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

Page 3 of 6

It turned out that Corll's almost-victim Rhonda Williams, who stays in contact with Henley to this day and visits him several times a year, has a Facebook account.

"I doubt anyone has ever realized how I managed to talk Wayne into saving me and killing Dean," she said on the social media site.

"I saw that Rhonda Williams was on Facebook, and I messaged her saying, 'Look...I don't know how I'm supposed to come at you with this, but this is who I am and this is what I'm thinking about doing,'" said Vargas. "'If you want to talk, here's my number.' Wasn't 30 minutes later my phone rang.

"She was very against the film at that time, but after talking with me for a bit, she saw the approach I was taking and started helping me out with it. She pointed out a film called Collectors that I might want to watch that had Wayne in it, and that's how I learned about Rick Staton."

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.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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