In 1973, Elmer Wayne Henley Jr. shot and killed Dean “Candy Man” Corll after he had raped and murdered at dozens of teenage boys — and after Henley had killed six of them himself.
When Elmer Wayne Henley Jr. was introduced to Dean Corll, he had no idea that he had been targeted by one of America’s worst serial killers. As fate would have it, Corll saw something promising in Henley which he hadn’t seen in other boys, and he became a twisted mentor of sorts for the troubled 14-year-old. Little did Corll or Henley realize how consequential their meeting would be and the deadly consequences it would have.
Life Before Dean Corll
Elmer Wayne Henley Jr. was born May 9, 1956, to Elmer Wayne Henley Sr. and Mary Henley. The oldest of the couple’s four sons, Henley’s childhood home was an unhappy one; Henley Sr. was a violent and abusive alcoholic who took his rage out on his family.
Henley’s mother tried to do right by her children and when Henley Jr. was 14, she left her husband and took her children with her, hoping for a fresh start. However, the abuse the younger Henley endured during his early life at the hands of his father would stay with him. Lacking a male figure in his life who would treat him with the dignity and respect, he would end up finding this in Dean Corll.
In an interview for a 2002 documentary film, Henley said, “I needed Dean’s approval. I wanted also to feel like I was man enough to deal with my father.”
Elmer Wayne Henley Jr.’s Introduction to the “Candyman Killer”
Henley dropped out of high school and it was around this time that he met 16-year-old David Owen Brooks. Henley and Brooks roamed the Houston Heights neighborhood, smoking marijuana, drinking beer, and shooting pool.
When Brooks was 12, he met Dean Corll, a man twice his age who worked at Houston Lighting and Power Company. Corll spent much of his time at his mother’s candy factory giving out candy to kids — earning him the nickname “The Candyman” — and had set up a pool table in the factory, providing kids with a place to hang out.
Henley did not know the extent of Brooks and Corll’s relationship, though he had his suspicions.
From the moment Brooks and Corll met, Corll took advantage of Brooks’ vulnerability: Brooks’s father was a bully who constantly chastised his son for being weak. Corll, on the other hand, did not make fun of Brooks; he gave him money and provided him with a place to stay when he didn’t want to go home.
When Brooks was 14, Corll began molesting him, all the while showering him with gifts and money to keep him quiet. One day, Brooks walked in on Corll raping two teenage boys, whom Corll would later tell Brooks he had killed. He then bought Brooks a car and told him he would pay him to bring him more boys.
In late 1971, Brooks introduced Henley to Corll, reportedly with the intention of “selling” him to Corll. Henley was initially fascinated by Corll and later said, “I admired Dean because he had a steady job. In the beginning he seemed quiet and in the background, which made me curious. I wanted to find out what his deal was.”
When they next met, Corll told Henley about an organization out of Dallas that he was involved with that trafficked boys and young men. Henley later said during his confession, “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.”
Henley’s First Boy
Henley insisted that he initially ignored Corll’s offer, only changing his mind in early 1972 because he needed the money, but Henley’s later actions suggest that the money was only part of it.
Henley and Corll got into Corll’s Plymouth GTX and began driving around “looking for a boy.” They came across one Corll liked the look of, so Henley asked the boy if he wanted to come and smoke pot. The three drove back to Corll’s apartment, and then Henley left.
As promised, Henley was paid $200 the next day. He assumed that the boy had been sold the Dallas organization Corll was a part of but found out that Corll had sexually assaulted the boy and then murdered him. Henley didn’t tell the police about what Corll had done to the boy.
A Full Blown Accomplice
After Henley found out what happened to the first boy he had lured to Corll’s home, he didn’t stop. Nor was he deterred when Corll told him he had abducted, tortured and murdered a close friend of Henley’s, David Hilligeist, in May 1971. In fact, Henley brought another of his friends, Frank Aguirre, to Corll. Once Corll was through raping and murdering Aguirre, Henley, Brooks, and Corll buried him at a beach in Houston called High Island.
All of Corll’s known victims had either been shot or strangled and in at least six instances, Henley fired the shots or pulled on the cords that strangled and killed them.
“At first I wondered what it was like to kill someone. Later, I became fascinated with how much stamina people have … you see people getting strangled on television and it looks easy. It’s not.”
“You either enjoy what you do — which I did — or you go crazy. So when I did something, I enjoyed it, and didn’t dwell on it later.”
Next, Henley and Brooks invited their friend Mark Scott to a party at Corll’s home. Corll tortured and raped Scott, then Henley helped Corll strangle him with a cord. Brooks would later tell investigators that Henley “seemed to enjoy causing pain,” something Henley admitted was true.
By July 25, 1973, Henley had assisted in leading more than two dozen boys to horrific deaths at the hands of Dean Corll — and himself.
The Houston Mass Murders Come To A Violent End
On Aug. 8, 1973, Elmer Wayne Henley Jr. brought his friends Tim Kerley and Rhonda Williams to Corll’s home. While he insisted it was only meant to be “a night of fun,” not a night of torture and murder, this seems naïve on Henley’s part. He had brought enough people to Corll to know what would happen.
The four got high and drank beer in the living room, but Corll was apparently livid with Henley for bringing a girl to his house. Once the teenagers passed out Corll tied up and gagged all three of them. When they began regaining consciousness, Corll stood Henley up and brought him into the kitchen, where he berated Henley for bringing Williams.
To appease Corll, Henley told him they could kill Kerley and Williams. Corll agreed. He untied Henley and the two of them went back into the living room, Corll with a gun and Henley with a knife.
Corll dragged the two into his bedroom and tied them to his “torture board.” As he taunted Kerley and Williams, Henley entered the bedroom holding Corll’s gun. According to Williams, something in Henley appears to have snapped that night.
“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.’”
He did, shooting Corll once in the forehead. When that didn’t kill him and Corll tried to stagger away, Henley shot Corll three more times in the shoulder, and as Corll collapsed to the ground, Henley shot him twice in the back. Corll slumped naked against the wall, dead, Henley having used every bullet in Corll’s gun.
“My only regret is that Dean isn’t here now,” Henley would say afterwards, “so I could tell him what a good job I did killing him.”
“He’d of [sic] been proud of the way I did it,” he added, “if he wasn’t proud before he died.”
After he killed Dean Corll, Elmer Wayne Henley Jr. untied Tim Kerley and Rhonda Williams, picked up the phone, and called 911. He told the operator that he had just shot and killed Corll then gave them the address of Corll’s house in the Houston suburb of Pasadena.
The officers who were dispatched had no inkling that they were about to uncover the most heinous and horrifying killing spree the nation had ever seen up until that point.
This discovery began when they first saw the dead body of Dean Corll. As they made their way further into the house, they found a catalog of disturbing items, including Corll’s torture board, handcuffs and various tools, that started to reveal the depths of Corll’s depravity.
Henley continued crying as he watched. When they questioned him about the items, he completely broke down. He told them that Corll had been killing boys for the past two and a half years and burying many of them at Southwest Boat Storage. When Henley took the investigators there, they found 17 bodies. He then took them to Sam Rayburn Lake, where four bodies were buried. Brooks accompanied Henley and the police to High Island Beach, where they recovered six more bodies.
While Henley was with the police, he was allowed to use a radiophone to call his mother.
“Mama! Mama! I killed Dean!” Henley cried into the phone.
The Trial, Appeal, and the Present
In July 1974, Henley’s trial began in San Antonio. He was charged with six counts of murder. The killing of Corll was ruled as self-defense and he was not charged.
During his trial, Henley’s written confessions were read. Other evidence included the ‘torture board’ Corll would handcuff his victims to, and the ‘body box’, which was used to transport victims to burial sites. On July 16, the jury reached their verdict in less than an hour: guilty on all six counts. Henley was sentenced to six consecutive life sentences of 99 years each.
On July 25 1974, Henley’s attorney filed an appeal of his conviction. The appeal went through, and on December 20, 1978 his conviction was overturned and he was granted another trial. His second trial took place in June 1979, with the same outcome as the first. He is currently incarcerated at Mark W. Michael Unit in Anderson County, Texas and will next be eligible for parole in 2025.
In 1991, 48 Hours did a segment on the Houston serial killings, which included an interview with Henley in prison. Henley tells the interviewer he believes he has been “reformed” and that he was “under the spell” of Corll.
Henley was interviewed by film-maker Teana Schiefen Porras in 2002 for her documentary Decisions and Visions. When Porras first met with Henley, she said:
“I thought I was looking at Hannibal Lector.”
As the interview went on, she relaxed more, realizing Henley was not as terrifying as she initially thought. She later said, “I do believe he has remorse for what he’s done. I asked if he sleeps at night, and … he doesn’t. He said, `They’re never going to let me out, and I’m OK with that.’”
The complicated and horrifying story of Elmer Wayne Henley Jr. continues to haunt Houston and America at large. Recently, Henley was featured in an episode of the Netflix hit Mindhunter, portrayed by Robert Aramayo, where he is interviewed by Dr. Wendy Carr and Gregg Smith of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit.