach Texas Rangers, but can they be made to learn?

There’s a new serial killer in town and the Texas Rangers are on the case. What could possibly go wrong? Samuel Little claims that he has killed over a hundred women. He is serving three life sentences. His confessions will have no adverse impact on him, the death penalty is not a consideration. What’s in it for him?

I can think of three things, notoriety, power, and amusement. It worked for Henry Lee Lucas. Another Texas Ranger serial murderer from back in the 80’s.
The question remains, did the Texas Rangers learn anything in over thirty years?

Henry Lee Lucas was a one eyed drifter who was arrested for murder and jailed in Williamson County, Texas. While incarcerated Lucas began talking. Soon he was claiming that he and Ottis Toole had killed over 300 people. While they traveled the US over several years. Lucas later recanted and claimed he had only killed three people. An FBI profiler I knew said of Lucas, he killed more than three and less than three hundred, how many we will never know.

Interrogation entails more than a rubber hose. A skilled interrogator choreographs the entire interview before the first word is spoken. He knows that every question imparts information to the person being questioned. Both sides of the interrogation have the same goal, find out what the other guy knows, while not revealing what they know.

Get it wrong and the bad guy gets more than he gives. I had a lengthy video of an interrogation session between Henry Lee Lucas, the Sheriff of Williamson County and a Texas Ranger Captain. I showed it to cadets in the basic police academy. The purpose was to allow them to see the face of evil. Secondly, it was to learn how not to conduct an interview.

The interview was regarding the disappearance of a nineteen year old female store clerk in Round Rock, Texas. Henry started out admitting he was pretty sure he and Ottis did it. He then threw out a comment about the store being next to the Interstate.

No, they corrected him it was several blocks away. Henry’s reply was along the lines of near, next to, same thing. They are sitting at a table. There is a file on the table between them. It was pretty obvious that Lucas was viewing the contents of the file.

Our intrepid lawmen stumbled through the interview and in response to Lucas’ vague answers provided him with a photo of the victim, her car and the store front. Henry took the knowledge gained and worked it into his answers. His correct description of the clerk, the car and the store all bolstered his credibility. At the end they concluded that Henry was probably good for the abduction murder of the clerk. He was never charged.

It was just as well. Twenty years later, at the height of a drought a stock tank began to dry up. This particular stock tank was alongside a county road. That road was on the most direct route home for the store clerk. The wheels of the car showed first. The car had flipped over and handed on its roof in the stock tank. The car sank taking the store clerk with it. No murder, just a traffic accident.

This is what I know about crooks. When I was working dope, the investigator with the hottest lead got the resources. This trickled down to the relations between investigator and informants. The snitch that can put dope on the table, now, gets the attention. I had a paid informant that would claim he had a drug buy all set up. A typical deal went like this:

After picking up the snitch, the first stop was a store to pick up 40’s of beer and cigarettes. Then off to meet the connection. The connection didn’t actually have any dope, but he knew somebody that did. He just needed a ride, a 40 and cigarettes. This led to another dude. he didn’t have any dope either. But he knew somebody. “Could you stop, so I could pick up a 40? Got a butt, man?”

All of these guys are in their early twenties. They have all spent extended time in county jail or even done a stint in prison. They are all career criminals. They knew when they got out of bed that morning that they were going to commit a crime. They just didn’t know what crime, where or what the payoff would be. My snitch would act as MC and keep the conversation going. The topics were getting high (past, present and future), crimes they had committed, wanted to commit, or look at that lawn mower! You see anyone? Make the block.

It soon dawned on me that these guys were getting off just talking about getting off.

Years ago a inept burglar sued a newspaper for libel. The paper, in choosing to write about the exploits that landed the burglar in jail, took a tongue in cheek tact. This outraged the burglar. He claimed that the paper called into question his professional competence and made him a laughing stock in the county jail. Crooks have egos, bestest, mostest is better than a participation trophy.

Samuel Little insists he is a murderer first and just coincidentally a rapist. Murders are respected in prison. Rapists aren’t.

Power is a relative thing. There are varying degrees of power. Not everybody is suited, nor interested in world domination power. Consider Little, the power to break out of jail isn’t likely to come his way. It may be that at this stage prison isn’t such a bad gig.

Little can’t walk through a door unless his jailers allow it. He can’t raid the icebox. There are thinks that he can do, that nobody else can. He can make a Texas Ranger come when he calls. Little can take the Ranger’s time and creep into his dreams. Through the Ranger he can take other cops time. He can make them drive for hours or get on an airplane. They will endure the travel, the motels and undergo the security screening just to talk to him. Then, he can talk, or not, some or a lot, as the spirit moves him. He can make them come back.

And all the time the discussion centers on his favorite topics, sex and violence. He might get to look at crime scene photos. Even if there are no photos he can imagine. It really doesn’t matter if the imaginings are recall or fantasy. What a way to pass the time. Notoriety, power and amusement.

Like Reagan said Trust but Verify. There are at least two dynamics that emerge when somebody like Little surfaces. One is noble and the other not.

There are investigators out there that are trying to close a case by providing the final answer. They are looking for some measure of comfort for the survivors by providing definite answers. Little might hold the key.

Another set of investigators have an open file. It upsets their sense of order, but for this case the clearance rate would be better. For these cops Little provides the excuse. Knock off a few rough edges and the square becomes a circle. Look how well it fits in the round hole?

Best laid plans