Between 1970 and 1973, serial killer Dean Corll raped and murdered at least 28 boys and young men around Houston — with the help of two teenage accomplices.
To everyone in his Houston neighborhood, Dean Corll seemed like a decent, ordinary man. He was known for spending most of his time at the small candy factory that his mother owned, and he got along well with many of the neighborhood kids. He even gave free candy to local schoolchildren, which earned him the nickname “Candy Man.”
But behind his sweet smile, Dean Corll had a dark secret: He was a serial killer who murdered at least 28 young men and boys in the early 1970s. This horrific crime spree would later be dubbed the “Houston Mass Murders.” And it wasn’t until Corll’s death in 1973 that the truth came to light.
Shockingly, the person who killed Corll was his own accomplice — a teenage boy whom he had groomed to help him with his murder spree.
This is the true story of Dean Corll and how he became a killer.
The Early Life Of Dean Corll
It’s a standard trope in true-crime lore that a serial killer’s depravity can be traced back to some kind of horrific childhood event. But based on what’s known about Corll’s early life, it’s tough to pinpoint such an incident.
Dean Corll was born in 1939, in Fort Wayne, Indiana. His parents reportedly never had a happy marriage, and they would often argue. But as far as anyone can tell, there was nothing especially unusual about these fights.
Corll’s father was also known to have been a strict disciplinarian. But it’s unknown if this ever led to abuse — or punishments that were worse than those typical for the 1940s. Meanwhile, Corll’s mother doted on him.
His parents first divorced in 1946 and briefly reconciled afterward, getting married once again. But after they got divorced a second time, his mother decided to spend some time traveling around the South. She eventually remarried a traveling salesman, and the family settled in Vidor, Texas.
In school, Corll was reportedly a well-behaved, yet solitary, young boy. His grades were apparently decent enough to escape notice, and he occasionally dated girls from school or from the neighborhood.
So how did this seemingly normal American boy of the 1950s become the “Candy Man” serial killer of the 1970s? Eerily, the nexus between these two stories appears to have been his mother’s candy company.
How Dean Corll Became The “Candy Man”
In the mid-1950s, Dean Corll’s mother and stepfather started a candy company called Pecan Prince, initially working from the family garage. From the very start, Corll played a crucial role in the company.
While his stepfather sold the candy on his sales route and his mother managed the business side of the company, Corll and his younger brother operated the machines that produced the candy.
By the time his mother divorced her second husband, Corll had spent several years working at the candy shop. At some point, Corll briefly returned to Indiana to care for his widowed grandmother. But by 1962, he was ready to come back to Texas and help his mother with a new venture.
The revamped business was called the Corll Candy Company, and Corll’s mother started it in the Houston Heights area. She named Dean Corll the vice president and his younger brother the secretary-treasurer.
Although Corll was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1964 and served for about 10 months, he successfully applied for a hardship discharge after explaining that he needed to help his mother at her company. And so for several more years, Corll continued to work at the candy store.
However, Corll’s involvement at the company was not as wholesome as it seemed. There were warning signs that he was interested in underage boys.
According to the book The Man With Candy, one young teenage boy who worked at the company complained to Corll’s mother that Corll had made sexual advances toward him. In response, Corll’s mother fired the boy.
Meanwhile, the candy factory itself seemed to attract several teenage boys — both as employees and as customers. Some of them were runaways or troubled youths. Dean Corll quickly built up a rapport with these teens.
In the back of the factory, Corll even installed a pool table where company employees and their friends — many of whom were also young teenage boys — could congregate throughout the day. Corll was said to be openly “flirtatious” with the youths and befriended many of them.
Among them was 12-year-old David Brooks, who, like many children, was first introduced to Corll with offers of candy and a place to hang out.
But over a period of two years, Corll groomed Brooks and steadily built his trust. By the time Brooks was 14, Corll was regularly sexually abusing the boy — and bribing him with gifts and money for his silence.
The Heinous Crimes Of The “Candy Man” Killer
As Dean Corll abused Brooks, he was also on the lookout for other victims to rape — and murder. According to Texas Monthly, Corll killed his first recorded victim in September 1970. By this point, Corll’s mother had divorced a third husband and moved to Colorado. But Corll had stayed behind in Houston because he had found a new job as an electrician.
Now in his early 30s, Corll had also moved into a new apartment. But he wouldn’t stay for long. During his crime spree, he frequently moved between apartments and renthouses, often staying in one spot for just a few weeks.
His first known victim was Jeffrey Konen, an 18-year-old student who was hitchhiking from Austin to Houston. Konen was probably trying to get to his girlfriend’s house, and Corll likely offered him a ride there.
Just a few months later in December, Dean Corll abducted two teenage boys and tied them to his bed in his home. He was in the process of sexually assaulting them when suddenly Brooks walked in. Corll initially told Brooks that he was part of a gay pornography ring and had sent the teens to California. But later, he confessed to Brooks that he had killed them.
To buy Brooks’ silence, Corll bought him a Corvette. He also offered Brooks $200 for any boy he could bring to him. And Brooks apparently agreed.
One of the boys Brooks brought to Corll was Elmer Wayne Henley. But for some reason, Corll decided not to kill him. Instead, he groomed Henley to participate in his sickening scheme just like he had with Brooks, feeding him the same story about the “porn ring” before telling him the truth and offering him cash as a reward for his help in finding new victims.
Henley later said, “Dean told me he would pay me $200 for every boy I could bring in and maybe more if they were really good-looking boys.” In reality, Corll usually paid the boys just $5 or $10.
Henley has insisted that he only accepted the offer because of his family’s financial hardship. But even when he was paid far less than he’d hoped, he didn’t back out. Eerily, he seemed almost flattered to be included.
Together, in the early 1970s, Brooks and Henley would help the “Candy Man” killer abduct boys and young men, ranging in age from 13 to 20. The three used Corll’s Plymouth GTX muscle car or his white van to lure the boys, often using candy, alcohol, or drugs to get them inside the vehicle.
Dean Corll and his accomplices would take the boys to his home, where they bound and gagged the victims. Horrifically, Corll sometimes forced them to write postcards to their families to say that they were okay.
Each victim would be tied to a wooden “torture board,” whereupon he would be brutally raped. Afterward, some victims were strangled to death and others were fatally shot. Every boy brought back to Corll was murdered — with Brooks and Henley actively participating in these crimes.
Brooks would later describe Henley as being “especially sadistic.”
Why The Victims’ Desperate Parents Got Little Help From The Police
Though Dean Corll tried to target vulnerable and at-risk youths, many of his victims had loving parents who were desperately trying to find them.
One of Corll’s victims, Mark Scott, was 17 years old when he disappeared on April 20, 1972. His frantic parents quickly reported him missing after calling classmates, friends, and neighbors to see if they knew what happened.
A few days later, the Scott family received a postcard, which was supposedly written by Mark. The letter claimed that he’d found a job in Austin that paid $3 per hour — and that all was well with him.
The Scotts did not believe that their boy would suddenly leave town without saying goodbye. They immediately knew that something was terribly wrong. But like many family members of Dean Corll’s victims, they received little help from the Houston Police Department when their sons went missing.
“I camped on that police department door for eight months,” a grieving father named Everett Waldrop told reporters about when his sons first went missing, according to the New York Daily News. “But all they did was say, ‘Why are you down here? You know your boys are runaways.'”
Tragically, both of his sons — 15-year-old Donald and 13-year-old Jerry — were killed by Corll.
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 that there was nothing authorities could do to help the desperate families.
That chief would later be voted out of office in the first election that was held after Corll’s murders became known to the public.
The Violent End Of The “Candy Man” Killer
After nearly three years and 28 known murders, Dean Corll turned on Elmer Wayne Henley on August 8, 1973. On that day, Henley had lured two teens — Tim Kerley and Rhonda Williams — to Corll’s home.
Williams was the only girl known to have been targeted during the murder spree, but Henley later insisted that he wasn’t planning on attacking her or Kerley. Instead, they were supposedly all there just to party.
The group drank heavily and huffed paint to get high before they all fell asleep. When Henley woke up, he discovered that he was tied up alongside Kerley and Williams. And Corll was screaming at Henley while waving his .22-caliber pistol: “I’m going to kill you, but first I’ll have my fun.”
Corll then carried Henley into the kitchen to let him know how furious he was that he had brought a girl over to his home. In response, Henley pleaded with Corll to untie him, saying that the two of them could kill both Williams and Kerley together. Eventually, Corll did untie Henley, and brought Kerley and Williams into the bedroom to be tied up to the “torture board.”
In doing so, Corll needed to put his gun down. That’s when Henley decided to grab the weapon — and put an end to the crime spree for good.
Williams, who survived the attack and only spoke publicly about it in 2013, recalled how Corll’s behavior had visibly shaken something 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 said, as reported by ABC 13. “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, Henley shot Corll six times with the gun, killing him. And with that, the Houston Mass Murders finally came to an end.
The Aftermath Of The Houston Mass Murders
After killing Dean Corll, Henley quickly called the police to confess what he’d done. He and Brooks soon made official confessions stating their involvement in the crimes and offered to show police where the victims were buried. (However, Brooks denied actively participating in the murders.)
Within a week, investigators recovered 17 bodies from makeshift graves and a boathouse shed, according to CBS News. Then, another 10 bodies were found on High Island Beach and in the woods near Lake Sam Rayburn.
Police didn’t find the remains of the 28th victim until 1983. And unfortunately, it remains unknown how many others Dean Corll might have killed that Henley and Brooks didn’t know about.
Ultimately, Henley was convicted of six murders and sentenced to six life sentences for his role in the crimes. Brooks was convicted of one murder and received a life sentence as well. Since then, both men have been described as serial killers for their involvement in the Houston Mass Murders.
In the decades since then, Henley has remained a controversial figure. From creating his own Facebook page to promoting his artwork from prison, he has drawn outrage from many who are furious at him for his crimes.
Shockingly, he has also spoken out in a number of interviews about the “Candy Man” killer, one in which he said, “My only regret is that Dean isn’t here now, so I could tell him what a good job I did killing him.”
Elmer Wayne Henley was later portrayed in the second season of Netflix’s serial killer crime drama Mindhunter. His character was played by actor Robert Aramayo, best known for his role in HBO’s Game of Thrones.
But Brooks lived a far quieter life behind bars. He regularly refused interviews and he chose not to correspond much with Henley. Brooks later died in prison in 2020 of COVID-19, as reported by ABC News.
As for Dean Corll, his legacy remains infamous as ever and he’s remembered as one of the most notorious serial killers in Texas history. And many who knew him probably want to forget that they ever did.
After this look at Dean Corll, the “Candy Man” killer, read up on the horrific story of serial killer Ed Kemper. Then, discover how some of history’s most infamous serial killers finally met their end.