Henry Portrait Of A Serial Killer (1986)
Directed and co-written by John McNaughton, working with screenwriter Richard Fire, Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer is loosely based on the crimes of Henry Lee Lucas, who became famous after confessing to no fewer than 360 murders.
In the film: Michael Rooker stars as Henry – a prolific serial killer with no specific victim ‘type.’ He kills men, women and children at random as he travels around America. He goes to stay with Otis (Tom Towles), who is a friend from a past period spent in prison, and Otis introduces Henry to his sister, Becky (Tracy Arnold). Their past influences are revealed as the trio get to know each other, with violent consequences.
In reality: Henry Lee Lucas was born in Virginia in 1936, and was apprehended in Texas in 1983 with a possible 157 murders connected to him. The truth proved hard to determine, as Lucas was revealed to possess the uncanny ability to derive case facts from photographic evidence shown to him – allowing him to ‘confess’ to hundreds of previously unsolved killings and disappearances.
Lucas had already spent a great deal of time in jail during his life. He was imprisoned for burglary from 1954-1959 (and escaped for three days in 1957), then murdered his mother in 1960 and served 10 years of a longer sentence. He was released in 1970, apparently due to prison overcrowding. He was then jailed for five years in 1971 for trying to kidnap three schoolgirls and, upon that release, settled in Florida with his friend Ottis Toole, for a time. Lucas reportedly became romantically involved with Toole’s teenage niece, and the two travelled – but in 1983, Lucas was convicted of killing an elderly woman and Toole’s niece.
He began confessing to other murders as a way of improving his treatment in jail. After a further 28 murders were positively confirmed as his crimes, a Task Force was assembled to investigate the rest of his claims. Controversy surrounded the methods used by police in dealing with Lucas – with accusations made claiming that Lucas was being used as a way of clearing cold cases from the system. In the end, a conviction of 11 murders brought him a death sentence, which was eventually commuted to life in prison.