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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.

The depths of that weakness were the counterweight to the heights of Corll's cruelty. It was the engine that powered him when he wanted to do "his thing."

Grisaffi as Corll spins Wayne a tale about how he is secretly a master burglar who's part of a vast, efficient conspiracy to rob people with as little fuss as possible. Wayne clearly has trouble believing this obvious lie but knows that Corll is the source of Brooks's money flow and agrees to go along on a "job" that turns out to be little more than a stakeout of an empty house.

It's not just an empty ruse, though. Step by step, Corll gets Henley to agree hypothetically to more and more illegal activities in the name of scoring cash. Eventually, Corll tells Henley that he works for a ring of kidnappers that rounds up teenage boys for rich folks out in California to use as sex slaves. It's okay, though, he tells Henley. All that happens is that these kids get to go live in a mansion for a few years, have a bunch of sex and then when they turn 18, the client cuts them a check and sends them home again.

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.

To Henley, this sounds like a tale about the farm old dogs go to, but finding his family in a bad way financially a couple of months later, he persuades a street kid to come with him to Corll's house to smoke pot. Corll tricks the boy into putting on handcuffs and then jumps him. Henley leaves, and the next day collects the $200 he was promised.

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

"It was a perfect storm of little things that added up to something horrible," Vargas said of the path that he was chronicling.

"You know when you're young you've got that friend," said Grisaffi. "You like that guy, and maybe he's charismatic...but he's also dangerous. You can find yourself agreeing to go along with him on things that you would never do otherwise. You're kind of afraid of him. That's who I was thinking of when I was playing Corll. I was doing to Chris some of what some folks had done to me way back when."
_____________________

Elmer Wayne Henley was just 15 years old when he had to make the most important decision of his life. That was when he persuaded his and Brooks's friend Frank Aguirre to come to Corll's house. By this time there was no longer any fairy tale about rich folks in California buying house boys off the Houston streets. Corll made it very clear that Aguirre was about to be raped, tortured and strangled to death — just as the boy Henley brought him before had been.

Now Henley had a choice...he could help Corll, or Corll would kill Henley's family and blame all the murders on him. He became a monster's assistant.

Corll may exist in the popular mind of Houston today as a vague shadow presence that once haunted the streets, but behind that was a very real web of lies, deceits, and honest attempts at escape that Henley lived with every single day for two straight years. One moment he's doing his best to comfort his neighbor Mrs. Hilligiest (Scream queen Marilyn Burns) over the disappearance of her son, and the next he is hunting for the next victim.

"My only hope when it comes to the movie is that people understand it," said Vargas. "I hope they can get what I'm trying to say. I hope they can see that case the way I saw it. It's not some stupid shit you see on TruTV; it's not something you should see on a playing card...It was something very, very, very real. People to this day are still suffering from it."

Even as Wayne stands over Mark Scott (Andrew Bourgeois), choking the boy to death for 30 minutes in his first true murder as Corll's executioner, the horror is not in tearing flesh or cheap gore. Those things are completely absent. Hilary Swank's death in Vargas's beloved Boys Don't Cry is far bloodier than pretty much anything you see in his own production.

The true terror lies in the little things. Mark limply miming with his right hand that he wants to be shot. "Please shoot me. Don't strangle me anymore. Just shoot me." He had heard of what happened to people who went into Corll's house, and he had done nothing. Now he was just another victim. Just as Wayne started out a potential rider on the torture board and became a trusted lieutenant.

After Mark's final gasp, Corll places a hand on Henley's shoulder and tells him he's very proud of him. Henley's narration cuts in and says that was the first time he had ever heard that.

In a way, Henley did get out.

"He made it out with as much sanity as someone could in the situation," said Vargas. "When you sit and watch this guy go over it, you can see his eyes drift off. You can see him tearing up as he goes over it in his head and know how that affects him. There's no faking that. That's not the sign of a psychopath or a sociopath. That's the sign of someone that at one time had to live in a psychopath's world.

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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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