For four years, long after police clerks had filed away the pictures of the pale broad back angled oddly against the roadside concrete, Jim Boutwell thought of her as Orange Socks. That was what she was wearing: one pair of loose, dusty, pumpkin-colored socks, each bunched around an ankle, as though for warmth or amusement she had slipped on the wrong size. There was no other clothing, no purse, no engraved locket, no wound scar or once-broken bone that might have described at least the particular collisions of her girlhood.
Even her teeth were perfect. There was an odd resonance to that; four years later Boutwell can still recite from memory the litany of small certainties that body left behind, and the detail that comes to him first is the flawless teeth. He remembers also that her legs were unshaven. He remembers that she was Caucasian and in her mid-twenties, that her hair was reddish-brown, that she wore a silver abalone-inlaid ring, and that the scars around her ankles looked like previously infected insect bites. He supposes he will go on remembering these things. "Always will, I guess," Boutwell says. "Until we can get her identified. Then I'll forget it."
Orange Socks was found on Oct. 31, 1979, by a motorist driving up Interstate 35. She had been strangled and left within the flat dry terrain of Williamson County, which commended her remains to the straight-backed sheriff who smokes no-filter Lucky Strikes and clips tiny golden handcuffs to the center of his tie. Unsolved homicide is ordinary business for a police investigator, but this one gnawed at Sheriff Boutwell; a year earlier, a local teenager and her date had been found shot to death near the same interstate, and the Texas teletypes were beginning to pass word of other bodies up and down I-35.
They all looked like homicides. They were all unsolved. There had been a body outside Waco, and a body to the north in Bell County, and several bodies around Austin. There were so many Interstate 35 bodies, in fact, that in October 1980 29 Texas police investigators met in Austin to compare notes. For a full day, the investigators explained their cases, examined photographs, studied police reports, groped for some plausible link that might at least point them toward a set of identifiable suspects.
"And we didn't come up with one," Boutwell says. The victims were hitchhikers, business people, women with car trouble, vagrants, elderly women in their homes, unidentified women like Orange Socks. There were stranglings, beatings, dismemberments, a hit-and-run. There was no M.O. Nothing jelled. There was talk of truck drivers; they frequented the Interstates more than anyone except the highway patrol, but what was an investigator supposed to do with that?
Jim Boutwell went back to Georgetown, the gnawing still with him, and waited.
TWIN OAKS at Perryville Md. She wAs a bout 8 years old and had Dark brown hair and Brown eye she was waring A choke neclas with an enicial on it I took this girl from the Road way and keept her until I got to Batton Ruge Lusiana where I lift her in a swampy wooded area she would have been strangled to death and Raped severl times she had a Ruffel neck blouse on and a Ruffel around the front and Ruffel arms with smal flour disign frount
On Sept. 18, 1982, in the north Texas hilltop town of Ringgold, Louise May stopped by her mom's house to leave some pieces of sheet chocolate cake. The screen door was latched, but the house was empty. Kate Rich's unfinished quilt hung from its ceiling frame, and in the back yard, the plants Louise May had brought her mother were looking big and healthy. May took some geranium and coleus cuttings and drove home to Wichita Falls.
Kate Rich was 80, but there was nothing odd about finding her away at noontime; she was a solid, vigorous old woman who was having some trouble walking but still thought some of the finest suppers came from pan-fried catfish you caught yourself. "Only way to eat fish is to take a big old bite of fish and a little bite of bread," Kate Rich would tell the children who clumped up and down the steps: eight daughters, one son, enough grandchildren and great-grandchildren to fill a school bus, and the occasional neighbor child -- May remembered a teen-age runaway once, from up North -- who found temporary solace on Rich's big sleeping porch.
In a way, that was how the black-haired Virginia man named Henry Lee Lucas had first found the widow Rich. He had come as a handyman, sent out on the bus by a Rich daughter from California who had been putting Lucas up in exchange for some work in her husband's antique refinishing business. He had climbed off the Greyhound and presented himself and the widow had taken him in, both Lucas and the doughy girl named Becky Powell who traveled with him.
Lucas had disturbed the Rich daughters who lived around Ringgold. He was a soft-spoken man, the kind of person who could look up if you shouted at him and gaze at you with no visible heat in his eyes, either the good right one or the one that was made of glass and dropped. But he was dingy, and his clothes fit wrong. Both he and the girl seemed scarcely literate; Louise May remembered Becky handing the telephone over one day and saying, "Her wants to talk to you now." It was hard to see what they were doing to earn their keep, besides spending Kate Rich's money on soda and cigarettes from the local grocery store. The two of them stayed four days before May and another Rich daughter asked them to leave and directed them back to the bus station.
Louise May knew that Lucas and Powell had stayed in touch with her mother; the story went that a local preacher had picked them up hitchhiking in front of the bus station and had set them up in his religious retreat, and that the two of them would come over to Ringgold and pass the time with Kate Rich. Powell had taken to calling her "Granny," and Kate Rich had come to believe that the girl's rounded belly was going to produce a baby, which Rich would midwife into the world. Louise May knew as well that Becky Powell had been missing for a while. Lucas declared that she had run off with a truck driver, and he would report back to Kate Rich now and then to talk about his efforts to find her.
On Sept. 19 Louise May called her mama's house and got no answer. She began calling her sisters. The Oklahoma sister had not seen Kate Rich; the Belleview sister had not seen Kate Rich; a nephew had left a chicken in Kate Rich's refrigerator so she could make chicken and dumplings, but two days later the chicken was still untouched. By Sunday they had called in the sheriff.
In the drawing a large-eyed woman is smiling a little, lips closed, dark hair curled and groomed very smooth. Her blouse is buttoned to the neck. It is a good drawing, shaded along the planes of the face. The notes are in pencil, in the upper right hand corner.
around AprilDied 1970
5'6 160 lb age 33 brown blondish hair blue eyes new york stabbed severl times Raped
W.F. Conway, the sheriff of Montague County, spent the next nine months working on the disappearance of Kate Rich. His name was William Franklin, but the initials served him better, and the other name, which he carried with some pride, was "Hound Dog." Hound Dog Conway. There were airplanes and search parties and Texas Rangers all over the hill country around Ringgold, but in the end it was Conway's case, Conway's unsolved homicide, Conway's slow duet with a suspect he could not keep in jail.
There is a national computer network, called the National Crime Information Center, that is supposed to store criminal history information on every convicted felon in the United States. When Conway consulted the computers for information about Henry Lucas, he was told that Lucas had served 15 years in the Michigan State Penitentiary. He was 45 years old. He had been convicted of stabbing his mother to death, for which he was sentenced to 20-to-40 years and paroled after 10 years on June 3, 1970. On Dec. 23, 1971, he reentered the penitentiary to serve five years for the attempted kidnaping of two people, one of them a 15-year-old girl.
Conway found a warrant on his suspect, for violation of probation on a 1981 Maryland car theft conviction. With his warrant he jailed Henry Lucas and went on questioning him about the disappearance of Kate Rich. Lucas took a polygraph test; according to Phil Ryan, the Texas Ranger working with Conway, the test showed some deception, but that was not enough to arrest a man for murder. Where was Becky Powell? She had run off, Lucas said. Where was Kate Rich? Lucas said he didn't know. Maybe someone had taken her away. Maybe he would try to find her. Conway had nothing to hold him on -- no bodies, no evidence, no witnesses, not even an extradition request from Maryland, which declined to be bothered with a three-year-old probation violation.
And he had to let Lucas go. one killed in new york light Brown Hair Blue eyes 5-6 135 lb 26 year old New York Buffalo would Have Been Strangled with white cord
gold ear pins had dress on light blue inside apartment Joanie
white pretty teeth with gap in frount Top Teeth Blue eyes small pin ear hair below sholders through over Bridge with head and fingers missing
On June 11, 1983, Conway and Ryan obtained a warrant for Henry Lucas' arrest on the grounds that Lucas had been seen in possession of a firearm outside his home, which in Texas is a felony for any ex-prisoner convicted of a violent crime. Lucas was sitting in the coffee shop of the religious retreat when they found him.
"How you doing?" Conway asked.
"Well, it don't look like I'm doing too good," Lucas said.
Conway said he had a warrant for Lucas' arrest. "I figured that," Lucas said. Then they drove together to the Montague County jail. Conway remembers Lucas watching him from inside his cell as the sheriff began to walk away. "Only word he said to me," Conway says, "he said, 'Sheriff, you sure know how to put a man down.' And I never said a word. I just kept walking."
Henry Lucas had been in jail for four days when he asked to see the county jailer.
"What can I do for you, old Henry?" asked the jailer, whose name was Joe Don Weaver.
"Joe Don," Lucas said. "I've done some bad things."
"Is it what I think it is?" the jailer asked.
"Yeah," Lucas said. "Probably worse."
Joe Don Weaver told Henry Lucas that he had better get down on his knees and pray to God, because only God could forgive him for what he had done. Henry Lucas said he had already prayed to God, and that God had instructed him to confess. Lucas said he had murdered Becky Powell, whom he loved, and that he could not sleep knowing she had never had a Christian burial.
Then Lucas said, "Maybe some of the others I killed, maybe their families love them and want them to have a Christian burial, too."
Joe Don Weaver looked at Henry Lucas and went to call the sheriff. Phil Ryan came over, too, and as the three of them flanked Henry Lucas around a table in the jailhouse, Lucas explained how he had murdered Kate Rich. He had taken her for a drive and stabbed her, he said. He said he had engaged in sex with the body. He said he had left the remains in a culvert, but that he had begun to believe police might find them, so he had cut the body into pieces and burned it in the wood stove behind his cabin at the religious retreat.
He said he had stabbed Becky Powell during an argument after she told him she wanted to go home to Florida. He said he had tried to bury the body, but that burying her whole had seemed too difficult, so he had cut her into pieces, and that for a long time afterward he would go back to the site, where only her legs remained, to talk to Becky Powell about what was happening in his life.
Then Lucas asked for a pencil and paper, and began drawing the faces of some other women he had killed. He drew the hair styles, and large eyes with long eyelashes, and small pieces of jewelry he remembered on the ears or the neck. He used cigarette ash to smudge in the shadows. Alongside the pictures he wrote notes about what he could remember. There was a strangling, he said, and a burning. He had shot an old man in the head, and a teen-ager in the back. He could not remember how many he had killed, precisely, but when Lucas was arraigned some days later for the murder of Kate Rich -- arraigned after he led W.F. Conway to the wood stove and stood by as the sheriff's men fished bone fragments from the ashes -- then Lucas suddenly announced his first number. He would offer many numbers after that, some precise, some rounded up or down, each timed for effect on the listener and larger than the number before it, but this was his first, in open court, before a judge and a roomful of hastily writing reporters.
"I killed Kate Rich," Lucas said, his voice as flat and soft as if he were giving directions to the county park. "And at least a hundred more."
W.F. Conway had worked with Sheriff Jim Boutwell on a cattle theft case some months back, and Conway remembered the case that was eating at Boutwell, the woman Boutwell called Orange Socks. Now Conway phoned Boutwell and suggested he get over to Montague County for a talk with Henry Lucas. Boutwell came the day after Lucas' arraignment, and after he had visited with the prisoner awhile, offered him a cup of coffee, and recited his Miranda warning, Boutwell pulled out a full-face picture of Orange Socks -- holding it, he says, so that Lucas could not see the neck area and so could not see how she died.
"He looked at the picture very briefly," Boutwell says. "He says, 'Yeah, that one was a hitchhiker, and she would have been a strangle.' "
Boutwell had talked to a fair number of murderers in the course of his career, and there were things he had learned to expect as a man confessed. The feet wiggled, or the voice changed timbre, or the prisoner shifted around in his chair -- in the faintest ways, there were signs of discomfort. Boutwell had never seen a man talk about murder the way Henry Lucas did. This was not a voice masking emotion, or even drained in the special flat way really crazy people sometimes have when they talk to you. Henry Lucas was straightforward and entirely calm. He looked, Boutwell thought, in perfect repose.
"He thought for a minute and told me she'd been picked up near an off-ramp on I-40 in Oklahoma City," Boutwell says. "He'd bought her a meal -- autopsy showed she'd eaten not too many hours prior to the death -- that he had had sex with her. They'd driven on, gone south on Interstate 35. He wanted sex with her again, and she didn't want to. Grabbed her, and she started struggling, and he nearly wrecked the car. Stopped the car, pulled off the road, killed her, undressed her, had sex with her again, and then came down till he located the culvert. Drug her out of the car and dropped her in the culvert."
In the midst of Boutwell's queasiness about Henry Lucas' matter-of-fact voice came the beginnings of relief. He was about to clear Orange Socks. He wanted certainty, though, so he asked Lucas whether anything had been wrong with the young woman when he killed her.
"He stopped and thought, and said, 'Yeah, she was wearing Kotex,' " Boutwell says. It was true; investigators had found a sanitary napkin fashioned of paper towels. Lucas told Boutwell then about another he had killed near Austin, and after Boutwell had made enough notes to alert the local investigators, he asked Lucas just how many people he had murdered over the years.
"He said, 'As near as I can recall, it's 157,' " Boutwell says.
Next: The Interview