Catching a New Breed of Killer

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Two drifters confess to committing hundreds of "serial murders "

They met on a rescue mission soup line in Jacksonville in 1976 and hit it off immediately. But Drifters Henry Lee Lucas, 47, and Ottis Elwood Toole, 36, were drawn together by more than mere loneliness or poverty. According to Lucas, they roamed from coast to coast on a seven-year spree of rape, mutilation and murder that is unequaled in American police records. The two convicts have allegedly confessed to committing, separately and together, hundreds of murders. Though their claims may ultimately prove to be exaggerated, law-enforcement officials say that one or both are prime suspects in 97 cases in 13 states. Their grisly story, says one Florida police official, "makes Charles Manson sound like Tom Sawyer."

If their confessions are even partially true, Lucas and Toole could be textbook examples of a new breed of killer: the serial murderer, whose victims are numerous and whose crimes are geographically far-flung and committed over a period of many years. The Federal Bureau of Investigation believes that serial murderers are behind some 35 death sprees currently under investigation. Alfred Regnery, administrator of the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, estimates that of the 21,000 murders committed in the U.S. last year, several thousand can be attributed to this kind of psychopath. "The serial murderer doesn't simply go back to pumping gas," he says. "A senseless murder is not just committed once." The Justice Department has plans to create a national center for analysis of such violent crime. The goal: to help local police departments identify the types of known criminals who might turn into serial murderers and compare evidence on missing-persons files and unsolved homicides.

Until he was arrested in Texas last June, Henry Lee Lucas looked harmless. "He just seemed like an ordinary person, real polite and real nice," recalls Faye Moore, wife of a Pentecostal preacher in Stoneburg, Texas. "I never knew him to take a drink, and he never used foul language." One humid May morning last year, Moore's husband Reuben, 52, gave Lucas and his companion Freida ("Becky") Powell, Toole's 15-year-old niece, a lift in Montague County, Texas. He offered the couple room and board in exchange for chores around his makeshift church. Thirteen months later, following Lucas' confessions, the remains of Powell and one of Moore's neighbors, Katherine Pearl Rich, 80, were found.

Lucas, who is scheduled to be tried in Texas this week for Freida Powell's murder, has already been sentenced to 75 years, after pleading guilty Sept. 30 to the slaying of Katherine Rich. He has been officially charged with twelve other murders during the past eight years. His lawyer plans to plead in the Powell case that his client is not guilty by reason of insanity.

Born poor in rural Virginia to a prostitute and a double amputee, Lucas was convicted in 1960 for stabbing his mother to death. He was sent to prison in Jackson, Mich., on a 20-to-40-year sentence. Paroled in 1970, he returned to prison within the year for an attempted abduction and served a five-year sentence. He was released in 1975.

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