'The Confession Killer': Inside Netflix’s True-Crime Docuseries About Liar and Killer Henry Lee Lucas
By Stacy Lambe
Convicted murderer Henry Lee Lucas is either the country’s most prolific serial killer or the most notorious pathological liar.
Netflix’s latest true-crime docuseries, The Confession Killer, recounts the story of a man who was jailed for the fatal stabbing of his mother and later confessed to hundreds of unsolved murders across the country. While no direct evidence linked Lucas to the crimes, authorities were convinced by his detailed accounts of each attack. But soon journalists and attorneys began poking holes in his confessions, leading them to question the veracity of his claims.
In the years since his many confessions, four scripted films have been made about Lucas, including 1986's Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer starring Michael Rooker and 1996's Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Part II featuring Kate Walsh, while two documentary films -- The Serial Killers and the television movie Henry Lee Lucas: The Confession Killer -- re-examined the story in 1995.
But decades later, it’s still unclear what crimes Lucas did commit outside of the three he was definitively linked to by the time his death behind bars in 2001. “So it felt to me there was another chapter that really needed to be written about this story,” says director Taki Oldham, who began exploring the topic back in 2014 before taking it to filmmaker and Academy Award nominee Robert Kenner.
Soon, they discovered that individual cases that Lucas confessed to had been debunked. Yet, no one had put all of those cases together and looking at the bigger picture of what it might say about Lucas’ confessions. Was it a hoax and what did it mean for the victims? “In aggregate, it becomes a bigger story,” Kenner says. “They thought each one was isolated and we think there's a bigger pattern.”
The result of a five-year investigation is a five-part miniseries that explores how one man was really a complex figure entangled with a flawed justice system. “It transcended just the regular serial killer story because it's really a psychological tale about how this guy came along and became everything that everyone wanted him to be, and he was happy to be that person,” Kenner explains.
While the focus of the docuseries is uncovering the truth about Lucas and putting all these separate stories together, Kenner does admit that they hope that this project leads to closure for many of the victims’ families who have been left in the dark about what happened to their loved ones. Some never believed he was the killer but haven’t been able to get authorities to reopen their cases, while others feel betrayed by the justice system because they thought Lucas was responsible for the crimes he confessed to. “These family members deserve to have their cases re-examined,” Kenner says.
In some ways, the docuseries could have a real impact like Netflix’s Making a Murderer did in Steven Avery’s case after it first came out. But if there’s any comparison to that series or the streaming platform’s other hits, like The Keepers or Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, it’s knowing how to tell a good story. If anything, they were inspired by how those series included cliffhangers from episode to episode.
“We were always going to make the series we were going to make,” Kenner says, adding, “We're really proud of the cliffhangers that are going to want to make you keep binging because they’ll keep you on the edge of your seat.”
The hope is that audiences will take to this series as they did with Netflix’s other true-crime sensations. And depending on the response, there could be another season. Oldham admits there’s enough material for more episodes -- but it wouldn’t necessarily be the same type of show. “I would imagine that would be maybe more looking at a few cases in depth,” he says of the possibility.
In the meantime, “we’re excited for people to see what we think is the most incredible crime story of recent time,” Oldham says.