When Dean Corll was shot to death by his 17-year-old accomplice, the number of boys he had killed in two and a half years made him America's most prolific serial killer to date.
To everyone in his Houston Heights neighborhood a few miles west of downtown Houston, Texas, Dean Corll seemed like a decent, ordinary man. He spent his time at the small candy factory his mother owned in Houston Heights and got along well with the neighborhood boys. He even gave free candy to local school children, earning him the nickname “Candy Man.”
But behind the smile, Dean Corll hid a deadly secret. When he was murdered in 1973 by Elmer Wayne Henley, the young man’s confession revealed the horrifying details of Corll’s two-and-a-half-year-long killing spree — one that would make him the worst serial killer that America had ever seen.
The Early Life and Career of Dean “Candy Man” Corll
While it is a standard trope in serial killer lore that their later depravity can often be traced back to some childhood events or traumas, it is difficult to see anything in what is known about Dean Corll’s early life that could have put him on the path to becoming one of America’s worst serial killers.
Born in 1939, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, his parents reportedly never had a happy marriage. They would fight often, and Corll’s father was known to be a strict disciplinarian.
Whether this resulted in far worse abuse than would have been typical for the commonly-accepted corporal punishment methods of the 1940s and 1950s isn’t known.
After his parents divorced for the second time — they had briefly reconciled following their first divorce in 1946 — his mother remarried, this time to a traveling salesman, and the family settled in the small town of Vidor, Texas.
In school, Corll was a well-behaved, if solitary, young man. His grades were decent enough to escape notice either for good or for ill, and he occasionally dated girls from the neighborhood or school.
It was his mother’s candy shop, however, that would be the nexus between this seemingly normal story of a typical American boy in the 1950s and the vile monster who by 1973 had sexually brutalized, mutilated, and murdered at least 30` boys between the ages of 13 and 20 in just two and a half years.
Corll Candy Company
Initially starting in the family garage, Pecan Prince — the candy company that Corll’s mother and step-father started in the mid-1950s — brought Dean Corll into the candy business from the very start.
While his stepfather sold the candy on his sales route and his mother managed the actual business, Corll and his younger brother operated the machines that produced the candy the company sold.
After his mother divorced her second husband in 1963, Corll had graduated high school and had been making the candy for the family business for years. After a brief two year stint back in Indiana to care for his widowed grandmother, he returned to Houston to help his mother with a new venture.
Calling it the Corll Candy Company, Corll’s mother started the business in the Houston Heights area that same year, naming Dean Corll the vice-president and his younger brother the company’s secretary-treasurer.
Other than a brief 10-month period in 1964 when Corll served in the U.S. Army after being drafted — from which he was honorably discharged under a hardship exception — Corll worked at his mother’s company until it was dissolved several years later.
Almost immediately after the company started, though, there were warning signs about Dean Corll. A young teenage boy who worked at the company complained to Corll’s mother that Dean Corll had made sexual advances towards him. His mother fired the boy.
There were other boys around the candy factory as well, most of whom were runaways or other troubled youths. Dean Corll had an easy rapport with the teens and young men and was known to give free candy to local school children.
Inside the small factory, Corll reportedly installed a pool table where employees of the company and their friends, nearly all of them teenaged boys, would congregate throughout the day. Corll was openly flirtatious and befriended many of them.
Among them was David Brooks, then just a 12-year-old boy in the sixth grade who, like many other children in the area, was first introduced to Corll with offers of free candy and a place to hang out.
Corll began grooming Brooks over a period of two years and soon began sexually abusing the boy, then around 14, and bribing him with gifts or money for his silence.
Child Molestation Escalates To Murder
In 1970, the first known victim of Dean Corll was killed.
Jeffrey Konen, an 18-year-old college freshman who was hitchhiking home to Houston from the University of Texas at Austin. He was likely picked up by Corll with an offer of a ride to his parents’ house, as Corll lived very near to the intersection where Konen had been dropped off last.
Around this time, Brooks discovered Corll while he was raping two teenaged boys in his home, and Corll later confessed to Brooks that he had killed them. To buy Brooks’ silence, Corll bought him a Chevrolet Corvette and offered him $5 or $10 for each boy he brought to Corll, which Brooks agreed to.
One of the boys Brooks brought to Corll was Elmer Wayne Henley, but rather than rape and kill the boy, he tried to enlist him in his rape and murder scheme as well with the same “bounty” per victim brought to Corll that he offered Brooks.
Henley has said that he initially refused the offer, but his family’s financial hardship caused him to accept it.
Together, between December 13, 1970 and July 25, 1973, Brooks and Henley would lure at least 28 boys, ranging in age from 13 to 20, to Corll.
The three used Corll’s Plymouth GTX or a white van to entice the boys to come with them, with Corll using candy, alcohol, or the promise of going to a party to get each teenager inside. Anyone who got in never came back.
Dean Corll and his accomplices would take the boys to his apartment or house, where they bound and gagged each victim through various methods.
Then Corll forced them to write postcards or notes home to their families to say they were okay, after which the three would tie the victim to a wooden “torture board” whereupon the three would rape him.
Afterward, some were strangled to death, others were shot; but regardless of the method, every boy brought to Corll was murdered — with Brooks and Henley actively participating in the crimes.
Desparate Parents Find Police Uninterested in “Runaways”
One of Corll’s victims, Mark Scott, was 17 when he disappeared on the evening of April 20, 1972. Frantic, his parents reported him missing after calling classmates, friends, and neighbors to see if they knew anything.
A couple of days later, the Scott family received a postcard purportedly from Mark saying that he found a job in Austin that paid $3 per hour and that they should not worry.
The Scotts did not believe that their boy would suddenly leave town without saying goodbye and knew something was terribly wrong.
They, like many of the families of Corll’s victims, received little if any help from the Houston police department in finding their missing sons.
“I camped on that police department door for eight months,” Everett Waldrop told reporters after police had found the remains of his two sons, Jerry, 13, and Donald, 15, both victims of Corll’s.
“But all they did was say, ‘Why are you down here? You know your boys are runaways.'”
Other families of Corll’s victims reported similar indifference to the families’ pleas for help finding their sons. In Texas in the early 1970s, it wasn’t illegal for a child to run away from home, so the chief of the Houston police department claimed there was nothing they could do to help them.
The chief was voted out of office in the first election held after Corll’s murders became known to the public.
Dean Corll’s Depravity Comes To A Violent End
On August 8, 1973, after two and a half years and 28 known murders, Corll finally turned on Henley after luring two teens, Tim Kerley and Rhonda Williams — the only teenage girl known to have been targeted during the Houston Mass Murders — to Corll’s apartment. Williams knew Dean Corll from the neighborhood and trusted Henley, who was her friend, so she didn’t suspect that she was in any danger.
They partied through the night, huffing paint to get high and drinking heavily. Henley said that when he woke up, he discovered that he was tied up alongside Kerley and Williams and that Corll was screaming at him while waving his .22-caliber pistol. “I’m going to kill you,” Corll threatened, “but first I’ll have my fun.”
Kenley pleaded with Corll to untie him, saying that the two of them could rape and kill Williams and Kerley together. Eventually, Corll did untie Henley, and brought Kerley into the bedroom to be tied up to the “torture board.”
In doing so, Corll placed the gun on the nightstand next to the bed. Williams, who survived the attack and only spoke publicly about it in 2013, recalled how Corll’s behavior had visibly shaken something loose in Henley’s mind.
“He stood at my feet, and just all of a sudden told Dean this couldn’t keep going on, he couldn’t let him keep killing his friends and that it had to stop,” she recalled.
“Dean looked up and he was surprised. So he started getting up and he was like, ‘You’re not going to do anything to me.'”
Then, without another word, Dean Corll’s rape, torture, and murder spree came to an end as Wayne Henley shot him six times with the gun he had taken from the nightstand, killing him.
Henley and Brooks Sentenced After The Houston Mass Murder Were Revealed
Henley untied Kerney and Williams, then called he the police. He and Brooks confessed shortly afterward and Henley offered to show police where the boys they and Corll had murdered were buried.
Within a week, investigators found 17 victims buried in a boathouse shed that Corll had been renting. Another six bodies were in the Bolivar Peninsula, while four victims were buried in a woodland area at Lake Sam Rayburn.
Police didn’t identify the 28th victim until 1983, and there’s no telling how many others Corll might have killed that Henley and Brooks didn’t know about.
Henley was convicted of six murders and sentenced to six life sentences, served concurrently, while Brooks was convicted of one murder and received a life sentence as well.
Henley has remained a particularly controversial figure over the last few decades, including putting artwork he had created in prison up for sale at auction and creating his own Facebook page as a public figure. Elmer Wayne Henley is also featured in the second season of Netflix’s serial killer crime drama Mindhunter, portrayed by actor Robert Aramayo from HBO’s Game of Thrones.
Very little else is known about Dean Corll, and few photos of him are known to exist. After his death, those who knew him would have every reason in the world to want to forget that they ever did, now that he was now the worst serial killer the country had ever seen.
There would be worst mass murderers in the decades that followed, but no accounting of Croll’s crimes have ever truly been made, nor will they likely ever be.