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DID SERIAL KILLER LIE ABOUT 600 SLAYINGS?

Police say the books will stay closed on three Utah murders attributed to Henry Lee Lucas, even though Texas officials now believe the one-eyed drifter didn't commit even a fraction of the 600 murders to which he once confessed.

"Basically, they've cleared hundreds of murders on the statement of the world's biggest liar," said El Paso, Texas, defense attorney Rod Ponton. "And there are hundreds of murderers still out walking the streets."In the mid-1980s, lawmen from around the country flocked to Texas to clear cases, among them the 1978 rape and strangulation of Brigham Young University coed Marla Rae Scharp, and slayings of unidentified women whose remains were found in Millard and Juab counties.

But a 1986 Texas attorney general's report - which Utah lawmen say they didn't know existed - contains evidence which conflicts with information Lucas gave to Utah lawmen.

Lucas, 50, has since recanted those confessions, denying he was ever in Utah. He currently is on death row for a Georgetown, Texas, murder many now doubt he committed. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recently ruled it would rehear his appeal.

But for a time, Lucas would sometimes admit to 70 or 80 slayings a day through bizarre "mail-in" confessions from agencies unable to send a detective to Texas, according to Texas attorney general's investigator Mike Feary.

In fact, Lucas boasted he was a member of a Satanic cult calling itself the "Hands of Death," responsible for delivering the cyanide taken by 900 members of Jim Jones' cult in Guyana and the disappearance of former Teamsters union president Jimmy Hoffa.

But after an extensive investigation, Feary said police are "pretty sure" he killed just three people. Lucas served 15 years for killing his mother in Michigan in 1960 and has been given life sentences in Texas for the 1982 murder of his 15-year-old common-law wife and an elderly Ringgold, Texas, woman.

All others, including the Utah killings, are suspect, Feary said.

Hundreds of confessions have been discounted, revealing a disturbing trend in which overzealous lawmen, intentionally or otherwise, fed Lucas information or led him on during their interviews.

Investigators in Provo and Fillmore say that didn't happen in their cases. They remain persuaded by Lucas' knowledge of the crimes, saying nobody but the killer could have known the details.

"I feel comfortable that what he told us was true," said Provo Police Capt. George Pierpont, who traveled to Texas in 1984 and taped Lucas' confession to the Scharp homicide.

Millard County Capt. Bob Dekker said he's convinced Lucas raped and murdered an unidentified woman whose skeleton was found alongside I-15 near Cove Fort on Aug. 19, 1979.

Lucas told Pierpont that he raped and killed the 26-year-old woman in an upstairs bedroom on June 29, 1978, while his companion, Ottis Elwood Toole, rummaged through the downstairs.

The problem, according to Feary, Ponton and others, is that their investigation shows Lucas didn't meet Toole until February 1979.

Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox urged police who have cleared a crime through Lucas to "very carefully scrutinize" any Lucas confession, conducting a polygraph or a truth-serum interview with the suspect.

Pierpont and Dekker said they have done neither and have never heard of Mattox's report.

Yet, although Pierpont considers the Scharp homicide case closed, he refused to allow a reporter to review Lucas's taped confession.

"I'll bet he won't," commented Dallas journalist and author Hugh Aynesworth, who was among the first to doubt Lucas's claim to being the nation's most prolific serial killer.

Aynesworth's reporting on discrepancies in Lucas's confessions led to the attorney general's investigation and resulted in his being nominated for a Pulitzer prize.

"If there's nothing dishonest, why not let someone view their great confession tape?" he asked. "People have a right to know. The case is supposed to be closed, right?"