Between 1970 and 1973, a terrifying killer stalked Houston, Texas. Before he met his own violent end, he would claim the lives of at least 27 teenage boys. His name was Dean Corll, but America would remember him as The Candy Man.
Dean Corll was born to Mary Robinson and Arthur Edwin Corll on Christmas Eve 1939 in fort Wayne, Texas. Little is known about his upbringing, and the few facts available are treated with scepticism by researchers, coming as they do from Corll’s devoted mother Mary, who protested her son’s absolute innocence until her death. According to her, Corll suffered none of the physical or emotional abuse which are common features of the childhoods of serial killers.
We know that Corll was a shy, retiring child who did not enjoy mixing with other children. He was described by teachers as a well-behaved student, if academically unremarkable. As for sex education, his mother felt that, after having spent some of his childhood on a farm, there was very little she needed to tell him.
Corll would make comedic home movies with his two sisters, some of which featured fake “operations” with chicken entrails standing in for human organs. Other than this, there seems to have been little outward indication of the morbid fascinations that would govern his adulthood.
His parents would divorce, remarry and then divorce again while Corll was a child. His mother went on to two further short-lived marriages. After the breakup of her second marriage, Mary set up “The Corll Candy Company” in Houston, Texas. The new family business was largely operated by Dean.
The Man With The Candy
Corll had a brief stint in the military as a radio operator, during which he saw no action. According to Corll’s friends, it was here that he had his first homosexual experience. People who knew Corll have said that it was on his return from service that he first exhibited signs of attraction to young teenage boys, and would begin to seek out their company.
The Corll Candy Company was, for a time, headquartered opposite a local high school. It was here that Corll earned his nicknames: “The Candy Man” and “The Pied Piper” for the way he would have children and teenagers flocking to the doors of the factory, lured by free samples. Many of the children he befriended during this period would go on to become his victims.
Eventually, Corll installed a pool table in the back room of the factory, and the place quickly became a hangout for local youths. He earned their trust by buying beer, giving them rides on his motorcycle and driving them to the beach.
It is also during this time that certain warning signs began to manifest. One young male employee complained of unwanted sexual advances to Corll’s mother. She promptly had him fired, refusing to countenance the idea that her son had non-heterosexual urges of any kind. She would later claim that a psychic had told her that the alignment of the stars at Corll’s birth made such things impossible. Another young male local was happy to hang out with his friends at Dean’s place, but refused to be left alone with him for any period of time. He refused to say why.
Then there was Dean’s “pouting room”; a forbidden space within the factory, always kept locked, where Dean would go to be alone whenever he was in a rage. Witnesses report that he would enter the room irate with anger and emerge placid and smiling. What he did while inside remains a mystery.
Despite his eccentricities, Dean was well liked and respected in the community, regarded as a successful entrepreneur whose fondness for children and young people was nothing out of the ordinary. Throughout his crimes he would maintain friendships and relationships, including a long-term girlfriend.
When his doting mother left for Colorado and closed the factory, Corll took a job as an electrician and remained in Houston, where in 1970 he took an apartment next to an economically depressed neighbourhood known as “The Heights”. It is here that his murderous career began.
Corll’s first known target was 18-year-old Jeffrey Konen, a hitchhiker on his way to visit his parents to whom Corll offered a lift. Police would later discover Konnen’s strangled corpse buried at High Island Beach, naked, bound and covered in a layer of lime.
Not long after moving into his new apartment, Dean Corll began grooming 14-year-old David Brooks, the first of his two accomplices. Brooks was reportedly uncomfortable with the sexual aspect of their relationship, but he came from an unhappy home situation with a violent father, and Corll was supportive, lending him money and allowing him to stay at the apartment whenever things proved too much at home.
One day, Brooks entered the apartment unannounced to find Corll with two naked boys tied to his now-infamous “torture board”. Corll rounded on Brooks and ordered him to leave. Later, Corll would tell brooks that he was a member of a child pornography ring and was being paid to send these boys out to California to pose for photographs. Only later, when Brooks was already in too deep, would Corll admit that he had murdered the two boys and buried them under his storage shed.
The two boys are now believed to have been Jimmy Glass and Danny Yates, two 14-year-olds who were visiting the Heights that day to attend an anti-drug youth rally at a nearby evangelical church.
As time wore on, Corll would try to position himself as a surrogate father figure for a timid and shy Brooks. When Brooks dropped out of school to spend more time with him, Corll rewarded him with a green Corvette.
The Brooks/Corll Spree
Following these three killings, Corll moved to a new apartment five miles northwest of the Heights. On his next murders Corll operated with Brooks as an accomplice.
On January 30th 1971 brothers Jerry and Donald Waldrop, 13 and 15 respectively, were on their way to a bowling alley when Brooks and Corll offered them a lift. They drove the brothers back to Dean’s apartment and Brooks watched as Corll strangled the two boys.
Jerry Waldrop (left), Donald Waldrop (right)
On March 19th 15-year-old Randall Harvey was riding his bike to work. A lift would have been an easy sell as Harvey and Brooks were friends. Again they drove him to Dean’s apartment where he was raped, tortured, murdered and shot in the head. Brooks helped carry his friend’s body to the storage shed where he and Corll buried it.
Less than three months later Corll would spot Malley Winkle and David Hilligiest, 16 and 14, on their way to a pool. Both had been regulars at the candy factory and so both knew, or felt they knew, Corll. Both would be strangled at his apartment.
Wayne Henley was the polar opposite of Brooks in terms of personality. Brash, loud and sociable, he was a hard drinking and partying teen with a juvenile assault charge under his belt. Like Brooks, however, he had a home life he needed to escape from, with a father who physically assaulted his wife and children. Like Brooks then, this was a person that Corll could exploit.
Henley was introduced to Corll by Brooks in 1971.
Wayne Henley (left), David Brooks (right)
Corll gained Henley’s trust by claiming that he could fence stolen goods for him, then he spun him the line he had used on Brooks about being a member of a pornography ring. He offered Henley $200 for each boy he brought him. Henley soon found a long-haired boy hanging around in the heights, and lured him to Corll’s apartment with the promise of pot, leaving him and Corll alone. Within a week Corll paid Henley, and revealed that he had raped and murdered the boy, and that the pornography story was a lie. His offer of $200 a boy, he stressed, still stood.
Many of the boys Henley lured to the apartment were his own good friends, such as Frank Aguirre, who was tricked into putting on a pair of handcuffs as part of a game. Once they were on, Corll dragged him into the bedroom where he was raped and strangled.
Then there was Mark Scott, who grabbed a knife before they could tie his hands and stabbed at Dean, breaking the skin but not injuring him. Henley threatened him with a gun and Henley and Corll strangled him with a cord.
Brooks would eventually try to distance themselves from Corll by getting married to his long-term girlfriend and leaving town with her. Despite an unsuccessful attempt to join the navy, Henley remained in Houston, later claiming that he feared Corll would take one of his younger brothers if he tried to leave.
By mid-1972, Corll and his two accomplices had become experts in their chosen field.
Amongst their growing list of victims were 17-year-old Billy Baulch, an ex-salesperson for the Candy company. His younger brother Michael would be taken from a still-reeling family only 14 months later. In a brazen move, they even abducted two boys who had just moved into an apartment directly opposite Corll’s house. It was also at this time, claims Brooks, that Henley became an active participant in the killings, shooting and strangling the boys after Corll had raped them.
Dean Corll’s house, Texas
Around this time, Dean’s behaviour became increasingly erratic. He would chain smoke cigarettes and move in short, jerky movements saying that he “needed a new boy”. Between June 1st and August 4th Corll would claim a further 8 victims, assisted by Wayne Henley.
Both Henley and Brooks testified that during this period Corll’s brutality and sadism escalated. Corll would torture his victims by inserting dildos into their anuses, inserting glass rods into their penises and smashing them, electrocuting them by car battery and pulling out their pubic hair. Police would later find small wooden crates with air holes in them in Corll’s car and home. Some bodies were discovered to have been castrated, and some had bite wounds to their genitals. In one case, police believed that a victim’s genitals had been entirely removed by a single bite.
Some victims, such as Billy Lawrence, who Henley claims Corll “especially liked” were kept alive for up to 3 days, strapped to the “torture board”.
On August 8th 1973, Henley arrived at Corll’s house with two friends, Rhonda Williams and Tim Kerley. According to Henley, this was only meant to be a night to socialise. Williams was Kerley’s new girlfriend, and had previously dated Frank Aguire, one of Corll’s earlier victims.
The group sat down to drink beer and huff paint, which they did until all three had passed out. When Henley awoke, he and his two friends had been hog-tied and gagged, and Corll was kicking Williams in the ribs. Corll was furious with Henley for bringing a girl into his house, and told him that after he was finished torturing Kerley, he would kill all three of them.
Rhonda Williams (left), Wayne Henley (right)
Corll dragged Henley into the kitchen and held him at gunpoint while Henley begged for his life, saying that he would assist Corll in the killing of his two friends if Corll spared him. Eventually Corll relented, insisting that Henley sexually assault Rhonda as he did likewise to Tim Kerley. Instead, while Corll busied himself with Kerley, Henley grabbed the pistol, saying: “You’ve gone far enough, Dean!” and “I can’t go on any longer! I can’t have you kill all my friends!”
The enraged Corll rounded on him, goading him by saying “Kill me Wayne, you won’t do it.”
Wayne Henley shot Corll 6 times in the head, shoulders and back, leaving him dead in the hallway outside his apartment.
Sitting shell-shocked on the sidewalk, the Teens waited for the police to arrive. Henley turned to Tim Kerley and told him: “I could have got $200 for you”.
Following Wayne Henley’s arrest and confession, David Brooks was compelled by his father to return to Houston to give his own. Henley confessed to personally murdering 9 youths and assisting in the strangulation of others. He was convicted of 6 murders and sentenced to life in prison.
Brooks maintained that he had only ever assisted in procuring and disposing of victims. He was also given a life sentence.
David Brooks talking with police at crime scene
With their assistance, 27 bodies were recovered from several sites. 3 of these bodies remain unidentified.
It seems certain that Corll had many additional victims.
The police chose to terminate the search after 27 bodies had been recovered, as the victim number surpassed the previous mass murder record of 25 (the 26th and 27th victims were found tied together). This was despite the fact that they had found additional bones in these graves indicating the presence of more bodies.
As early as 1968, acquaintances of Corll recall him digging underneath the candy factory and in some waste ground (both sites subsequently cemented over) and purchasing the plastic sheeting he would later bury bodies in in large quantities.
Wayne Henley arrested
In 2012, a photograph was released showing what is believed to have been an unidentified and unrecovered victim of Dean Corll. The photograph show a young, handcuffed boy next to a toolbox containing devices that Corll was known to have used to torture his victims. Henley claims that there were at least 4 undiscovered victims that he knew of.
From 1970-1973 there were 42 unsolved missing persons cases in Houston involving young men who fitted Corll’s victim profile.