Henry Lee Lucas: The Analysis Of A Serial Killer

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction to Henry Lee Lucas: The Notorious Serial Killer
  2. Childhood Trauma and Cultural Influences
  3. Psychological Factors and Brain Injuries
  4. The Role of Social Environment in Lucas's Development
  5. Conclusion: Multifaceted Causes of Lucas's Behavior

Serial killing is one of the most appalling crimes that has been occurring all over the world since the beginning of time. Serial killers have always raised interest and curiosity in the public and most people are disgusted by the nature of their terrible crimes. But why would someone commit such a terrible crime? What is his/her motive and what causes them to become a serial killer? An example of one of the world’s most notorious serial killers is Henry Lee Lucas. By analyzing the life of Henry Lee Lucas using anthropological, psychological and sociological perspectives, the cause(s) for his murderous behaviour can be examined and determined.

Introduction to Henry Lee Lucas: The Notorious Serial Killer

To start off, Henry Lee Lucas was a white, male American serial killer confirmed of killing 3 women (including his mother), even though he claimed to have killed thousands of people. Lucas’ nickname is “The Confession Killer” because he confessed to hundreds of unsolved murders but later in life he recanted the confessions (Zigenfus, 2017). Lucas did not have a very clear modus operandi because he had various methods of killing which include excessive stabbing/beating, raping, necrophilism, mutilation and allegedly sometimes eating parts of the corpse (Jackson, 2018). Lucas was a nomadic killer as he allegedly killed people in different locations while drifting the country with his sexual partner Otis Toole (who was also a serial killer). The murder of Lucas’ mother was motivated by her treatment of Lucas during childhood and his anger. However, the motive for his other murders is sadism as Lucas derives pleasure from inflicting pain on others (Zigenfus, 2017). He was caught in 1983 when Lucas was arrested for possession of a deadly weapon and in his cell, he began confessing to hundreds of murders. However, Lucas’ confessions became confusing and farfetched and he later admitted to making fake confessions so that he would receive better treatment in jail. In total, it is not definite how many murders he did commit, but some believe it was just three: his mother, Becky Powell and Katharine Rich (Jackson, 2018). Eventually, Lucas was sentenced to death but the sentence was later changed to life imprisonment. Lucas died in prison in Huntsville, Texas, from natural causes in 2001, aged 64. Furthermore, Lucas’ reasons for committing the murders may lie in his childhood and the culture he grew up in.

Childhood Trauma and Cultural Influences

To begin, Lucas’ childhood surroundings and culture affected his behaviour as an adult and may have led to his criminal future. In simple terms, culture is the behaviour, values and attitudes that a group of people holds (Haskings-Winner, Collishaw, Kritzer, & Warecki, 2011). 'I [Henry Lee Lucas] hated all my life. I hated everybody. When I first grew up and can remember, I was dressed as a girl by my mother. And I stayed that way for two or three years. I was beaten. I was made to do things that no human bein' would want to do,' (Cube & Norris, 1985, p.36). This quote describes how the group of people that Lucas was surrounded with led to him having an extremely disturbing childhood. In 1936 Lucas was born to a poor family as the youngest of 9 children and Viola, his mother, was a prostitute and his alcoholic father lost both of his legs in an accident. A typical family structure involves two individuals that provide attention, care, and stability for their offspring. But Lucas’ family had a dysfunctional family structure in which Lucas was heavily beaten (once falling into a coma) and shown no remorse by his mother while his father was an alcoholic (Cube & Norris, 1985). Viola would cross dress Lucas in public and often make him watch her with her clients (Cube & Norris, 1985). An anthropological school of thought called cultural materialism can explain why Lucas’ kinships with his family would eventually cause him to grow up and behave the way he did. Cultural materialism states that the conditions within an environment influence how a culture develops, including the morals and beliefs of the culture (Haskings-Winner et al., 2011). As a child, Lucas was subjected to harmful and abusive conditions where he was made to do terrible things and this influenced how Lucas’ personal behaviour developed. For example, Lucas’ uncle introduced him to bestiality by teaching the boy how to kill animals after they had been tortured and sexually abused (Zigenfus, 2017). This led to Lucas finding pleasure in bestiality and performing it during his teen and adult killing years because Lucas was brought up in his uncle’s point of view that there was nothing immoral about bestiality. To add on, young Lucas also had sexual relations with his half-brother and later in life would have sexual relations with other men (Zigenfus, 2017). In total, Lucas may have raped and tortured women because his childhood was deeply immersed in sex: watching his mom have sex, his uncle introducing him to bestiality and having sex with his half-brother. This caused Lucas to need and derive sexual pleasure when committing murder. To sum up, the culture and behaviour Lucas was surrounded around as a child would influence his behaviour later in life. Another cause for Lucas’ deadly behaviour is brain injuries and mental states during his life.

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Psychological Factors and Brain Injuries

As a matter of fact, Lucas’ psychological well-being and state of mind possibly could have encouraged his motivation of crime. When Lucas was a child his brother stabbed him in the eye and his mother did not treat the wound for 3 days leading to the eye being removed (Jackson, 2018). Likewise, throughout the rest of his childhood, Lucas was not shown any care or affection by anyone and this led to his abnormal aggressive behaviour. This is similar to the Surrogate Mother experiment conducted by Harry Harlow. The experiment showed that infant monkeys who did not receive affection and fulfill their emotional needs from their mother would become aggressive later in life, very much alike to Lucas (Haskings-Winner et al., 2011). To add on, the social-cognitive theory is a theory in cognitive psychology that takes a person’s motivation, environment, and behaviour into account (Haskings-Winner et al., 2011). In other words, people learn behaviour by watching and imitating. An example is when Lucas’ uncle showed him how to torture, kill and have sex with animals (Jackson, 2018). Another instance is that Lucas was raised in a violent environment where he was constantly beaten by his mother. This could explain Lucas’ behaviour in his adult years when he was using excess violence to stab, torture and kill his victims. Furthermore, a group of doctors at Presbyterian and Baylor hospitals took multiple tests and conducted examinations on Lucas involving studying his brain in order to understand his mind. The doctors found small contusions and tissue loss in the frontal lobe, as well as temporal lobe abnormalities that were more pronounced on the left side (Cube & Norris, 1985). This brain damage may have been caused by injuries in childhood including when Lucas’s brother stabbed him in the eye, when his mother smashed a wood plank across the back of his head when he was seven and also excessive alcohol intake and drug abuse (Cube & Norris, 1985). These injuries could influence how Lucas behaved under stress with the possible potential of inappropriate aggressive behavior. According to Dr. Mark, some brain disorders change a person’s behavior regarding whether he becomes aggressive under stress or runs away (“fight or flight”) (Cube & Norris, 1985). This can result in a lack of conscience and aberrant behavior called sociopathy (Cube & Norris, 1985). In other words, brain disorders can create a sociopath. Other experts claim that there is a possibility of damage to the commissural fibers that unite the two hemispheres of Lucas’ brain. If the corpus callosum has been severed or impaired the left side of the brain is unable to exercise proper control over the more primal right side. Sometimes this results in multiple personality disorder and this can explain Lucas’ ambidextrousness and the fact that he claimed to hear voices (Cube & Norris, 1985). To add on, Lucas perceives his victims as objects rather than people. “It was like burning wood,” he said about cremating Kate Rich’s body, “like burning a piece of wood in the stove” (Cube & Norris, 1985). This explains Lucas’ lack of remorse and empathy when killing. In total, Lucas’ unaffectionate and negative environment and brain injuries could have caused him to become a murderer. Also, another reason for Lucas becoming a murderer can be contributed to the behaviour of the people Lucas was surrounded with and him not completing the steps of socialization.

The Role of Social Environment in Lucas's Development

Additionally, Lucas’ abnormal social environment can be used to prove why Lucas would grow up to become so violent. Lucas grew up with a primary group and social influences that had a negative effect on him. As previously stated, Lucas’ family subjected him to emotional and physical abuse, bestiality, animal torture and homosexuality (Zigenfus, 2017). Thus, it became a norm for Lucas to commit acts of violence (stabbing and strangulation), physically and sexually torture animals and kill people. Lucas was not raised with normal values (for example, not harming people) so he was taught that it was acceptable to be violent. Lucas’s primary agent of socialization was his mother who taught Lucas values and behaviours that are generally unacceptable in society. His mother did not teach Lucas any necessary skills to help Lucas in his life such as communication and how to properly behave in group situations (secondary and anticipatory socialization), so Lucas was unable to learn how to succeed in life and become a participating member of society. Therefore, Lucas was abnormally socialized as he had suffered emotional and physical abuse as well as neglect as a child, leading him to commit horrific acts as an adult (Haskings-Winner et al., 2011). Additionally, the sociological theory of symbolic interactionalism can be applied to Lucas’ life. According to the theory, social values and roles are formed by individual interpretation. An individual creates a sense of self by the reactions of others and the behaviour of others in society is deeply rooted in our response and reaction to it (Haskings-Winner et al., 2011). According to this theory, Lucas’ values were formed by the unusually violent values of his family which is why he committed acts of violence. To sum up, Lucas’ behaviour was formed by the people around him and Lucas not being properly socialized.

Conclusion: Multifaceted Causes of Lucas's Behavior

All things considered, Lucas’ murderous behaviour can be explained from anthropological, psychological and sociological perspectives. From an anthropological perspective, Lucas’ behaviour formed because of the culture he was exposed to as a child. From a psychological perspective, not being shown affection and brain injuries received as a child led to Lucas’ behaviour. From a sociological perspective, Lucas not being socialized and being surrounded by negative social influences influenced Lucas’ behaviour as he grew older. In brief, Lucas committed many horrific crimes yet.

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Henry Lee Lucas: The Analysis Of A Serial Killer. (2022, Jun 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 18, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/henry-lee-lucas-the-analysis-of-a-serial-killer/
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Henry Lee Lucas: The Analysis Of A Serial Killer. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/henry-lee-lucas-the-analysis-of-a-serial-killer/> [Accessed 18 May 2024].
Henry Lee Lucas: The Analysis Of A Serial Killer [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 29 [cited 2024 May 18]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/henry-lee-lucas-the-analysis-of-a-serial-killer/
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