Review of the Netflix documentary series The Confession Killer
This documentary series should be required viewing for every person considering a career as a detective. When it comes to false confessions, this is an example of what not to do.
The majority of false confessions occur through intimidation, deceptive police tactics, outright lies by detectives, sleep deprivation, and other equally disturbing practices. In the case of Henry Lucas, it was the direct opposite. Police showered Henry with praise for his cooperation. They took him out of jail to visit crime scenes. They allowed him to roam free in their offices, where he had an unlimited supply of cigarettes and strawberry milkshakes. The sad part here is not so much that a man confessed to crimes that he did not commit but that so many people willingly accepted those false confessions as the truth.
Throughout the five episodes, you will meet two types of people: competent people and, as one lawyer put it, those who are less than competent.
At the top of the list of incompetent people are several members of the Texas Rangers, specifically Jim Boutwell and Bob Prince. These two presented themselves as crime-solving superstars. Instead, they were the masterminds of one of the greatest hoaxes in history. Even a casual observer who spent a few minutes looking at Henry’s confessions could see that they could not possibly be true. There was evidence that Henry was thousands of miles away at the time of some of his confessed murders. Sheriff Boutwell was quick to point out that Henry gave details of crimes that only the perpetrator could have known. He failed to mention that Henry got most of those details from him.
In one false confession, Henry tells detectives that he saw a couple walking along the highway. Henry claimed to have shot the boy in the back of the head six times. He then drove exactly fifty-five miles, where he raped and killed the girl. Sheriff Boutwell interrupts to point out that it was actually fifty-six miles, as if to indicate that Henry was slightly off in his details. In another case, Henry confesses to a murder and describes a piece of jewelry that he remembered the victim wearing. Family members later found the jewelry at home.
During this period where detectives from all over the nation rushed to Texas to have Henry confess to crimes that he did not commit; the real killers were free to continue killing. Cases were closed that should not have been closed. Detectives informed family members that they had solved the crimes, only for them to learn later that it was all a big lie.
Every minute of this series is jam-packed with compelling stories. There is the story of one family who refused to accept Henry’s confession because they knew that the details that he provided were wrong. Then there is the incredible story of Texas District Attorney Vic Feazell. Vic was new to his position and eager to get publicity for solving three unsolved murders. He was skeptical, however, of Henry’s confessions. The story of what happened when Vic exposed the Texas Rangers’s incompetence is worthy of a stand-alone documentary just on him.
The Confession Killer is documentary storytelling at his best. Do not miss this one.