Dean Arnold Corll was a sexual sadist who raped, tortured and killed at least 28 young men and boys in the Houston, Texas area during the 1970s with the help of his two teenage accomplices. Corll was dubbed “the Candyman” by the media because he ran the Corll Candy Company, and he used the sweets to entice his young targets. If that were not enough to bring to mind the trope of the creepy stranger with the candy going after children, Corll drove a windowless white van.
Most people have never heard of Dean Corll. Maybe it’s because there were so many serial killers in the 1970s; John Wayne Gacy, the Hillside Stranglers, BTK, Ed Kemper, the Zodiac Killer, the East Area Rapist and so forth, and Corll got lost in the gruesome mix. Or perhaps it’s because Corll’s crimes were too horrible, animalistic and distressing for people to talk about. They wanted to forget the nightmare that was Dean Corll.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Dean Corll Ran The Corll Candy Company & Used It As a Way to Entice His Victims
Dean Corll was born on December 24, 1939 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. His parents divorced when he was young and his mother, Mary, remarried several times. The Corlls relocated multiple times before settling in Vidor, Texas. Mary had several tumultuous marriages, and Corll did not have a stable father figure growing up. One of Mary’s husbands had a violent temper and threatened to kill her on multiple occasions.
Mary eventually married a traveling salesman who encouraged her to open up her own candy selling business. She loved making pralines and was incredibly efficient at doing so. Mary would eventually open a candy store known as “The Pecan Prince,” where Dean would eventually work.
Mary was very protective of Corll and he was very reliant on her. Corll was described as an effeminate child who, like many other serial killers, enjoyed hunting and killing small animals. He was a loner and had very few friends while he was in school. When he was old enough, he began working alongside his mother at the Pecan Prince. A young male employee of the Pecan Prince accused Corll of making unwanted sexual advances toward him. In response, Mary fired the young man.
Corll briefly enlisted in the Army, but was honorably discharged in 1965 after only spending 10 months in the service. Corll was let go on a hardship discharge, stating that the family business could not function without him. Mary relocated the candy store to a neighborhood in Houston known as the Heights, and gave it a new name: the Corll Candy Company. Conveniently for Corll, the candy factory was directly across from an elementary school, Texas Monthly reports.
Corll was described by his coworkers as somewhat strange, but more or less a clean-cut decent guy. While Corll was not openly gay, it was well-known that he had no interest in girls. Corll began to engage in some bizarre behavior while working at the candy company. When he was mad, he would retreat into a back room known as Corll’s “pouting room.” He went in angry, and came out smiling and happy. He also used to go out at night with a shovel and concrete, claiming that he was digging holes to dispose of the spoiled candy apples and unsold pralines.
Corll would give free handouts to young boys, and the Corll Candy Company became a regular hangout. Corll loved to be in the company of boys and young men, but most people shrugged it off, viewing Corll as a sort of scout leader or a person who simply enjoyed spending time with children. They had no idea that Corll was a monster who was sexually brutalizing, killing and burying the young boys he so sweetly enticed, Houston Architecture reports.
2. Corll Had Two Teenage Accomplices Who Helped Him Find His Victims
Corll specifically targeted teenage boys; young men who were a bit too old to hang out at a candy store. So, he did what he could to lure them to his home. He had a pool table, a stereo, and hosted parties where his guests could drink, smoke weed, take pills and huff paint, which was a popular way to get high in the Heights. Eventually, the boys would grow tired and go home. But there was always someone who passed out, after Corll made sure he was completely incapacitated, Texas Monthly reports.
The victim would wake up strapped to what was known as Corll’s torture board, a piece of plywood with straps attached to it. The victim would be strapped down and handcuffed. Once his victim was on the torture board, it is believed that Corll would beat, rape and torture the victim for hours; sometimes even days. He is accused of doing things like ripping out his victims’ pubic hair, breaking off pieces of glass piping in their urethras, and even biting off their testicles. Eventually, it was reported that Corll would kill his victims by strangling them or shooting them.
The torture board:
Corll began to have trouble finding victims. He struck up a friendship with an 18-year-old named David Brooks, who was considered to be a bit of an oddball. Corll would give Brooks gifts or money in exchange for sexual favors. It is believed that Brooks once walked in on Corll while he had one of his victims strapped to the torture board. Brooks was initially shocked and appalled, but he rejoined Corll a few days later. Now that Brooks knew his secret, Corll offered to make him an accomplice. If Brooks could bring him fresh victims, he would pay him large amounts of cash in exchange. Brooks agreed, and he soon began inviting his friends and acquaintances over to Corll’s house to “party.”
Next, Elmer “Wayne” Henley entered the picture; a popular 17-year-old who was well liked in the Heights, but lacked direction and wasn’t doing much with his life. Brooks and Corll soon convinced Henley to join them in their scheme. Like Brooks, Corll paid Henley handsomely for bringing young boys to his house. Henley had an easier time than Brooks because he was popular, and he is accused of bringing several of his own friends to Corll’s house, knowing that they would be killed. It is further believed that Henley and Brooks helped Corll dispose of the bodies, reports The New York Daily News.
3. Many of Corll’s Victims Were Reported Missing By Their Families, But The Missing Boys Were Largely Ignored By The Houston Police Department
The Heights was a poor neighborhood and the Houston Police Department was understaffed and overworked. Boys were disappearing from the Heights left and right, and many of their families did in fact file missing persons reports. However, the police did very little investigating, dismissing the majority of the boys as runaways. The boys were poor, and many were ne’er do wells, so looking for them was low on the priority list for the Houston PD, The New York Daily News states.
It is believed that Corll would sometimes make his victims write letters to their families stating that they had found employment out of state and would not be returning. Their handwriting would often be shaky and abnormal. When the parents would show the letters to the police, instead of investigating the matter further, the boy would be taken off of the missing persons list. The goodbye letters were satisfactory as far as they were concerned. They weren’t missing; they were runaways. The families pleaded with the police to investigate the matter further, but they refused, as described by Texas Monthly.
Some of the families even hired private investigators to look for their missing boys. In most cases, this never led anywhere, and the already poor families would wind up going completely broke trying to privately fund the searches for their sons. The parents were heartbroken, powerless, and had no one to turn to. Despite the fact that there were over 25 boys all missing from the same neighborhood, the police chose to ignore the problem rather than investigate it, Texas Monthly reports.
4. Corll Was Killed By One of His Accomplices, Elmer “Wayne” Henley
Things eventually began to grow sour between Brooks, Henley and Corll. Corll was planning on leaving the Heights and moving to Colorado to be with his mother. Brooks had gotten married and was planning on leaving town. Henley had fallen in love with a local girl named Rhonda, and he wanted to pursue a life with her. Rhonda had previously been engaged to a young man named Frank Aguirre, who was among the disappeared. Henley had helped to lure Aguirre back to Corll’s house, and, knowing that Aguirre was dead, chose to pursue Rhonda, as Rhonda explained to the Houston Press.
On August 8, 1973, Wayne Henley showed up at Corll’s house with Tim Curley, his friend and intended victim for Corll, accompanied by Rhonda, Wayne’s girlfriend. Corll became furious that Henley would dare to bring a girl to his house, reports The Houston Press. Eventually, things calmed down, and the group began to party together, huffing paint and getting high, until they lost consciousness.
When they woke up, Tim Curley was strapped to the torture board, completely naked. Rhonda was strapped to a second torture board, fully clothed. Corll, holding a gun, told Henley that he intended to teach him a lesson, and planned on killing Rhonda. Henley, handcuffed, was able to talk his way out of trouble. He convinced Corll to free him. Corll was about to begin to sexually assault Curley, and he wanted Henley to do the same to Rhonda. Corll is believed to have pointed to Rhonda and told Henley to “get to work.” Henley instead grabbed Corll’s handgun, saying “I can’t take it anymore” and unloaded the gun, killing Corll, as The Houston Press confirms.
When the police arrived, at first, Henley was hailed as a hero for slaying Corll. However, it soon became clear that Henley was not just an innocent guest of Corll’s; he was an accomplice. Henley and Brooks were both detained by the Houston authorities. After confessing, the process of locating the bodies would begin.
5. The Houston Police Department Knew That There Were More Bodies Buried in Corll’s Boatshed, But Called Off The Search Anyway
Some of Corll’s victims were buried in the ground in and around the Heights and Broaddus, Texas. Others were dumped in a lake. But the majority of the victims were buried in a boatshed that Corll rented. Henley informed the police of this, and the process of excavating the boatshed was begun.
Searching for bodies in Broaddus, Texas:
Instead of having law enforcement professionals dig up the bodies, the Houston PD had prisoners do the work, using metal shovels instead of delicate instruments. The stench inside the boatshed, full of decomposing corpses in the Texas heat, was described as unbearable. The workers were buried up to their knees in sludge and corpses that had undergone putrefaction, reports The New York Daily News.
Excavating the boatshed:
A total of 15 bodies were recovered from the boatshed. Henley and Brooks told the police officers that there were at least two more bodies buried in the boatshed, but the police department called off the search anyway, saying that their work was done.
Henley assisting the police with their search for more bodies:
A total of 28 victims were recovered, one of whom still remains unidentified. According to Brooks and Henley, there are still victims buried in the ground somewhere in the Heights, undiscovered.
Brooks and Henley would both face trial and be sentenced to life in prison, where they remain today.
Wayne Henley eagerly gives interviews to the press and is not shy to talk about his alleged crimes.
David Brooks has always, and continues to refuse to speak about his alleged involvement.
It is unknown if Corll’s final victims will ever be found, or if they will remain buried in a shallow grave somewhere in the Heights.