Dean Arnold Corll (December 24, 1939 – August 8, 1973) was an American serial killer who, along with two teenaged accomplices named David Owen Brooks and Elmer Wayne Henley, Jr., abducted, raped, tortured, and murdered at least 28 teenage boys and young men in a series of killings between 1970 and 1973 in Houston, Texas. The crimes, which became known as the Houston Mass Murders, came to light after Henley fatally shot Corll.
Corll’s victims were typically lured to a succession of addresses in which he resided between 1970 and 1973 with an offer of a party or a lift. They would then be restrained either by force or deception, and all were killed either by strangulation or shooting with a .22-caliber pistol. Corll and his accomplices buried 17 of their victims in a rented boat shed; four other victims were buried in woodland near Lake Sam Rayburn; one victim was buried on a beach in Jefferson County; and at least six victims were buried on a beach on the Bolivar Peninsula. Brooks and Henley confessed to assisting Corll in several abductions and murders; both were sentenced to life imprisonment at their subsequent trials.
Corll was also known as the Candy Man and the Pied Piper, because he and his family had owned and operated a candy factory in Houston Heights, and he had been known to give free candy to local children.
At the time of their discovery, the Houston Mass Murders were considered the worst example of serial murder in American history..
Dean Arnold Corll was born on December 24, 1939, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the first child born to Mary Emma Robinson (May 9, 1916 – May 31, 2010) and Arnold Edwin Corll (February 7, 1916 – April 5, 2001). Corll’s father was strict with his children, whereas his mother was markedly protective of both her sons. Their marriage was marred by frequent quarreling, and the couple divorced in 1946, four years after the birth of their younger son, Stanley Wayne Corll. Mary Corll subsequently sold the family home and relocated to a trailer home in Memphis, Tennessee, where Arnold Corll had been drafted into the U.S. Air Force after the divorce, in order that her sons could remain in contact with their father.
Corll was a shy, serious child who seldom socialized with other children, but at the same time displayed concern for the well-being of others. At the age of seven, he suffered an undiagnosed case of rheumatic fever, which was only noted in 1950, when doctors found Corll had a heart murmur. As a result of this diagnosis, Corll was ordered to avoid P.E. at school.[
Corll’s parents attempted reconciliation and remarried in 1950, subsequently moving to Pasadena, Texas; however, the reconciliation was short-lived and, in 1953, the couple once again divorced, with the mother again retaining custody of her two sons. Their divorce was granted on amicable grounds and both boys maintained regular contact with their father.
From 1954 to 1958, Corll attended Vidor High School, where he was regarded as a well-behaved student who achieved satisfactory grades. As had been the case in his childhood, Corll was also considered somewhat of a loner, although he is known to have occasionally dated girls in his teenage years.
Corll graduated from Vidor High School in the summer of 1958. In a logistical move shortly thereafter, he and his family moved to the northern outskirts of Houston so that the family candy business could be closer to the city where the majority of their product was sold. Corll’s family opened a new shop, which they named Pecan Prince in reference to the brand name of the family product. In 1960, at the request of his mother, Corll moved to Indiana to live with his widowed grandmother. During this period of time, Corll formed a close relationship with a local girl, although he rejected a subsequent marriage proposal she made to him in 1962. Corll lived in Indiana for almost two years, but returned to Houston in 1962 to help with his family’s candy business, which by this date had moved to Houston Heights. He later moved into an apartment of his own above the shop.
Corll’s mother divorced Jake West in 1963 and opened a new candy business, which she named ‘Corll Candy Company’; her eldest son was appointed vice-president of the new family firm, with his younger brother Stanley being appointed secretary-treasurer. The same year, one of the teenage male employees of Corll Candy Company complained to Corll’s mother that Corll had made sexual advances towards him. In response, Mary West fired the teenager..
Corll was drafted into the United States Army on August 10, 1964, and assigned to Fort Polk, Louisiana, for basic training. He was later assigned to Fort Benning, Georgia, to train as a radio repairman before his permanent assignment to Fort Hood, Texas. According to official military records, Corll’s period of service in the army was unblemished. Corll, however, reportedly hated military service; he applied for a hardship discharge on the grounds that he was needed in his family’s business. The army granted his request and he was given an honorable discharge on June 11, 1965, after ten months of service.
Reportedly, Corll divulged to some of his close acquaintances after his release from the United States Army that it was during his period of service that he had first realized that he was homosexual, and had experienced his first homosexual encounters. Other acquaintances noted subtle changes in Corll’s mannerisms when in the company of teenage males after he had completed his service in the army and returned to Houston, which led them to believe he may have been homosexual.
Between 1970 and 1973, Corll is known to have killed a minimum of 28 victims. All of his victims were males aged 13 to 20, the majority of whom were in their mid-teens. Most victims were abducted from Houston Heights, which was then a low-income neighborhood northwest of downtown Houston. With most abductions, he was assisted by one or both of his teenaged accomplices: Elmer Wayne Henley, and David Owen Brooks. Several victims were friends of either or both of Corll’s accomplices; others were individuals with whom Corll had himself become acquainted prior to their abduction and murder, and two other victims, Billy Baulch and Gregory Malley Winkle, were former employees of the Corll Candy Company.
In several instances, Corll forced his victims to either phone or write to their parents with explanations for their absences in an effort to allay the parents’ fears for their sons’ safety.] Corll is also known to have retained keepsakes—usually keys—from his victims.
During the years in which he abducted and murdered his victims, Corll often changed addresses. However, until he moved to Pasadena in the spring of 1973, he always lived in or close to Houston Heights.
In custody at the Pasadena Police Department, Henley initially was questioned in relation to the killing of Dean Corll. He recounted the events of the previous evening and that morning; explaining that he had shot Corll in self-defense. The statements given by Kerley and Williams corroborated Henley’s account, and the detective questioning Henley believed he had indeed acted in self-defense.
When questioned regarding his claim that as Corll had threatened him that morning he had shouted that he had killed several boys, Henley explained that for almost three years, he and David Brooks had helped procure teenage boys, some of whom had been their own friends, for Corll, who had raped and murdered them. Henley gave a verbal statement; stating he initially had believed the boys he had abducted were to be sold into a Dallas-based organization for “homosexual acts, sodomy, maybe later killing,” but soon learned Corll was himself killing the victims procured. Henley admitted he had assisted Corll in several abductions and murders, and that he had actively participated in the torture and mutilation of “six or eight” victims prior to their murder. Most victims had been buried in a Southwest Houston boat shed; with others buried at Lake Sam Rayburn and High Island Beach. Corll had paid up to $200 for each victim he or Brooks were able to lure to his apartment.
Henley agreed to accompany police to Corll’s boat shed in Southwest Houston, where he claimed the bodies of most of the victims could be found. Inside Corll’s boat shed, police found a half-stripped car, which turned out to have been stolen from a used car lot in March, a child’s bike, a large iron drum, water containers, two sacks of lime, and a large plastic bag full of teenage boys’ clothing.
Two prison trustees began digging through the soft, shell-crushed earth of the boat shed and soon uncovered the body of a young blond-haired teenaged boy, lying on his side, encased in clear plastic and buried beneath a layer of lime. Police continued excavating through the earth of the shed, unearthing the remains of more victims in varying stages of decomposition. Most of the bodies found were wrapped in thick, clear plastic sheeting. Some victims had been shot, others strangled,[ the ligature still wrapped tightly around their necks.
All of the victims found had been sodomized and most victims found bore evidence of sexual torture: pubic hairs had been plucked out, genitals had been chewed, objects had been inserted into their rectums, and glass rods had been inserted into their urethrae and smashed. Cloth rags had also been inserted into the victims’ mouths and adhesive tape wound around their faces to muffle their screams. The mouth of the third victim unearthed on August 8 was so agape that all upper and lower teeth were visible, leading investigators to theorize the youth had died with a scream on his lips. On August 8, 1973, eight corpses were uncovered at the boat shed.
Accompanied by his father, David Brooks presented himself at the Houston Police Station on the evening of August 8, 1973, and gave a statement in which he denied any participation in the murders, but admitted to having known that Corll had raped and killed two youths in 1970.
David Brooks gave a full confession on the evening of August 9, admitting to being present at several killings and assisting in several burials, although he continued to deny any direct participation in the murders.
On August 13, 1973, both Henley and Brooks again accompanied the police to High Island Beach, where four more bodies were found, making a total of twenty-seven known victims – the worst killing spree in American history at the time.
By April 1974, twenty-one of Corll’s victims had been identified, with all but four of the youths having either lived in or had close connections to Houston Heights. Two more teenagers were identified in 1983 and 1985: one of whom, Richard Kepner, lived in Houston Heights. The other youth, Willard Branch, lived in the Oak Forest district of Houston.
Henley awoke to find himself lying upon his stomach and Corll snapping handcuffs onto his wrists.[ His mouth had been taped shut and his ankles had been bound together. Kerley and Williams lay beside Henley, securely bound with nylon rope, gagged with adhesive tape and lying face down on the floor. Kerley had been stripped naked.
Noting Henley had awoken, Corll removed the gag from his mouth. Henley protested in vain against Corll’s actions, whereupon Corll reiterated that he was angry with Henley for bringing a girl to his house and that he was going to kill all three teenagers after he had assaulted and tortured Kerley, initially stating, “Man, you blew it bringing that girl,”[ before shouting: “I’m gonna kill you all! But first I’m gonna have my fun!” He then repeatedly kicked Williams in the chest before dragging Henley into his kitchen and placing a .22-caliber pistol against his stomach, threatening to shoot him. Henley calmed Corll, promising to participate in the torture and murder of both Williams and Kerley if Corll released him. Corll agreed and untied Henley, then carried Kerley and Williams into his bedroom and tied them to opposite sides of his torture board: Kerley on his stomach; Williams on her back.
Corll then handed Henley a hunting knife and ordered him to cut away Williams’ clothes,[ insisting that, while he would rape and kill Kerley, Henley would do likewise to Williams. Henley began cutting away Williams’ clothes as Corll undressed and began to assault and torture Kerley. Both Kerley and Williams had awakened by this point. Kerley began writhing and shouting as Williams, whose gag Henley had removed, lifted her head and asked Henley, “Is this for real?” to which Henley answered, “Yes.” Williams then asked Henley: “Are you going to do anything about it?”
Henley then asked Corll whether he might take Williams into another room. Corll ignored him and Henley then grabbed Corll’s pistol, shouting, “You’ve gone far enough, Dean!”[ As Corll clambered off Kerley, Henley elaborated: “I can’t go on any longer! I can’t have you kill all my friends!” Corll approached Henley, saying, “Kill me, Wayne!” Henley stepped back a few paces as Corll continued to advance upon him, shouting, “You won’t do it!” Henley then fired at Corll, hitting him in the forehead. The bullet failed to fully penetrate Corll’s skull, and he continued to lurch toward Henley, whereupon the youth fired another two rounds, hitting Corll in the left shoulder. Corll then ran out of the room, hitting the wall of the hallway. Henley fired three additional bullets into his lower back and shoulder as Corll slid down the wall in the hallway outside the room where the two other teenagers were bound. Corll died where he fell, his naked body lying face toward the wall. Henley would later recall that, having shot Corll, the sole thought dominant in his mind in the moments immediately thereafter was that Corll would have been proud of the way he had reacted to the confrontation, adding that Corll had been training him to react fast and react greatly, and that was what he had done.
After he had shot Corll, Henley released Kerley and Williams from the torture board, and all three teenagers dressed and discussed what actions they should take. Henley suggested to Kerley and Williams that they should simply leave, to which Kerley replied, “No, we should call the police.”[ Henley agreed and looked up the number for the Pasadena Police in Corll’s telephone directory.
On August 13, a Grand Jury convened in Harris County to hear evidence against Henley and Brooks: the first witnesses to testify were Rhonda Williams and Tim Kerley, who testified to the events of August 7 and 8 leading to the death of Dean Corll. Another witness who testified to his experience at the hands of Dean Corll was Billy Ridinger. After listening to over 6 hours of testimony from various people, on August 14, the jury initially indicted Henley on three murder charges and Brooks on one count. Bail for each youth was set at $100,000.
The District Attorney requested that Henley undergo a psychiatric examination to deduce whether he was mentally competent to stand trial, but his attorney, Charles Melder, opposed the decision, stating the move would violate Henley’s Constitutional rights.
By the time the Grand Jury had completed its investigation, Henley had been indicted for six murders, and Brooks for four.[ Henley was not charged with the death of Dean Corll, which was ruled as being self-defense.