"Oh good, I like pretty girls," said Henry Lee Lucas to the reporter as she shook his hand for the first time.
That reporter was me. I remember the hair standing up on the back of my neck when the serial killer spoke those words to me almost seven years ago.I was living in Austin, Texas, looking for a reporting job. I really wanted to work on the Lucas story, and I got lucky and landed a job at a small newspaper in Georgetown, about 20 miles north of Austin and not two blocks from where Lucas was being held.
I started work right after Lucas was sentenced to die for killing "Orange Socks," and he was hot. Law-enforcement officers from all over the country with unsolved murders on their books wanted to question him because Lucas said he had killed hundreds of people during a 30-year crime spree. Journalists wanted to talk to him, too.
Reporters were scheduled first. Lucas got national attention as a notorious serial killer. His story aired on 60 Minutes and his photo appeared on the cover of Life magazine.
I saw Lucas practically every day for two years, and I watched and heard most of what was going on. I truly believe someone was helping the killer give believable confessions by giving him background on murder cases that law-enforcement officers would soon be discussing with him.
The task force, organized after Lucas began confessing to crimes in several states, was composed of Williamson County Sheriff Jim Boutwell and Texas Rangers John Prince and Clayton Smith. They coordinated interviews between Lucas and law enforcement officers.
For the first time in his life, this down-and-out drifter was getting attention. And he ate it up. He was treated like no other prisoner I have ever seen. If he wanted a certain flavor of ice cream in the machine downstairs, he got it. Unlike other prisoners who were confined to their cells, Lucas was spending most of his time in a nice cozy room, confessing to hundreds of murders he probably didn't commit.
When not talking to police or reporters, Lucas would sit quietly in his cell and paint. He even became a born-again Christian. He gave dozens of his paintings away to members of the task force and certain people he considered friends. Legend had it that every landscape Lucas painted was the location of a body of one of his victims.
When not in his cell or sitting in the room downstairs drinking coffee and chain smoking unfiltered cigarettes, Lucas was flying around the country talking to law-enforcement officers about their unsolved murder cases.
There was Lucas, a dangerous criminal who might have killed more people than anybody else in American crime history, maybe more than Ted Bundy. And law-enforcement officials were putting him on commercial airplanes with the general public and flying him all over the country.
I remember Boutwell saying to me, "Too bad Henry won't confess to a murder in Hawaii. We could use a vacation."
No doubt about it, Henry Lee Lucas was a killer. But to my surprise, he was an extremely personable man, and I lost my fear of him and actually started to enjoy his company. He's a likeable person. He always had a smile, was a great conversationalist and was always warm and witty. He could make people laugh - even the law-enforcement officers with murders on their minds.
There was a sensitive side to Henry. The first interview I had with him we talked about his childhood and Becky Powell, his 15-year-old common-law wife, who was a niece of his partner, Ottis Toole.
Toole is currently serving a life sentence in Florida State Prison for setting fire to a building, killing an occupant.
Calling himself "dirt poor," Lucas said he was raised in a rural area of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, the youngest of 12 children. He said his father was a double amputee and his mother was a prostitute who forced him to watch her engage in sex with several men at one time. He killed his mother in 1960, and was released from prison in 1975.
He told me he killed Becky back in 1982, after the two got into an argument. She wanted to leave Texas and Henry didn't. "I became very much in love with her. She understood me," Lucas said.
He said Becky slapped him, and before he had a chance to think, he reacted by stabbing her. He then cut up her body and scattered the parts across a field. He would go back to the field just to visit her.
"I would keep going back just to talk to her. I just kept going back because I wanted to be close to her." Henry always had tears in his eyes when he talked about Becky.
After he confessed to killing Becky, Lucas then confessed to another murder, the "Orange Socks" case that landed him on death row.
"Orange Socks" was an unidentified woman whose body was found off I-35 in Williamson County on Halloween Eve 1979. She had been strangled and sexually abused and was wearing only a pair of orange socks.
Lucas recanted his confession; his defense attorneys tried to have it suppressed, but with no luck. Prosecutors knew that without the confession they didn't have a case.
During the "Orange Socks" trial, defense attorneys produced evidence that Lucas couldn't have killed the woman because records showed that Lucas had been working in Jacksonville, Fla., the day before the murder, the day of the murder and the day after the murder. Prosecutors convinced the jury that co-workers falsified work records for Lucas.
When Lucas was confessing to hundreds of murders, I asked Boutwell what would happen if Lucas stopped confessing. His reply was, "He won't stop talking. He knows if he does he'll go to Huntsville and spend his life on death row."
So Lucas kept talking to keep his life of relative comfort and freedom. At one time he claimed he and Toole killed as many as 600 people. He'd confessed to about 200 before that.
But things began to unravel when the confessions got a bit out of hand. He once said he was the one who delivered the poison to Jonestown where hundreds of members of the People's Temple committed suicide. He also hinted he personally knew what happened to labor leader Jimmy Hoffa.
Lucas confessed to killing a woman in Millard County and another woman in Provo.
Problems surfaced when Dallas Times reporter Hugh Aynesworth interviewed Lucas and came to the conclusion that Lucas was perpetrating a hoax.
And then Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox stepped in and conducted his own investigation. He, too, came to the conclusion that Lucas couldn't have committed all those murders.
Lucas retracted his confessions. He was shipped to death row where he awaits execution. When I interviewed him on death row, he told me he didn't commit any of those killings.
It always bothered me that the police bought all Lucas' confessions without any evidence to back up his claims. The Utah investigators said this week there was doubt they could have convicted Lucas without his confessions.
To my knowledge, no one ever tied Lucas to the "Orange Socks" crime scene by a fingerprint, hair, car description, license plate, eyewitness description, sperm or saliva.
I eventually left Texas and moved to Utah. A couple of months later one of Lucas' defense attorney's called and asked me if I would testify during a suppression hearing in El Paso. The attorney said all I would have to testify about was what I saw and heard in the Williamson County Jail. I agreed since all I had to do was tell the truth.
So in September 1986, I flew to El Paso and saw Henry again. I talked to him for a few minutes, and I was surprised at how good it was to see him. He shook my hand warmly, smiled and said he missed our chats over coffee in the jail.
The suppression hearing centered on whether or not Lucas' confession should be admitted during his trial for the murder of an elderly woman. Without the confession, there wouldn't be a murder trial because the prosecution didn't have any evidence to back up its case.
I told District Judge Brunson Moore about the preferential treatment Lucas received in jail and the numerous times I heard task force members discuss a specific case with him before he talked to police and confessed to another murder.
I left Texas again thinking Lucas was part of the past. I later learned that the judge threw the confession out so there was no trial.
Almost four years later a friend gave me a copy of Vanity Fair, and I saw Lucas was again making the media rounds. The article, written by Ron Rosenbaum, was published last September and titled "Dead Reckoning, Worst Killer or Biggest Liar?"
Rosenbaum wrote that he interviewed Moore in El Paso and that the judge "was still fuming over what he had seen in his courtroom, Moore was outraged that the Texas Rangers had refused to admit they were wrong, refused to go back to police departments all over the country and tell them that Lucas was a fake, that the real killers in all those murders Lucas had confessed to were still at large."
"You're talking about hundreds of murderers let off the hook," Moore was quoted as saying.
Then thoughts of Henry would come back to me occasionally. I wondered how he was doing and how the "Orange Socks" appeal case was going. My life was different now. I was no longer working full-time on the police beat for a newspaper. I was married and trying to come to grips with how best to raise my son, give time to my husband and take care of six cats and a dog.
And then a couple of weeks ago a voice from the past came back. My assistant editor in Texas called to ask if I knew Lucas was scheduled to die for the "Orange Socks" case. I was startled, and old questions came back to haunt me.
Did he really kill all those people, or was he responsible only for the deaths of his mother, his common-law-wife, and his landlady? Lucas never took a law enforcement officer to where a body was buried. I believe if there's a shred of doubt, Lucas should be taken off death row and kept behind bars for life.
After those thoughts surfaced, I went and looked through boxes and found letters from Henry and old newspaper and magazine clips. The fear came back to me again. Not the fear I felt when he shook my hand for the first time, but the fear that Henry might die for a murder he did not commit. And fear that the real killer is still out there . . . somewhere.