Dead Wrong

Page 3 of 7

Meanwhile, questions about Lucas only raised more questions. Was this guy really smart enough to have duped so many? Were we all guilty of being too eager to believe his impossible stories? Could it be that dozens, perhaps hundreds, of killers remained free, their crimes assigned to a man willing to take on the sins of the world? Had so many lies been told that the truth would, in fact, forever remain hidden?

For months I continued to follow the twists and turns. I spoke with a mother and father in Lubbock who were certain Lucas had nothing to do with the death of their daughter despite the fact he'd confessed to her murder. I learned of a Dallas homicide investigator who put together a fabricated crime, then listened as Lucas happily confessed to it. I begrudgingly stayed in touch with Lucas, replying to his rambling letters, accepting his occasional long-distance phone calls, all in hope of one day being able to write some defining end to the strange tale. In retrospect, I'd have been better off to cut my losses.

It was in the fall of 1994 that I first began to hear the suggestions that Becky Powell, one of those I was sure Lucas had killed, was alive and in hiding. Feazell, by then in private practice and having signed on as Lucas' newest lawyer, said he was determined to find her. I was convinced he would find nothing. Lucas' initial version of Becky's demise not only had a rare ring of truth to it, but there had actually been some physical evidence to substantiate his story that while hitchhiking back to Florida they had quarreled while sleeping in a field near a Denton truck stop. He'd initially admitted that he stabbed her, dismembered her body and buried it in several shallow graves he'd dug with the murder weapon. When the authorities later searched the location, they had found skeletal remains that a medical examiner ruled were likely those of a teen-age female. I gave the matter little thought until I received one of those invitations a reporter can't refuse: Did I want to interview Becky, who, at that very moment, was in Feazell's Austin home and ready to tell a story that would put all the lies to rest and even provide Lucas an alibi for the one homicide for which he'd received the death penalty?

How could I say no? It wouldn't be my first wild goose chase since first hearing Lucas' name.

Sipping from a Coke and chain-smoking Cambridge cigarettes, her hazel eyes were pinched as if to somehow help her remember small, forgotten details. Frail-looking at 5 feet 7 inches and 109 pounds, she looked older than the 27 she claimed to be, a fact she attributed to a three-pack-a-day habit and a hard life. For years, she explained, she had hidden her past, calling herself Phylis Wilcox. "But you can call me Becky," she added.

She shared childhood memories of her prostitute mother dying of a drug overdose, being raped by her stepfather and finally being sent away to a children's home. Later, there would be a cheerless common-law marriage, an addiction to painkillers and minor run-ins with the law. Hardly a happy story.

Still, she looked remarkably good for someone who had been officially dead since age 15, remembered only as one of the hundreds of victims Lucas had originally claimed. There was a smile on her face, mirroring the excitement she was feeling for a trip she had planned for the following day. She was going to pay a visit to the man who long ago had confessed to killing her.

"I've asked him why he said all those things," she noted in a voice that sang with childlike innocence, "and he explained that he did it to protect me."

And now, it seemed, she was about to come to Lucas' rescue. For starters, the fact that she was alive would automatically eliminate one of the 13 murders for which he had been dealt life prison sentences. And, if true, the story she had to tell could well prompt second thoughts about the lone death sentence he'd received.

It had been on the night of October 31, 1979, when the body of the unidentified victim was found in a culvert just off Interstate 35 near Georgetown, nude except for a pair of fuzzy orange socks on her feet. For four years the case remained unsolved until Lucas was asked if it might, in fact, be one of "his." By then a virtual confession machine, Lucas claimed responsibility, was tried,convicted and sentenced to death by injection.

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Carlton Stowers
Contact: Carlton Stowers