The Old Williamson County Jail is now known for its ghosts. And how could it not? The ominous building housed some of the worst criminals the county has ever seen during its 100 years in operation. And the now defunct long tradition of a Halloween Haunted Jail attraction organized by the Williamson County Sheriff’s Department only added to the lore around the spooky structure.
Regardless of whether you believe in ghosts, there is no denying that many of the former residents of the Jail brought some darkness into the building. The last legal execution was in 1906, when convicted child killer, Tom Young, was hanged in front of an audience of 5,000. In 1967, the Jail held a juvenile family annihilator. But perhaps the most famous inmate to grace the second-floor cell was the infamous serial (debatable) killer Henry Lee Lucas (August 23, 1936 – March 13, 2001).
In June 1983, Henry Lee was picked up and arrested in Montague County, Texas, which is near the border of Texas and Oklahoma, for a firearms violation. During this arrest made by Texas Ranger Phil Ryan, Henry Lee began his notorious confessions.
Soon, Henry was charged with the murder of Kate Rich, the 82-year-old woman who rented him a room in Montague County. Additionally, he was charged with the murder of Becky Powell, his fifteen-year-old girlfriend. At the time of the charges, authorities didn’t have bodies.
Henry Lee claimed that when he was arrested, Texas police stripped him naked, denied him cigarettes, stuck him in a cold cell without any bedding, and prohibited him from contacting an attorney. According to Lucas, his mistreatment went on for four days. He decided to confess to the murders, hoping for more humane treatment.
After he confessed to the murders of Becky and Kate, he took the police to their remains. A bone fragment inside a wood-burning stove was said to be from Kate Rich. A mostly complete skeleton was determined to be Becky Powell, as it matched her age, gender, and size. Though forensics was inconclusive, Henry Lee’s involvement in recovering the remains led law enforcement and the courts to believe he was guilty of both murders.
In typical Henry Lee Lucas fashion, he would eventually deny his involvement and attempt to retract his original confession, but the evidence and consensus found him guilty.
Henry Lee’s Backstory
Henry Lee Lucas was born to Viola and Anderson Lucas on August 23, 1936, in a one-room cabin in Blacksburg, Virginia. Life was hard from the beginning. His father, Anderson, was an alcoholic and had lost both legs in a train accident while working for the railroad. Viola, his mother, was a sex worker with a violent temper and twisted disdain for her son.
Henry made claims throughout his life that Viola would force him to watch her as she “serviced” her clients. As a young boy, she would dress Henry Lee like a girl. The school eventually complained and obtained a court order for Viola to cease cross-dressing her son. When he got into a fight with his half-brother, his mother ignored the seriousness of the damage to his eye. Eventually, the infection grew so severe that it had to be removed, then replaced with a glass eye.
When Henry Lee was twelve years old, his father died of hypothermia. Anderson Lucas was intoxicated when he wheeled himself outside during a blizzard. He fell out of his wheelchair, and Viola, Henry’s mother, left him in the snow. Soon after the loss of his father, Henry Lee dropped out of sixth grade, ran away from home, and began drifting around the country.
The Life of Henry Lee Lucas
Henry Lee’s life seemed fated to be a struggle filled with bad decisions and confusing consequences. From a very young age, he appeared unable to regulate himself, always allowing his demons to win. One of those demons was a pathological liar.
Most think Henry’s first murder was when he killed his mother in 1960; however, Lucas claimed that his first murder was in 1951 when he was just 15 years old. According to Henry Lee, he had made the moves on 17-year-old Laura Burnsley, who made it clear she was not interested in him. So, according to Lucas, he strangled her to death. Later in life, he retracted his claim.
Henry Lee Hates His Mom
In 1954, at 18 years old, Henry Lee was convicted in Richmond, VA, for multiple counts of burglary. He was sentenced to six years, but crafty Lucas escaped prison in 1957. He was recaptured and served half of his sentence. Henry Lee was released from prison for the first time in September 1959.
After prison, Lucas moved to Tecumseh, Michigan, to live with his half-sister, Opal. He began a pen pal relationship with a young woman while in prison and proposed to her when released. When his mother came to Michigan to visit Henry Lee and her daughter, she discovered that Henry Lee was planning to wed. Viola was not happy.
Viola demanded her son move back to Blacksburg and care for her as she aged. Henry Lee refused, and the argument kept going for weeks. On January 11, 1960, Henry Lee’s disagreement with his mother turned violent. Viola struck Lucas over the head with a broom, and her son responded by stabbing her in the neck. Henry immediately fled the scene.
But, as is always the case with Lucas, the story gets muddled. Lucas recalled the altercation; he remembered slapping her but didn’t realize he was holding his knife when he did it. When she fell to the floor, he tried to pick her up, and at that point, he knew she was dead. However, when Opal arrived home, she found her mother was still alive and lying in a pool of blood.
When paramedics got to the scene, it was too late. Viola had passed away. Where it gets murky is that the police report stated that Viola died of a heart attack precipitated by the assault. Lucas was picked up in Ohio, claimed self-defense, which was denied and was sentenced to 40 years for second-degree murder. No clue how the heart attack figured into the equation.
Henry Lee Gets Married
After a short time in prison, Henry Lee attempted suicide twice and was sent to Ionia State Mental Hospital for the criminally insane. He was in Ionia for six years. After ten years of his 40-year sentence, Henry Lee was paroled on June 3, 1970, and he headed back to Tecumseh.
It didn’t take long for Henry Lee to return to his dastardly (and disgusting) ways. In December 1971, Lucas was charged with molesting two teenage girls. The charge was reduced to kidnapping – because it was the 1970s, and back to prison he went. Henry was on parole again in August 1975.
Perhaps it was an effort to go straight when Henry Lee began working on a mushroom farm in Pennsylvania and married his cousin’s widow, Betty Crawford. The newlyweds moved to Maryland, and Henry returned to his nasty habits. Betty left Henry Lee when she discovered he had molested her daughters. She divorced him in the summer of 1977.
Henry Lee Falls in Love, Again
Henry Lee began to drift around the South and ended up in Jacksonville, Florida (insert Florida joke here). This was when he met up with another one of America’s sweethearts, Ottis Toole. Ottis committed his own menagerie of atrocities, but we’re dedicating this little article to Henry Lee. So, the only contribution worth noting here regarding Ottis is that he was the uncle to the soon-to-be fourteen-year-old girlfriend of Henry; her name was Frieda “Becky” Powell.
To set the scene, Becky had escaped from a juvenile detention center and lived with Ottis and the Toole family when Henry moved into their house. For about ten minutes, Henry Lee worked odd jobs as a roofer, side mechanic, and scrap scavenger. But Henry and Ottis were rambling men, and the open road would call to them periodically.
During one of the boys’ months away, Toole’s mother and sister died, which meant Becky and her brother Frank were placed in a home. When Henry and Ottis returned to Jacksonville, they somehow procured the release and custody of the two kids. Uncle Ottis and Henry Lee then took the children on a road trip through depravity, and Becky became Henry’s “common-law” child bride.
Eventually, child welfare authorities realized that an awful decision was made in releasing the children to Henry and Ottis, and they began a search. Becky and Henry Lee took off for California. Becky’s brother Frank wound up in a psychiatric facility in 1983.
Henry and Becky went from California to Texas and into the All People’s House of Prayer’s welcoming arms in Stoneburg, Texas – part of Montague County. But it didn’t take long for Becky to start feeling homesick. So, they planned to hitchhike back to Florida.
August 23, 1982, Henry and Becky were on the road when they got into a heated argument in Denton County, Texas. Becky slapped Lucas. And he slapped her back with his knife, just like he had done to his mother. He then dismembered her corpse and returned to Stoneburg, where he would stay with the elderly Ms. Kate Rich in exchange for some handy work needing to be done around her place.
Three weeks later, Ms. Kate went missing, and so did Henry. Apparently, her relatives had called him out for not holding up his end of the bargain, making Henry Lee mad. Henry went back to California, but only for a few weeks. However, Ms. Kate was still nowhere to be found.
On October 17th, Ms. Kate’s home was destroyed by a fire, and coincidentally, Henry was back in town. But it wasn’t until June 11th, 1983, that Henry would be arrested for being a felon with a handgun. While in a cell on the night of June 15th, Henry Lee called out to the jailer, he had a few things he needed to get off his chest. “I’ve done some bad things,” Henry Lee began his oratorical fireworks.
Lucas admitted to the murder of Ms. Kate and Becky and said he had a few more to add to his Murder CV. He then led the police to their remains. Then he began confessing to more murders.
Welcome to Williamson County
Henry Lee Lucas was transferred to Williamson County Jain in November 1983. He claimed that it was the mistreatment of the police and the attacks by other inmates that drove him to attempt suicide. But it was in the Wilco Jail that he began confessing to a plethora of unsolved murders.
Authorities were feeling positive about 28 (out of 100s) of his confessions, so the Texas Department of Public Safety formed the Lucas Task Force. The Task Force closed 213 cold cases with Henry’s convenient confessions. Henry got a never-ending supply of cigarettes, burgers, and strawberry milkshakes while freely roaming the halls of Williamson County Jail.
As the Lucas Task Force patted themselves on the back as they cleared their 213 unsolved murders, it was coming to light that Lucas had been given access to information in the files of the cases he was confessing to. Sheriff Boutwell of Williamson County was at the heart of Henry’s charade.
Henry Lee’s Claims included an unidentified woman in Minnesota, to which he gave inconsistent details on his MO, and a Jane Doe in New York, to which he gave insufficient evidence. And then there was the local Williamson County case of Orange Socks.
A Death Sentence Commuted
Henry Lee Lucas was convicted of eleven homicides and sentenced to death. The one murder that sent him to death row was the unidentified woman officials dubbed “Orange Socks.” She was found under the I35 overpass in Georgetown, Texas, on Halloween 1979.
While Henry Lee was awaiting his execution, folks dug and attempted to connect his confession dots. They discovered that there was proof that Henry was in Jacksonville, Florida, on Halloween 1979.
“When Lucas was confessing to hundreds of murders, those with custody of Lucas did nothing to bring an end to this hoax … we have found information that would lead us to believe that some officials ‘cleared cases’ just to get them off the books.” ~ Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox
In 1998, Governor George Bush commuted his sentence to life imprisonment after discovering the details in his confession came from the case file he was GIVEN to read.
In 2019, DNA identified Orange Socks; her name was Debra Jackson, and she was 23 years old when she was murdered.
Visiting Henry Lee’s Jail Cell
If you’re a true crime fan, a paranormal enthusiast, or fascinated by serial killers, The Old Williamson County Jail would be a fantastic spot to visit. Unfortunately, folks are not allowed inside the jail any longer. However, Spell Caster Ghost Tours stops by the Old Jail on our Ghost Tours, and we can guarantee the creep factor is alive and spooky even from the outside.