Dead Wrong

How consummate con artist Henry Lee Lucas resurrected the dead and went looking for a sucker. He almost found one.

"We became real close. He acted like he was my daddy, very protective."

Though raised by her grandparents, she recalled a time when she and her brother briefly lived with her mother and stepfather. "My stepfather raped me," she remembered, "and I was put in a girls' school. Frank went to a boys' school. I hated it and ran away, back to Henry. That's when he told me that he was afraid they [the authorities] would come and take me back, so we decided to leave." Toole, she said, accompanied them.

The strange threesome, joined by the girl's pet Chihuahua ("I had a little dog named Frieda," she said, "and my brother had one named Frank"), traveled westward in an old Oldsmobile driven by Lucas. After two weeks they arrived in Texas, and Toole, already weary of the road, turned back to Jacksonville, never to again be seen by Lucas or Becky. She told of how she and Lucas continued on despite growing hardships. He would, she remembered, regularly sell blood at local blood banks for gas money.

Henry Lee Lucas on Texas' death row: At one point his list of confessions topped 600 murders. The real number was probably closer to three.
AP/Wide World
Henry Lee Lucas on Texas' death row: At one point his list of confessions topped 600 murders. The real number was probably closer to three.

"Finally, somewhere in Texas the old car ran out of gas, and we just left it on the side of the road and started hitchhiking," she said. Ultimately, a truck driver named Jack Smart gave them a ride, and they wound up in Hemet, California, in January 1982. For several months, she and Lucas lived with the Smarts. (Smart and his wife would later insist that Lucas had, during a four-month period, never been out of their sight for more than a day. Meanwhile, police in other parts of the country used later Lucas confessions to clear eight murders that had occurred during that same time period.)

"I remember one time when Jack and his wife, Obera, took us with them over to Palm Springs to go to a bunch of flea markets," Becky recalled. "That was the only time I remember ever leaving Hemet until we decided to come to Texas."

Their new destination was the tiny North Texas hamlet of Ringgold, where Obera Smart's aged mother, Kate Rich, lived. "Mrs. Smart said her mother needed someone to take care of her and help her around the house. They gave us some money, put us on a bus, and off we went." The arrangement: In exchange for room and board in Rich's home, Becky would cook and clean while Henry did repairs to the house.

"Ringgold was a tiny little ol' place," she recalled. "Sneeze as you pass through, and you'll miss it. All it had was a grocery store. I hated it." She remembered the 80-year-old Rich as being "kinda crazy," her house filthy, littered with dirty clothing, dirty dishes and cat feces.

And there was a daughter who lived in a nearby town who took an immediate disliking to the visitors. "She came to see Kate and said that we weren't taking care of her. She claimed we were spending her money and sleeping too much and that the house was still a mess. So, she threw us out."

Next stop, a ramshackle religious retreat just a few miles down the road called the House of Prayer. Taken there by the Reverend Ruben Moore, Henry and Becky took up residence in an "apartment" modeled from an old chicken barn. "It didn't even have a kitchen," she recalled. "We had to go into the church dining room to have our meals."

Still, it was a place where the wandering Lucas felt comfortable, tinkering with old cars and working at occasional roofing jobs. For Becky, 14 at the time, life wasn't much fun. She would watch Lucas work on cars, at times allowed to drive them around the grounds once he had them running. She played piano inside the church. In time, she began longing to return to Jacksonville. "I was tired of being broke and hungry," she said. And that's where her story and Lucas' reached a dramatic crossroads.

In one version, Lucas told authorities that he'd finally agreed to return with her to Jacksonville and they'd set off hitchhiking. They got only as far as Denton before nightfall and decided to sleep in an open field just off the highway. They had argued, Becky had slapped him, and in what he described as an instinctive reaction, he pulled a knife and stabbed her to death. In an attempt to hide his crime, he'd dismembered her body and buried it in several shallow graves dug with the knife he'd used to take her life. Though Lucas had later returned to the House of Prayer with a tearful story of seeing Becky leaving with a truck driver, she was never heard from again. In yet another version, he recalled how Becky ran away and he later left to search for her.

Now, I was hearing a new version: "Yes, I was homesick and wanted to leave," she said, "but Henry didn't. So a guy who lived at the House of Prayer named Gilbert Beagle gave me a ride to a truck stop in Bowie." All her belongings, she remembers, had been stuffed into a grocery sack.

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