Saturday, April 14, 2018

HISTORY’S RICH WITH MYSTERIES: DEAN CORLL -- Houston’s “Candy Man” Mass Murders by Earl Staggs

It has been quite some time since Earl has been around with one of his “History’s Rich With Mysteries” guest posts. He is back today with a case that caused my parents great angst and resulted in a lot of school seminars warning about strangers when I was in elementary school during this time period.


When I look at the past, I find stories about people which fascinate me, particularly those in which there is a curious mixture of fact, legend, and mysterious uncertainty. In this series of articles, I want to explore some of those stories. I think of them as mysteries swaddled in legend. While truth is always desired in most things, truth easily becomes staid and boring. Legend, on the other hand, forever holds a hint of romanticism and an aura of excitement borne of adventure, imagination and, of course, mystery.

DEAN CORLL -- Houston’s “Candy Man” Mass Murders

by Earl Staggs

At the time, it was the worst example of serial killings in US  history.  Although the actual number of victims may never be known, Dean Corll and two teenage companions killed at least 29 boys in the Houston, Texas, area between September 1970 and August 1973. The victims were raped, horrifically tortured and mutilated, then either strangled, shot, or both.

Dean Arnold Corll was born on December 24, 1939, in Fort WayneIndiana.  He was considered shy, timid, and a loner who seldom socialized with other children.  His parents divorced in 1946, were remarried  in 1950, and divorced again in 1953.

Dean's mother married another man, and the family settled in the Houston area. She divorced her new husband in 1963.  Soon after her divorce, she established the Corll Candy Company, specializing in making and selling pecan treats. Dean was  vice-president of the family firm. A teenage male employee of the company accused him of making sexual advances.  Dean's mother's response was to fire the accuser.  

In August of 1964, Dean, at age 24, was drafted into the US Army.  He hated military service and after ten months,  applied for and received a family hardship discharge claiming the family business needed him.  After returning home, Dean told close acquaintances that while in the Army, he had homosexual experiences for the first time.

Dean developed a practice of giving candy to young boys and became known as the “Candy Man.” Twelve-year-old David Brooks was one of the many boys who received free candy. He became a close companion who accompanied Dean on business trips. Before long, their relationship became a sexual one.

On September 25, 1970, Dean, with David’s help, claimed his first known murder victim, an eighteen- year-old college student. He was strangled, covered in lime, wrapped in plastic, and buried under a large boulder in a beach area. Years later, David led police to the burial site. His body was naked and his hands and feet were bound, which led forensic investigators to surmise he had been sexually violated.

David’s primary role became finding victims and enticing them with candy and invitations to a party. Some were friends of his and some were new acquaintances he happened to meet.  Dean paid him two hundred dollars for each one.  The victims were driven to Dean’s house where they were subdued by drugs, alcohol, or simply by force, stripped naked, tied to a bed or a plywood board, then sexually assaulted and tortured before being strangled or shot to death.  Their bodies were wrapped in plastic sheeting and buried in several different areas.

In 1971, David brought fifteen-year-old Elmer Wayne Henley, Jr. to Dean’s home as a potential victim. Instead, Dean thought Elmer would be a good addition to his “team” and offered him the same two hundred dollar payment David was getting for each boy he brought in.   Elmer resisted for a while, but in early 1972, accepted the offer because his family needed the money.  

The team was now in place, and the threesome lured a steady stream of teenage boys, one or two at time, into their decadent and deadly circle. Some of their victims were forced by Dean to write or phone their parents with excuses for being away from home for a while.

In one incident, two boys were tied to the torture board and told to fight until one was killed. Dean told them the survivor would be set free.  After the two boys beat each other for hours, however, Dean raped, tortured, and killed them both.


On August 8, 1973, Elmer Henley showed up at Dean's house with nineteen-year-old Timothy Kerley and a fifteen-year-old girl named Rhonda Williams. David Brooks was not there. Dean was furious and said Elmer had ruined everything by bringing a girl. Elmer explained that Rhonda was a friend of his who had been beaten by her father and did not want to go home. Dean seemed to calm down, and the group began to drink beer, smoke marijuana and sniff glue until they passed out.

Elmer awoke later to find that Dean had bound and gagged him as well as Rhonda and Timothy. Dean eventually ungagged Elmer and said he was going to kill them all. He held a gun on Elmer and threatened to shoot him. Elmer pleaded for his life and promised to help torture and kill the other two. Dean unbound him, then tied Timothy and Rhonda to the torture board. Elmer grabbed Dean's gun and shouted, "You've gone far enough, Dean! I can't go on any longer! I can't have you kill all my friends!" Dean didn't believe Elmer would shoot him and advanced toward him. Elmer shot him a total of six times. Dean Arnold Corll was dead at the age of thirty-three.

Elmer called the police and said, "Y'all better come here right now. I just killed a man." He, Timothy, and Rhonda waited on the porch for the police to arrive. While they waited, Elmer told Timothy, "I could have gotten $200 for you."


Elmer was indicted for 6 murders. The killing of Dean Corll was ruled self-defense, so he was not charged for that one. David Brooks was charged with 4 counts of murder. Elmer and David assisted police in recovering bodies of their victims, most of whom had been buried in a boat shed in Southwest Houston owned by the Corll family, at High Island Beach, and at Lake Sam Houston. The bodies recovered showed evidence of torture as well as sexual violation and mutilation.

The 28 victims officially attributed to Dean Corll and his teen associates at the time (Increased to 29 when another victim was identified in 1983.) was the worst case of mass serial killing on record in the US until John Wayne Gacy was charged with murdering 33 young men and boys in 1978. Gacy admitted he had been influenced by Dean Corll.

District Attorney Carol Vance called the case the "most extreme example of man's inhumanity to man I have ever seen.”

After jury deliberation of only 92 minutes, Elmer Henley, now 17, was found guilty of all charges and received 6 consecutive 99-year sentences, a total of 594 years. He appealed and was granted a retrial in 1978. He was again found guilty on all counts and received the same sentence.

David Brooks was brought to trial on February 27, 1975. He had been indicted for 4 murders but was tried for only one. The trial lasted less than a week. After 90 minutes of deliberation, he was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. An appeal was dismissed in 1979.

Elmer Henley and David Brooks are currently serving their sentences in Texas prisons. Both have been denied parole multiple times over the years. Elmer Wayne Henley has a Facebook page, and a 2015 interview with him is available at

While the official number of Dean Corll's victim is set at 29, there may have been more. More than 40 boys went missing in the Houston area between 1970 and 1973 when Dean and his accomplices were active. The Houston police was criticized for not aggressively searching for more bodies.

There was also evidence Dean had other victims prior to 1970.  Former employees of the Corll Candy Company recalled seeing Dean digging holes on company property and cementing over them several years before. They also reported he kept a supply of plastic sheeting and nylon cord similar to what he used on victims later on. After the Corll Candy Company closed, Dean went to work for the Houston Lighting and Power Company. His coworkers there also remembered him keeping a supply of those materials on hand.


I'll never understand how someone like Dean Corll can exist. How is it possible that a human being can inflict extreme torture, pain, and suffering upon other human beings up to and including their death with no more thought or emotion than to wonder where the next victim will be found? Are we not all born with an inate respect and concern not only for the rights of others but for their very lives? Aren't the abilities to feel guilt and remorse as much a part of our make up as the needs to eat and sleep? There must be something about serial killers and mass murderers that is different from the rest of us. Perhaps further development and research into DNA will expose a common thread among people like Dean Corll, John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, Gary Ridgway and others. Perhaps even a cure.

Earl Staggs ©2018

Earl Staggs earned all Five Star reviews for his novels MEMORY OF A MURDER and JUSTIFIED ACTION and has twice received a Derringer Award for Best Short Story of the Year. He served as Managing Editor of Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine, as President of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and is a frequent speaker at conferences and seminars. He invites any comments via email at

He also invites you to visit his blog site at to learn more about his novels and stories.


Jan Christensen said...

Can't really say I enjoyed reading this, Earl. But it was interesting. Your closing comments are right on. Keep writing!

jrlindermuth said...

More good history, Earl, though difficult reading. Difficult to understand what makes such creatures tick and hard to have any compassion for them.

Randy Rawls said...

If it weren't for Earl's excellent writing, I wouldn't have gotten very deep into this article. Unfortunately, there are still Dean Corlls around the globe. Disgusting human beings breathing the same air we do. Keep telling us about them, Earl.

Jacqueline Seewald said...


It was difficult to read. Horrifying that such evil exists in the world. But we can't pretend it doesn't.

Earl Staggs said...

Thanks, Jan, John, Randy, and Jacqueline for stopping by and leaving comments. This wasn't any easier to write than it was to read. I left out the really disgusting and repulsive things they did to their victims.

It's sad that there are people like them out there and that it can happen again. The best we can do is be aware and stay alert.