Ghost Story

Page 5 of 9

In September 1983, Lucas was sentenced to 75 years in prison for the murder of Kate Rich. Two months later, he was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Frieda "Becky" Powell, his fifteen-year-old common-law wife and the niece of Ottis Toole. In 1984, he was sentenced to death for the strangulation murder of a woman known as "Orange Socks" for the only clothing that remained on her body when she was found in a culvert beside a Texas highway in 1979 (she has never been identified). During the Orange Socks trial, Lucas was quoted as saying, "We cut 'em up. We hanged 'em. We ran 'em down in cars. We stabbed 'em. We beat 'em. We butchered 'em. We drowned 'em. There's no way I haven't killed 'em. There's crucifixion...There's people we filleted like fish. There's people we burnt...We strangled them by hand. We strangled them with a rope. We've even stabbed them when we strangled them...I've got 360 in the United States."

Lucas would eventually be convicted of ten murders in Texas. Because of that, prosecutors in several states never got the chance to try him, and others simply didn't attempt it.

But Whiteside says he never felt certain about the charges that were filed in the Colorado cases. "I always had real doubts about these people," he says. "I've always had this lingering doubt."

Whiteside was by no means the only person with questions about Lucas's and Toole's credibility. In 1985, the now-defunct Dallas Times Herald ran a series of stories -- based on reporter Hugh Aynesworth's hours of interviews with Lucas and an exhaustive examination of reams of paperwork -- showing that it would have been physically impossibly for Lucas and Toole to have committed at least a hundred of the murders for which they claimed credit.

"I guess the jig is up," Lucas was quoted as saying. "It took them long enough, didn't it?"

"I gave 'em 100 and they seemed so pleased, and so I gave 'em 240, then 600 -- then I said I had over 1,200," he added. "Isn't any of them honest?"

The Lucas confessions were widely denounced as a massive hoax. The Texas Rangers were sharply criticized for their role in eliciting the confessions, and their Lucas task force was disbanded.

In 1986, the Texas Attorney General's Office issued a report summarizing its own investigation of the Lucas investigation. It chronicled Lucas's whereabouts between his release from the Michigan State Penitentiary in 1975 and his final arrest in Texas and included interviews with people who had contact with Lucas and Toole -- employers, relatives and acquaintances, as well as law-enforcement agents who had investigated the two men after their 1983 arrests. The report's conclusions echoed the Times Herald's findings: Lucas had set out to fool law-enforcement officials, who were, in turn, all too eager to believe his confessions in order to close cases.

Lucas had confessed to murders he couldn't possibly have committed, the report showed, including some in which other people were under investigation or had already been convicted. In one instance, a victim's husband pleaded guilty to manslaughter even after Lucas had confessed to the crime. In another, Lucas confessed to murdering a woman whose death was actually the result of a seizure that caused her to drive off the road. In fact, in 1994, Lucas even confessed to a totally fictional murder fabricated by Dallas police to test his credibility.

Investigators also looked at the meager paper trail left by Lucas and Toole (records of rent payments, time sheets and receipts from scrap-metal collection, which both men occasionally did to make money), which showed that at the exact times of many of the murders they had confessed to, they had actually been hundreds of miles away.

On December 26, 1976, the day Holly Andrews was killed, records from the report show that "Lucas resided at Benjamin Trailer in Port Deposit, Maryland." Lucas paid his rent on December 3 and was investigated by Maryland police in connection with an incident involving his nephew's car on December 8.

"Lucas lived at Benjamin's Trailer Park from January 1976 until June 1977," the report states. "Friends and acquaintances agree that Lucas was gone from the area only twice during this period: Lucas and a half-brother went to Virginia to visit another half-brother. The trip took one day. Lucas and Ben Plaski took a female resident of the trailer park and her children to Rhode Island. The woman had had a fight with her husband. This trip look less than 24 hours."

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Megan Hall