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

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.

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.

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."

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Jef Rouner is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner