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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.

Staton didn't respond to our request for an interview, but finding information about him is not difficult. Creepy...horrifying...ghoulish...opportunistic...evil...those are words that have been used to describe Rick Staton and his influence on the world of serial killers. You've seen how many incarcerated killers seem to be making paintings and selling them? It was Rick Staton who got the ball rolling on that. He travels far and wide, earning the trust of convicted maniacs and encouraging them to begin painting as a way of generating revenue. Some of John Wayne Gacy's paintings that hang in Vargas's house, including a number that are not usually sold as prints, were gifts to him from Staton.

Staton even got Gacy to do a portrait of his two-year-old son. In 1999, he arranged a gallery showing of Henley's artwork in The Heights, an event that drew protestors and media scrutiny, not to mention the wrath of the surviving relatives of Henley and Corll's victims. "It's a kind of deviant celebrity," Staton said in an interview with The Washington Post in 2008, and he claims that the extremes of the crimes of serial murderers help alleviate the mundane sense of death that he deals with in his day job as a funeral director.

He has even been known to take soil samples from the shallow graves where victims were initially buried, including by the boat shed where Corll disposed of eight of his victims. News footage of Henley and Brooks leading police to the common grave appears in the film.

Staton also has contacts, rich folks with an interest in the macabre who aren't averse to shelling out a few dollars for projects. Tracking him down wasn't easy; it took a month for Vargas to finally leave him a message, but by the time he did, it wasn't more than half an hour before Staton called Vargas back and began setting up the wheels that would lead to access to Elmer Wayne Henley. Vargas visited Henley every weekend for a solid year, hearing the details of his life.

"I remember it vividly...sitting in that little booth and all of a sudden the door opens and here comes Wayne Henley," said Vargas. "I'd been watching him in news clips and all that stuff. I remember thinking he was a lot shorter than I'd expected. He's a little guy. We sat down, and for the first 15 minutes we talked about politics.

"I asked him the hardest question right off the bat...'How many did you kill?' There's no definitive answer. He looked at me and said, 'Well, Josh, the answer to that's not good.' I said, 'Well, I would imagine.' He said, 'Well, I'll put it to you this way: I'm convicted for six, I know for a fact I remember eight, but I'm pretty sure it's about as high as 13.' That's when I knew he was going to shoot straight with me."
_____________________

Henley's introduction to Dean Corll was money, plain and simple. He was the oldest in a family of four sons, being raised by a gutsy single mother and his grandma. His father was a good-for-nothing, abusive man who in addition to a steady stream of beatings left Henley's family aching for financial support. Once he even shot at his son Wayne, and upon bailing his father out of jail, Wayne tells him that he never wants to see him again.

As actor Chris Binum wanders through Henley's sullen pre-Corll existence, he might as well be a character in Dazed and Confused, surrounded by drugs, the search for meaning and lots of Led Zeppelin.

Throughout the film he's a kid trying to do the right thing. He sees no worth in staying in school and wants to move on to more hours working at a local convenience store to help out around the house. Just something to keep his family going until he's old enough to enlist in the military.

That's when he meets a strange kid named David Brooks, with whom he forms a weird but easy friendship over a mutual love of pot and rock. Bobby Haworth presents a solid counterpoint to the energetic and slightly twitchy Binum, portraying Brooks as a distant and cold but not unlikable guy. Henley notices that Brooks always seems to have money but never has a job. He wants in on that, but Brooks tries in every way he can to insist that what he does is not something Wayne wants to get involved with.

The path of Wayne Henley as chronicled by Vargas is not an inevitable descent into carnage. It's more a series of choices and chances that lead deeper and deeper into a labyrinth from which he cannot escape.

Like the character he plays, Chris Binum was looking for something new when his agent told him about In a Madman's World. The director initially threw Binum's head shot and résumé in the garbage when he received it. The smiling, bright-eyed young man who stared out at him was the acme of peppy hope and more fitted for a love interest on Glee as far as Vargas was concerned.

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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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