The late summer of 1973 was a strange, strange time in Houston. The handiwork of a sadistic mass murderer had been discovered, and as more and more bodies were found, the city and the local media couldn't get enough.
Says one former Houstonian who was there:
When this thing broke, in early August of '73, the US mass murder record was 25, I think, by Juan Corona of California, who would hire illegal farm workers and then kill and bury them when they asked to get paid.
Well, when the Houston case broke, the radio stations would report it gleefully every time HPD pulled another body out of the ground.
I mean, it was literally, "We're only four bodies away from the record!" And people all over the city had their ears to their radios to keep up with the body count as it rose over the days.
Eventually 27 bodies of young boys were dug up, and lots of people believe there were more to be found if the police would just keep looking.
But by that point the murderer, Dean Corll, known as "The Candy Man," was dead.
Corll was a conflicted, closeted gay man with a sadistic bent. His mother owned a candy factory across the street from Helms Elementary in the Heights, and Corll would often offer freebies to the kids.
He would also befriend, eventually, two teenage boys named Elmer Wayne Henley and David Brooks, and go on a dark, dark journey.
The two teens would make friends with the type of lonely runaway boys that were going on the road as the `60s wound down; Corll would later torture and kill them, either at a place he lived for a while in the Heights or in his home on a quiet Pasadena street:
View Larger Map
Things went wrong when Henley brought a girlfriend back to the Pasadena place, along with another likely victim. Enraged, Corll got the two boys and the girl into a drugged stupor; when they awoke they were gagged and Henley was bound to a "torture board" he had seen Corll use many times. Henley talked Corll into releasing him and then, after they got into an argument about raping the girl, Henley shot him six times with the gun Corll had been waving around, killing him.
Henley called the police (as they waited for the cops to arrive, he casually told the other boy he would have gotten $200 from Corll for bringing him to the house). Later that day Brooks also went to the station, and as the interrogations went on police began hearing of the dead runaways. Skeptical, they ordered the two to take them to one of the supposed burial spots, a boat shed on the south side of town.
TDC prisoners were brought in to do the digging in the intense August heat, and soon enough skeletons were being found. Other burial places were also discovered.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
In the middle of it came one of Houston's classic media moments: Henley asked to call his mother; KPRC's Jack Cato had a then-new car phone, and offered it to the teen. And, of course, had him filmed as he cried, "Mama, I killed Dean." (See the 2:25-minute mark of this video.) Both Henley and Brooks are now in prison forever.
Eventually 17 bodies were discovered at the boat shed, and we'd just as soon pass over the details of the torture it was evident they'd gone through. (Check out wikipedia if you're so inclined.)
The boat shed was on a small, secluded street near South Main and South Post Oak. It's still small and secluded, and hardly looks like the place where reporters covered their noses in the stifling heat as body after body of luckless runaway boys were dug up, while the city counted along.
View Larger Map