Vic Feazell and Henry Lee Lucas
Deep State Is a Total Delusion, Right? Better Go Back to Henry Lee Lucas Story.
When I read an op-ed piece in The New York Times last week by William H. Webster (the only person ever to have been director of both the FBI and then the CIA), I wanted to believe every word, because essentially he was calling President Donald Trump an idiot, which I believe.
But then I stumbled on The Confession Killer, a Netflix documentary about so-called serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, and I wondered how I could have forgotten. The very worst part of remembering the Lucas case for me was the forced recognition that “deep state” is not just a name.
Webster’s argument in his essay in the Times is that Trump crudely and unfairly maligned a great American institution when he called FBI agents “scum.” That part I still believe.
“I know firsthand the professionalism of the men and women of the F.B.I.,” Webster wrote. “The aspersions cast upon them by the president and my longtime friend, Attorney General William P. Barr, are troubling in the extreme.
“Calling F.B.I. professionals ‘scum,’ as the president did, is a slur against people who risk their lives to keep us safe. Mr. Barr’s charges of bias within the F.B.I., made without providing any evidence and in direct dispute of the findings of the nonpartisan inspector general, risk inflicting enduring damage on this critically important institution.”
I’m down with all that. But, thanks to Netflix, I can’t insist that anybody else — notably, Trump’s supporters — accept Webster’s words or my own bias at face value.
The Netflix series, directed by Robert Kenner and Taki Oldham, deals somewhat indirectly with an element of the Lucas case that was directly connected to my own life and experience, namely the rivalry between the Dallas Times Herald, where I worked, and what’s now the A.H. Belo Corp., which still owns and operates The Dallas Morning News.
Lucas, who died of natural causes in prison at age 65 in 2001, confessed to more than 100 murders and was supposedly a strong suspect in 500 more. He was convicted and sentenced to death in one of those killings, but his execution was commuted by Texas Gov. George W. Bush after a Times Herald investigation proved Lucas was innocent of that murder.
The ultimate denouement of the entire Lucas story came in 1991 when a Waco civil jury slammed Belo with a $58 million libel verdict — at that time believed to be the largest libel award in American history. Belo’s WFAA Channel 8 television had broadcast a series of patently false stories accusing McLennan County District Attorney Vic Feazell of corruption. Feazell’s sin had been to publicly state doubts about the truthfulness of the great bulk of Lucas’ confessions.
By the time Feazell publicly questioned the Lucas confessions and the work of the Texas Rangers, the confessions already had been exposed as a travesty of lies by Times Herald reporters Hugh Aynesworth and Jim Henderson. The other night I laughed out loud when Henderson appeared on my TV screen in the wee hours saying something I had heard him say a million times before in person — that he does not find criminals to be interesting persons. And that’s exactly why Henderson and Aynesworth were able to see through the fabric of lies.
The Texas Rangers, a special investigative division of the Texas Department of Public Safety, had helped orchestrate the Lucas confessions with the help of the late Jim Boutwell, sheriff of Williamson County just north of Austin. Together they took credit for “clearing” or solving murders all over the United States by getting Lucas to confess to them.
There was never any physical evidence to tie Lucas to the murders, only his own improbably detail-rich confessions. The Rangers and Boutwell helped make the Lucas claims more credible by spinning an entire legend and mystique around him.
Instead of the gap-toothed, droop-eyed drifter he appeared to be on the surface, Lucas, in the words of Boutwell and the Rangers, became a monster worthy of great fiction, an ingenious fiend lurking beneath a clever disguise as a gap-toothed idiot.
Henderson and Aynesworth went with the gap-toothed idiot. They took a map of the United States, marker pens and push-pins and plotted Lucas’ alleged murders and timeline. As Henderson observes in the documentary, Henry Lee Lucas couldn’t have made it to that many places all over America on that tight a schedule had he been strapped to the nose of a guided missile.
And it got worse. Some details of the killings cited by Lucas were included in original police reports but later were corrected because they were found to be in error. But Lucas confessed to those cases before the errors were found. In some, Lucas confessed to mistaken facts in the original police reports.
What emerges clearly in this new documentary is what Aynesworth and Henderson proved plainly in their stories almost 40 years ago: Boutwell and the Rangers were feeding Lucas the facts he needed to make his confessions convincing. Lucas was confessing to dozens and dozens of murders he had nothing to do with and would have known nothing about had he not been coached.
Why would he have confessed to murders he didn’t commit? The documentary offers a few esoteric-sounding theories about things like “factitious disorder.” I don’t know how convincing I found all that. If there is such a thing, it’s not a bar to becoming president. I’m more likely to go with Aynesworth and Henderson’s theory based on the gap-toothed idiot.
In fact, Henry Lee Lucas himself would not be all that interesting, certainly not worth a well-wrought five-part documentary series, were it not for the deep-state story as exposed in the Feazell libel suit. Feazell was a young, ambitious district attorney in Waco when he stubbed his toe on the Lucas case and began digging deeper.