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Real Horror: Local Filmmaker Brings the Horrific Crimes of Dean Corll to the Silver Screen

Homosexual rape, torture and a graveyard of dead boys. A filmmaker decides to step away from fiction and delve into Houston's infamous Dean Corll rape-torture-murder case.

Real Horror: Local Filmmaker Brings the Horrific Crimes of Dean Corll to the Silver Screen
goon73photography
(L to r) Joe Grisaffi (Dean Corll), Bobby Haworth (David Brooks), Chris Binum (Elmer Wayne Henley) and director Josh Vargas stand over the grave of Dean Corll in Grand View Memorial Park Cemetery in Pasadena. Binum is wearing Henley’s favorite coat, donated by his family for the film.

A rusty red toolbox hits the floor; the metallic instruments of torture crashing inside can barely be heard over the sounds of screams, of begging, of crying.

Henley didn't connect what he had just done with the recent disappearances in the neighborhood, including two of his friends.

On a large plywood board flat to the ground, two teenagers are handcuffed; ropes and other restraints snake through holes drilled in the upper corners and the middle. The board is covered from top to bottom in scratches and gouge marks made by previous victims, and in places the finish is shiny and smooth from where blood has been meticulously wiped away.

Tim Kerley, 19, and Rhonda Williams, 15, are stripped to their underwear and in a state of total terror. Kerley is secured on his stomach, leaving his rear vulnerable, while Williams lies on her back with her arms above her head. Standing over Kerley is the naked form of Dean Corll, 33. With his jug ears and strong chin, he normally appears friendly, unassuming and even handsome. Now a sadistic grin spreads across his face as he prepares for the brutal rape and torture that he refers to jokingly as "my thing." Kerley will be at least the 29th boy to die on this board. Corll starts his ritual by licking Kerley's back.

Producer Rick Staton, director Josh Vargas and associate producer Chance Allen survey Dean Corll's custom-made torture board in order to re-create it accurately for In a Madman's World.
Producer Rick Staton, director Josh Vargas and associate producer Chance Allen survey Dean Corll's custom-made torture board in order to re-create it accurately for In a Madman's World.
The board as originally booked into evidence in 1974.
AP Photo
The board as originally booked into evidence in 1974.

Off to the side is another teenager, 17-year-old Elmer Wayne Henley, and while he is upset, he isn't scared. Partly because, unlike Williams and Kerley, he isn't chained — Corll handcuffed him earlier but then freed him — though he is still very much shackled to Corll. Mostly he isn't scared because he has seen this many times before. He has served as Corll's personal procurer and executioner for two years, and he made a very bad mistake in bringing his friends to Corll's house for a party tonight. His escape from his own murder hinged on agreeing to rape and murder Williams himself.

Williams, pretty under her mane of frizzy hair and with tear tracks on her face, talks in a low voice to Henley, a boy she had become close to since the death of her boyfriend, Frank Aguirre, who, unknown to her, was also a victim of Henley and Corll. She will be the first girl to die in Corll's games. When she woke up in fetters earlier, Corll told Henley that he had ruined everything by bringing her to his house.

"Wayne," she whispers. "You remember when you told me to live my life for myself and not someone else?"

Henley nods.

"How am I supposed to do that now?" she asks, reaching out for the boy she'd spent happy nights with smoking pot, drinking and talking till dawn.

With that Henley stands up and walks to the nearby dresser to retrieve a loaded .22-caliber pistol. He points it at Corll, telling him it's gone far enough. Corll, secure in the power he holds over life and death and sex and lust and rage and pain, dares Henley to shoot him.

Henley empties the gun into the body of the killer whom papers later dubbed the Candy Man. As the echo of the gunfire fades, the only sounds left are of Williams screaming to be let out, drowning out the tears and apologies of Henley as he holds Kerley.

Director Joshua Allan Vargas yells "Cut!" Dean Corll goes back to being Joe Grisaffi, Wayne Henley is replaced by Chris Binum, and Lainnie Felan and David Simpson stop screaming and wait patiently to be uncuffed. It's only a movie, as the old tagline from Last House on the Left used to tell ­audiences to repeat to themselves to keep from fainting. Just a movie, nothing more.

Except that to Houstonians it's not. Dean Corll's reign of terror in the early '70s was as real as Washington Avenue, and 31-year-old Vargas is bringing that story to life as a feature-length film called In a Madman's World — the first time the Corll killings have appeared on screen aside from a segment of the 1982 television documentary The Killing of America and another one from Factual­TV that is no longer available.

"It's a case that hadn't really been elaborated on," says Vargas. In fact, it was a case that Vargas initially knew nothing about until roughly three years ago.

"My best friend [who doesn't want his name released] and I were sitting there watching Jim Van Bebber's The Manson Family, one of my favorite movies," said Vargas. "We were just getting stoned, watching that and talking about serial killers, which is something I've always been interested in, when he mentions to me, 'You know, my uncle was killed by the Candy Man.' I thought he was full of shit. Candyman? That's a fucking Clive Barker movie, dude. Then he explained to me, 'No no no, there was a serial killer here in Houston that would rape and kill teenage boys, and he had these two teenage boys who would help him by bringing over their friends for that to happen."

In a moment, the filmmaker who'd dealt only in make-believe horror movies wanted to know everything about this real-life case. In the months that followed, his research took him to victims and their relatives, to Elmer Wayne Henley in prison and to a deal with Rick Staton, a man known for making money off some of the biggest real-life criminals by selling the pictures he persuades them to paint from prison.

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24 comments
genegregorits
genegregorits

The filmmakers appear to be categorical imbeciles. "That's a Clive Barker movie, dude." 

Yeah...I don't think I'll be expecting much from these hipster fuckheads. 

amalfisolice
amalfisolice

There is no way on earth that the victims' families and friends appreciate this movie!  There are better ways to remember those who have been lost or to remind people that this even happened without making a graphic display of it.  All of the folks that I know that lived in Houston during this time and were close to this case are not very excited about this.  Then again, these guys aren't trying to help anyone here.  They are just trying to make a few bucks and get some recognition by taking a real life tragedy and exploiting it.  There is one unidentified victim left.  This movie is not going to help anyone identify him.  

Danny Cantu
Danny Cantu

yeah happens in mexico on the reg...just sayin..

fratdawgg23
fratdawgg23

Look forward to seeing the movie. Not an easy subject to tackle, but glad they did.

blindelation
blindelation

This guy wasn't Candy Man. You're thinking of the Deer Park man who gave his children pixie sticks laced with poison.

Disceaux
Disceaux

I understand.  I work close to your offices on Milam if you ever want to talk.  It's doubtful that Rick has many rich friends.  It was a very, very small budget, indie go-go thing.  Fortuntately, friends like myself who are hard working had a few spare bucks to throw at a terrible story.  A story that has been continually reverted to dust bins here in Houston when it sorely needs to be in the limelight until all the victims are identified.  After 50 years, that's a huge crime in itself!  The only other investor I met was a family member of his who's in the military.  Good luck with that lighter story, sex and crime sell.  Try writing one about the beginnings of the movie poster collecting business and see how much interest is generated!

Disceaux
Disceaux

Thanks Jef, I know he was willing, sometimes it's logistics and those nasty deadlines.  I was co-owner of a newspaper back in the 80's prior to my moving to Houston in 1984 so I understand how those things go.  The only Houston person involved with the film that I've met is Bobby Haworth.  He was surprised that Rick had a close friend living in Houston for the past 30 years.  btw, Rick was born in Houston but grew up in rural Louisiana.  We're both the same age and had the same interest's as the victims so like most things in life, it's a fine line.  I commend the Press for doing a respectable job of a weekly rag in a huge city and a dying industry (print media).

Disceaux
Disceaux

Interesting choices for words to describe Rick Staton....let's see, creepy, horrifying, ghoulish, opportunistic, evil...I realize that's words others use to describe him.  Others who know absolutely nothing about him.  He's interested in the warped, demented minds of these seriously sick fucks!  That doesn't make him a sick fuck like the serial murderers.  Primarily, it's about collecting for Rick.  Odd interest but when I met him 38 years ago in Hammond LA, the collecting was vinyl records, then movie posters and murderabilia.  (He was instrumental in creating the market for movie posters and one sheets (that doesn't get mentioned because it just isn't sensational enough).  Probably the most even keeled, well adjusted human I've ever met on the planet and I should know, he's been one of my closest friends since 1975.  Of all the folks involved in this movie that you interviewed, all live in Houston and were more readily accessible to you.  Rick doesn't live in Houston and therefore is less accessible.  He personally told me he wanted to be interviewed for this article and was disappointed that didn't happen.

susanterrywilhelm
susanterrywilhelm

Perhaps Mr. Vargas should have spoken with the real victims, the families of those boys that were tortured and murdered.  He may have thought twice about making this film in the first place.  And to say Henley doesn't want to be paroled is a bald faced lie.  He actually thought he had a chance last year when he was up.  Had it not been for the hard work of the victims' famlies, he may have, but they will never allow that to happen!  Its bad enough that he and Brooks took the lives of their sons and brothers, but now they must put continue to fight every 3 years to keep these killers where they belong -- IN JAIL.  They can never find peace. 

Schitt.C.Rumpney
Schitt.C.Rumpney

Its also very interesting that the home still stands today and occupied, when most homes with serial massacres as this are bulldozed of all memories and references to a monster that resided therein.

http://goo.gl/maps/MeIM9

Schitt.C.Rumpney
Schitt.C.Rumpney

I agree with @RebeccaS   This article is well done Jeff! It reads like a Documentary Investigation Discovery channel episode all in itself!  I too, look forward to this movie.   I lived in a different part of the country when this occurred a thousand miles away, and the events going on here , had parents in my hometown afraid to let us go out after dark , we even had to go to school in groups or not at all.  This impacted many places than is realized!

RebeccaS
RebeccaS

Well done, Jef and HP. I hate to say I enjoyed this article, but I did. I was a youngster when this was all uncovered -- not much younger than EWH -- and was shielded from most of the news. I look forward to the movie.

JefWithOneF
JefWithOneF topcommenter

@blindelation They were both The Candy Man. From page 2...

"Even that colorful moniker is distorted and confusing, Corll sharing it with Deer Park's Ronald Clark O'Bryan, who was sentenced to death after he poisoned his own son with a cyanide-laden Pixy Stix and blamed it on a supposed murderous homeowner who had handed out deadly candy on Halloween. O'Bryan's crime started the still-strong urban legend of malicious poisoners on the holiday just a year after Corll's spree ended."

JefWithOneF
JefWithOneF topcommenter

@Disceaux My first feature, so I appreciate the compliment. That said, I think I'll do something a little less dark next time. 

Disceaux
Disceaux

If you really cared or knew much about these horrific crimes, a better avenue for any outrage would be the Houston Police Department, THEN AND NOW.  They were never very interested in the original search for victims, weren't very interested when Brooks and Henley told them there were more victims and have other things that keep them too busy to be more helpful in identifying the remaining unidentified victims 50 years later.

By the way, that's Rick's son kneeling with his back to the camera in the Josh Vargas credited picture taken in the woods.  He plays the victim's rolled up in carpet in the film.  Having his portrait painted (from a photograph) by Gacy didn't cause him any harm, did it?

j_vargas217
j_vargas217

Lady, if you read the article, which you clearly didn't, you would see that I talked to Henley's victims FIRST, before I ever spoke with him.

And just because someone is up for parole, doesn't mean they're trying to get out. It means they were u p for parole, which is mandatory with his sentence. He doesn't attend his parole hearings and I know this for a fact. Read before you speak.

TXKathy
TXKathy

I love how people who have no idea what they're talking about can't help but chime in and open their big mouths. You're clearly an expert on how prison, parole, and the criminal justice system work. Please tell us all about it. Oh, and even more impressive, apparently you can tell us what other people are thinking and feeling. Don't keep that gift to yourself. You should share it with the world!

JefWithOneF
JefWithOneF topcommenter

@Schitt.C.Rumpney I know the boatshed was razed. Vargas told me he filmed in an identical one build and owned by the same guy who built Corll's that was just across the street. 

JefWithOneF
JefWithOneF topcommenter

@Disceaux I was specifically instructed to interview Rick after the first draft, and asked Vargas the best way to contact him. Vargas said Facebook, so I dropped him a line. I didn't hear back from anything until after it had gone to layout and it was too late. As such, much of my information on Rick came from Vargas, and from online sources like the quoted Post article

Schitt.C.Rumpney
Schitt.C.Rumpney

@JefWithOneF 

Thanks Jef (with 1 F) LOL that remind me of my best friend who moved to Arizona   :(  , his name spelled with 1 f and he always said the same , "hi I'm Jef with one f"

I work downtown and have traveled through the Heights on my way home where I have often pictured in my mind,  the neighborhood lawns, sidewalks and streets full of kids back in that era and get chills thinking of all that had happened.  I am heavy into Documentaries and Forencic Files type shows and this entire project and event hits home !

Again thank you for a great article.  I am glad to have subscribed online to Houston Press! LOVE this 'paper'

 
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