On August 8, 1973, at approximately 8:15 a.m. Pasadena Police receive a phone call. The caller was a young man claiming that he had just shot another man and identified himself as Elmer Wayne Henley. Investigators would later learn that Henley had not only just killed the most notorious serial killer within the state of Texas, if not the country, but also played an integral role in the wave of mysterious child abductions that had been occurring within the Houston Heights area.
Before Ted Bundy’s misogynistic victimization of women and the Son of Sam was commanded by his neighbor’s dog to go out and kill, a Texas man by the name of Dean Corll was on the hunt for teenagers and young boys. His only intention was to torture, rape, and murder these boys, before dumping their plastic wrapped bodies into a mass grave housed inside of a boat storage facility, a lake outside of Sam Rayburn, and in shallow graves at the sandy shores of High Island.
Together with his two teenage accomplices, Elmer Wayne Henley and David Owen Brooks, Corll amassed a body count the likes the world had never seen. 28 bodies in total were discovered, wrapped in plastic and soaked in lime in order to speed up the decomposition process. A grisly tale that all began at the dawn of the 1970s.
The Candy Man
Not to be confused with the Clive Barker film by the same name, Corll picked up the nickname “the Candy Man” for his reputation of giving out free candy he had gotten from his family’s candy company, located conveniently near an elementary school. Corll would often hand out candy to the children walking by or hanging around the area of the shop. A number of male teenage employees who worked with Corll at the candy store reported that he often seemed to come off as flirtatious. Later, Corll would take up a job as an electrician after his mother closed the candy shop and relocated to Colorado.
Corll seemed to have a way with children, especially troubled teenage boys. He found it easy to relate to them and was able to quickly gain their trust. By all appearances Corll was just a friendly neighborhood electrician, but that was all a part of Corll’s cleverly crafted facade. Inside, Corll was a cold and calculated monster who thrived on the suffering of his young teenage victims.
David Owen Brooks was one of the few boys to get close to Corll who wasn’t brutally murdered. It is believed that initially Brooks may have been a potential victim of Corll’s, but for unknown reasons Corll decided to spare him as long as he went along with his plans. It would be shortly after this introduction that Brooks would take up residency with Corll and bore witness to some of the carnage less fortunate boys had suffered at the hands of the Candy Man.
It was through Brooks that Corll would be introduced to his future accomplice, Elmer Wayne Henley. Henley looked at Corll as a mentor and almost as a father figure in some regards, but aside from that the two would later develop a type of business relationship. Corll extended an offer of $200 for every boy that Henley brought back to him and Henley agreed to the deal. Like Brooks, Henley may have been a potential victim, but for reasons known only to Corll he decided he would be of more use as partner.
Elmer Wayne Henley
Elmer Wayne Henley, known as just Wayne by friends, had become acquainted with Corll in 1970 after being introduced to him through his school friend, David Owen Brooks. According to Henley’s confession, Brooks told Henley that he could get him a job making a decent amount of money through Corll. Henley had heard that Corll worked for an organized crime racket out of Dallas, specializing in the human trafficking of children, prostitution, and drug dealing. He was told by Corll that if he could find him a “good boy” he’d pay him a $200 finders fee, with the potential of more if he was particularly fond of the boy.
Henley did not immediately act upon Corll’s proposition, but it remained in the back of his mind. A year later Henley would return to Corll, now living in an apartment on Schuler Street in Houston, and told him that he would find him a boy in exchange for the $200 Corll had promised him in their prior discussion.
David Owen Brooks
Before becoming Corll’s accomplice, Brooks could often be found hanging around Corll’s candy shop. He liked Dean and enjoyed the perks of getting free candy. Corll would often take Brooks on trips to the beach, along with providing him money and a variety of gifts. Corll gradually convinced Brooks into developing a sexual relationship with him and would pay the teen in cash and gifts to allow him to perform oral sex on him. As Brooks spent more time with Corll, it wouldn’t be long before he stumbled upon his dark secret.
Brooks walked into Corll’s apartment as he had two boys chained up to his torture board. Rather than kill Brooks too, Corll paid Brooks to keep quiet and told him that the boys had been sent off to California. Later, Corll admitted to Brooks that he had killed the boys and offered Brooks the same deal he would later offer Henley. $200 per boy Brooks brought to him.
Brooks couldn’t resist the offer, but maintains that he never participated in any murders. His only involvement after coercing the boys to come to Corll’s place was to stand guard in case something happened and to assist Corll with disposing the bodies once he was finished.
On the day Henley returned to Corll to take him up on his business proposal Henley, Brooks, and Corll all climbed into Corll’s GTX and began cruising the streets for young boys to take back to his apartment. It wouldn’t be long before they came across a boy on the corner of 11th and Studewood. Henley said he talked the boy into coming back to Corll’s to party and smoke marijuana.
Once the gang was back at Corll’s apartment, a pair of handcuffs had been left out. Henley had the keys to the handcuffs in his pocket, but showed the boy a “trick” where he slipped on the cuffs and was able to break loose fairly easily. Henley asked the boy if he’d like to give it a shot, only he didn’t have the keys on hand like Henley had, finding the trick much more difficult to pull off than expected.
Now in cuffs, Corll tied the boy’s feet and covered his mouth in tape. In Henley’s police statement he claims that he left once the boy was subdued and assumed that Corll was selling the boy off to his organization. Henley returned to Corll’s the following day and was paid for his hand in kidnapping the teen boy. Henley learned several days later that the boy had been murdered and sexually assaulted by Corll.
However, this wasn’t Corll’s first kill. Prior to Henley coming into the picture, Brooks claimed to have known of at least six young boys Corll had kidnapped, raped, and murdered. Brooks had personally witnessed four of these murders and helped Corll wrap up the bodies and take them to various locations for disposal.
All of the murders committed by Corll and Henley followed a similar pattern. Brooks and Henley would help lure boys back to Corll’s place for a party, once at Corll’s the boys would be tied up to to the torture board where he would perform various sexual acts – at times for several hours, other times for several days. After Corll was finished, the boys would be murdered, shoved into a wooden coffin-like box Corll kept in his vehicle, and systematically disposed of by all three perpetrators.
When Henley first became involved with Corll’s operation he never partook in the murders. It wouldn’t be until the murder of two boys – identified in Brooks’ police statement as “Billy” and Johnny”– that Henley would get a taste for killing his former classmates.
Brooks described how Henley had brought the boys back to Corll’s and after Corll had his fill of sexually assaulting the two boys, Henley began strangling Billy. During the process Henley yelled “hey Johnny” to the other victim. As the boy raised his head to look up, Corll shot him in the forehead. Somehow managing to stay alive, Johnny pulled himself up and begged Henley for his life. His finial words were “Wayne, please don’t”, before he was finally strangled to death by Henley and Corll.
Together, Corll’s teenage accomplices were able to describe 24 murders they were present for and able to lead investigators to the bodies of the known victims. Most of the victims were boys Brooks and Henley knew from school, the rest were hitchhikers traveling through town.
“The Lost Boys”
Sadly, some of these boys would never be identified. Other boys were forced to write letters home, telling their parents that they had found jobs in other cities and wouldn’t be home for a while, presumably so their disappearance wouldn’t be suspicious. Still, most of the local boys had been reported missing, but police initially considered them to be runaways. With no missing persons division, follow-ups on the cases and tracking down leads seemed to be a daunting task that the Heights police force was ill equipped to handle at the time. It was a major contributing factor in how Corll was able to kill so many without drawing much suspicion. Collectively these missing boys would come to be known as “The Lost Boys”.
A mother of one of these missing boys, David Hilligiest, was able to track down more information than the police did at the time. Hillgiest was diligent in her search and had the assistance of other neighborhood boys with passing out “Missing” posters. One of those boys was none other than David Hilligiest’s long time childhood friend, Wayne Henley.
With the help of a private investigator, Hilligiest drove to various known haunts for runaway teens, hoping her son David would be found amongst them. Following a lead that David may have been kidnapped by a homosexual sex ring, Hilligiest spent a number of evenings sitting outside of a local gay bars, and called local police to the point of harassment in order to divulge any piece of information she could find involving her son’s disappearance. Hilligiest would finally have a break in her case when the evening news broadcast came across her television set. 28 bodies had been uncovered.
- September 25: Jeffrey Konen, 18. A student at the University of Texas at Austin abducted while hitchhiking from Austin to the Braeswood Place district of Houston. He was buried at High Island Beach.
- December 13: James Glass, 14. An acquaintance of Corll who also knew David Brooks. Glass was last seen by his brother in the company of Danny Yates walking towards the exit of the church the trio had attended. He was strangled with a cord and buried inside the boat shed.
- December 13: Danny Yates, 14. Lured with his friend James Glass from a Heights evangelical rally by David Brooks to Corll’s Yorktown apartment. He and his friend were strangled before being buried in a common grave in Corll’s boat shed.
- January 30: Donald Waldrop, 15. Vanished on his way to visit a bowling alley. According to Brooks, Donald’s father, who was a builder, was working on the apartment next to Corll’s at the time that Donald and his brother were murdered.
- January 30: Jerry Waldrop, 13. The youngest of Corll’s victims. He and his brother were strangled and buried in a common grave inside Corll’s boat shed.
- March 9: Randell Harvey, 15. Disappeared on his way home from his job as a gas station attendant; he was shot in the head and buried in Corll’s boat shed. Remains identified October, 2008.
- May 29: David Hilligiest, 13. One of Henley’s earliest childhood friends; he was last seen alongside his friend Gregory Malley Winkle climbing into a white van.
- May 29: Gregory Malley Winkle, 16. A former employee of Corll Candy Company and boyfriend of Randell Harvey’s sister; Winkle disappeared on his way to visit a local swimming pool. His body was found in the boat shed with the cord used to strangle him knotted around his neck.
- August 17: Ruben Watson Haney, 17. Left his home to visit the cinema on the afternoon of August 17. Haney later called his mother to tell her he was spending the evening with Brooks. He was gagged, strangled and buried in Corll’s boat shed.
- February 9: Willard Branch, Jr. 17. The son of a Houston Police officer who subsequently died of a heart attack in the search for his son. Branch was emasculated before he was shot and buried in the boat shed. Remains identified July, 1985.
- March 24: Frank Aguirre, 18. Aguirre had been engaged to marry Rhonda Williams, whose presence in Corll’s house sparked the fatal confrontation between Henley and Corll. He was strangled and buried at High Island Beach.
- April 20: Mark Scott, 17. A friend of both Henley and Brooks who was killed at Corll’s Schuler Street address. According to Henley, Scott was strangled and buried at High Island, although his remains were never found.
- May 21: Johnny Delome, 16. A Heights youth who was last seen with his friend walking to a local store. He was shot in the head, then strangled by Henley.
- May 21: Billy Baulch Jr., 17. A former employee of Corll Candy Company. Baulch was forced to write a letter to his parents claiming he and Delome had found work in Madisonville before he was strangled by Henley and buried at High Island Beach.
- July 19: Steven Sickman, 17. Sickman was last seen leaving a party held in the Heights. He suffered several fractured ribs before he was strangled with a nylon cord and buried in the boat shed. Remains misidentified December, 1993 and correctly identified March, 2011.
- August 21: Roy Bunton, 19. Disappeared on his way to work at a shoe store. He was shot twice in the head and buried in the boat shed. Remains misidentified October, 1973 and correctly identified November, 2011.
- October 2: Wally Jay Simoneaux, 14. Lured with his friend into Brooks’ Corvette on the night of October 2. Simoneaux attempted to call his mother at Corll’s residence before the phone was disconnected. He was strangled and buried in Corll’s boat shed.
- October 2: Richard Hembree, 13. Last seen alongside his friend in a vehicle parked outside a Heights grocery store. He was shot in the mouth and strangled at Corll’s Westcott Towers address.
- November 12: Richard Kepner, 19. Vanished on his way to call his fiancée from a pay phone, he was strangled and buried at High Island Beach. Remains identified September, 1983.
- February 1: Joseph Lyles, 17. An acquaintance of Corll who lived on the same street as Brooks. He was seen by Brooks to be “grabbed” by Corll at his Wirt Road address and was subsequently buried at Jefferson County Beach. Remains located August, 1983 and identified November, 2009.
- June 4: William Ray Lawrence, 15. A friend of Henley who phoned his father to ask if he could go fishing with “some friends.” He was kept alive by Corll for three days before he was strangled with a cord and buried at Lake Sam Rayburn.
- June 15: Raymond Blackburn, 20. A married man from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who vanished while hitchhiking from the Heights to see his newborn child. He was strangled by Corll at his Lamar Drive residence and buried at Lake Sam Rayburn.
- July 7: Homer Garcia, 15. Met Henley while both youths were enrolled at a Bellaire driving school. He was shot in the head and chest and left to bleed to death in Corll’s bathtub before he was buried at Lake Sam Rayburn.
- July 12: John Sellars, 17. An Orange County youth killed two days before his 18th birthday. Sellars was killed by four gunshots to the chest and buried at High Island Beach. He was the only victim to be buried fully clothed.
- July 19: Michael Baulch, 15. Corll had killed his older brother, Billy, the previous year. He was strangled and buried at Lake Sam Rayburn. Remains identified September, 2010.
- July 25: Marty Jones, 18. Jones was last seen along with his friend and flatmate, Charles Cobble, walking along 27th Street in the company of Henley.
- July 25: Charles Cary Cobble, 17. A school friend of Henley whose wife was pregnant at the time of his murder; Cobble last phoned his father in a state of hysteria claiming he and Jones had been kidnapped by drug dealers. His body, shot twice in the head, was found in the boat shed.
- August 3: James Dreymala, 13. The son of Seven-day Adventists, Dreymala was last seen riding his bike in South Houston. He last called his parents to tell them he was at a “party” across town.
Up until the day of Corll’s death only one boy was able to escape the clutches of the Candy Man. His name was Billy Ridinger. Although he has refused to speak publicly about his story, he was present throughout Henley and Brooks’ trials. He went in and out of the court room wearing a bag over his head, in order to conceal his identity. It was Brooks who begged Corll to spare Billy’s life and Corll agreed to let the boy go. Had Ridinger gone forward to the police sooner, at least 15 young lives could have been spared.
Death of the Candy Man
In the days leading up to Corll’s death, Henley started to become concerned for his safety and the weight of the horrific acts he had committed became very heavy to him. He claimed that he had tried to talk to his mom about the incidents, but she didn’t believe him. He wrote out a full confession and told his mom if anything happen to him to turn it over to police.
According to Henley, he and Brooks discussed the possibility of killing Corll in order to get themselves “…away from this whole thing.”, but claimed that they were just too scared. Both Brooks and Henley were still under the impression that Corll had ties to organized crime and believed someone would come after them to avenge his murder. Instead they waited, going along with one horrific murder after another.
That all changed on the night of August 7, 1973. Henley had been with his long-time friend Rhonda Williams when she got into a dispute with her father. She asked Henley to help her run away from home. Henley agreed to help her and together, along with another teen named Tim Kerley, headed to Corll’s.
There isn’t much doubt that Henley was only bringing Kerley along as a sacrifice, but Henley felt Rhonda would be relatively safe since Corll had little interest in females. Once the trio arrived at Corll’s home, Henley was met with some tension. Corll was upset that Henley had brought a girl along with him to the party and the two argued. The three teens stayed up late into the night, partying until they passed out.
The following morning Henley awoke to his hands and feet bound together and tape placed over his mouth. Chained up next to him were Williams and Kerley. Corll had told Henley his plans of killing both him and Williams after he was finished sexually assaulting Kerley. Somehow Henley was able to convince Corll to remove his restraints and Henley agreed to kill Williams while Coril took care of Kerley. Henley went and laid next to Williams, reassuring her that he would talk with her as long as he could, but then he would have to point a gun to her head and kill her. At some point during incident the Corll had laid his pistol down and Henley picked it up.
Henley screamed at Corll, fed up that he was killing his friends, according to witness Rhonda Williams. He then pointed the pistol at Corll and shot him six times. Minutes later, Henley phoned the Pasadena police department and confessed to shooting Corll.
Police arrived at Corll’s home to find Henley, Williams, and Kerley sitting on the sidewalk out front. Henley told the officer that the body was inside. When the officer on the scene entered the room he knew this was no ordinary homicide. Within the room of Corll’s body were a number of sex toys, along with his homemade torture board.
The officer walked back outside to read Henley his rights. Before the officer could even finish, Henley abruptly interrupted him by stating “I don’t care who knows about it! I have to get it off my chest!”, and told police that he knew where Corll’s victims were buried.
Henley was taken back to the station in order to prepare his confession. At first it seemed as if Henley was a hero, saving himself and two friends from the hands of a sadistic monster. He told investigators how he knew of Corll’s murders and could lead them to the bodies.
As the news broke about Corll’s death and the discovery of the bodies, a simple homicide turned into a media frenzy. Investigators, along with Henley, arrived to Corll’s boat storage facility surrounded by local news reporters. One of the reporters allowed Henley to call his mom from his car phone in order to tell her what happened. He gave a brief statement on camera before pointing out where to dig.
Inside of Corll’s storage unit, 17 bodies were discovered. Some had been badly decomposed, while others were placed there mere weeks prior to the excavation. Most of the boys had been mutilated to their genitals. Some looked as if they had been chewed on, others had their genitals completely cut off and placed into a box with others. A quick interview with the owner of the storage facility gave police the impression that Corll was planning to continue his spree of murders, since he had expressed an interest in renting an additional unit several weeks prior to his death.
Henley was able to identify many of the victims as they were pulled out of the ground. It was then investigators realized that Henley had more to do with the murders than he was leading on. He confessed that he knew about the murders because he assisted Corll by bringing the boys to his home and later buring the bodies, but was adamant that he had absolutely no involvement in the torture, rape, or murder of these boys.
On August 10, two days after Corll’s death, David Brooks went down to the police station and provided his own confession, which included the extent of Henley’s involvement in the murders. Within the confession he identifies eight different boys who were murdered by Corll that he knew about or witnessed. In one of the murders Brooks describes how he recalled taking a boy a pizza while he was still alive and in captivity at Corll’s home. The boy had asked Brooks to stay, but instead he left. The following day Brooks and Henley helped bury his body.
After Henley had discovered Brooks had come forward to police, he confessed to the full extent of his involvement in the murders. He also agreed to take investigators to the other bodies he knew about, including four more at Lake Sam Rayburn and six buried on the beaches of High Island.
Brooks and Henley were tried separately for their parts in the abduction and murders of the missing boys.
In July 1974 Henley was tried for the murder of six of the boys. For a week Henley detailed everything he knew about the crimes, including how Corll would brutally torture the boys by mutilating their genitals. Some had their genitals cut off completely, while others had glass rods broken off in their urethras. The lucky ones had their pubic hairs plucked out one by one.
In spite of his confession, his defense insisted that Henley was only forced to go along with the killings because he was under the control of Corll and feared for what would happen to him if he didn’t comply with Corll’s orders. It only took the jury an hour to sentence him to six consecutive life sentences. In 1978 Henley was granted a retrial and was again found guilty and sentenced to six life sentences.
Brooks wouldn’t be tried until February of 1975. Although he had been indited on the murder of four teens, he only went to trial for the murder of William Ray Lawrence. He was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.
Henley also stood trial separately for the murder of William Ray Lawrence in 1975. He was found guilty and received an additional life sentence.
A 29th Victim?
To this day forensic specialists are still identifying bodies uncovered in the areas pointed out by Henley, but it wasn’t until 2012 when a documentary filmmaker interested in telling the story of this case, came across a new discovery.
The filmmaker, Josh Vargus, interviewed Henley’s mother and she agreed to allow Vargus to go through Henley’s belongings. She also gave Vargus permission to take whatever he wanted for the making of his film. At the back of a dilapidated school bus, where Henley’s personal items had sat since the date of his conviction, was several stacked cardboard boxes.
Within one of these boxes Vargus made a startling discovery. A blurry Polaroid photo of a young boy, bound next to Corll’s toolbox. Vargus brought the photo with him to a meeting with Henley at the prison. Henley claimed he had no idea who the boy was, but said there was potentially more victims who were never identified during the original investigation. Vargus was quoting as saying:
“Once we obtained Henley’s personal belongings, I was dumbfounded when I learned that the police never searched Henley’s room. How do you arrest someone for such a crime without going through the room that he lived and slept in? Had they done that, they would have found the picture, rather than my producer and I.”
Although there are no known leads on the boy’s identity, a new piece to the puzzle may have emerged.
In early 2015, a Fort Wayne, Indiana man was cleaning out the crawl space to his home when he uncovered more than he had bargained for. Skeletal remains, believed to have belonged a young boy, were buried in the dirt underneath his home. Corll was born in Fort Wayne and was speculated to have had ties there before his death. It is unknown if the discovery of the bones were ever confirmed to be linked to Corll, but if the speculations turn out to be true then this will mark the first discovery to link Corll to murders in other states.