Who can take a sunrise, sprinkle it with dew, cover it with chocolate and a miracle or two? The Candy Man can. Then again, everyone always says you shouldn’t take candy from strangers, and there may indeed be plenty of reasons to suspect a mysterious unknown person who offers sugary treats to young children. Believe it or not, what seems like common sense today is actually a fairly new adage, popularized largely due to the vicious crimes committed by Dean Corll, a serial killer known as both "The Candy Man" and "The Pied Piper" for his fascination with younger victims.
In their totality, the crimes committed by Corll and his various accomplices would also earn infamy as the “Houston Mass Murders.” 1970s America had never seen a criminal with his scope, his 27 confirmed killings making him the most prolific killer in the country’s history at that point in time. Corll didn’t do it all alone, utilizing the help of two impressionable teenaged accomplices throughout most of his spree. It’s not like these particular kids were victims themselves, however, as both reportedly delighted in helping the man take lives with wanton recklessness and no regard for human life.
There’s no such thing as a happy ending to a story about a serial killer, yet Corll, in the very least, saw his retribution when his final intended victim gunned him down in his own home. Of course, that hardly made up for the countless children he abused, tortured, and murdered, as the remaining families of any victims deeply suffer to this day. The only way to ease their pain is to remember those we lost and to condemn the horrific actions of the man who took their lives. Keep reading for 15 chilling facts about “The Candy Man Killer” Dean Corll.
15 His Mother Was Extremely Overprotective
Unlike the average profile of a serial killer, Dean Corll was never outright abused as a child so far as anyone is aware. However, there are ways to damage a young mind without actually harming it on a physical level. The strict nature of Dean’s father, Arnold, alone may have warped his psyche toward rebellion in terrifying ways. There was also his mother, Mary, who was the exact opposite of strict, instead acting overprotective to the point of openly caring about her son more than any of her multiple husbands. Dean’s mother would never allow a single coarse word to be said about her son, reacting with furious denial when an unknown acquaintance suggested he was gay. In today’s world, she may have been able to handle this, but 1960s Texas wasn’t such an accepting time and place, to say the least. Given this story, Dean’s later crimes could be viewed as an act of repression, him never being able to simply admit the truth about his sexuality to himself or his mother.
14 He Worked At His Family’s Candy Store From A Young Age
Long before Dean Corll ever killed any children, he earned his nickname as “The Candy Man” through what, on the surface, appears like heartwarming means. When Corll was 14 years old, his mother Mary opened a company that would be known as both "Pecan Prince" and more commonly the "Corll Candy Company." Naturally, Mary hired Dean at the factory as soon as he was old enough to work, and before long, he ascended to the position of vice president. Earning a reputation as a man of the people, Corll used his power in the company to give away large amounts of free candy to local teenage boys and installed a pool table in his factory where disadvantaged youths could hang out after school. While some may find this sort of behavior suspicious in retrospect, back in the 1960s, it basically made Corll a real-life Willy Wonka and also one of the most popular men in town.
13 Employees Were Fired For Complaining About Dean’s Harassment
With great power comes great responsibility, and the same is true about being vice president of a family candy company. Dean Corll didn’t need any power at all to let it go to his head, apparently making advances toward a male teenage employee. The first known instance of this was in 1963, early in Corll’s career at the factory, and there’s no saying how many times it may have repeated and been covered up. The first time around, the employee made the mistake of complaining to Dean’s mother, Mary, directly. Though she was the factory owner and thus the right person to make the complaint to in one sense, Mary had already shown staunch denial in the face of her son’s homosexuality, let alone any additional wrongdoing related to taking advantage of minors or employees. It’s hardly a surprise she would do so again, and true to form, when confronted with the idea, she fired her son’s accuser rather than believe his claims.
12 His First Accomplice Was 12 Years Old When They Met
Not content with creeping the hell out of his teenage employees, Dean Corll began preying on whomever local youths he could trick into taking interest in him. Choice amongst them in his mind was David Brooks. At the time they met, Brooks was 12 and Corll was 27, but that didn’t stop their relationship from becoming sexual within two years of meeting. Brooks would later state Corll was the first adult male he ever met who didn’t make fun of him, explaining his vulnerability and the strong connection they made. It was also around this time that Corll’s mother moved out of state and stopped paying careful attention to him, giving him free reign to commit shocking deeds. After having been friends and lovers for some time, Brooks walked in on Corll as he was sexually assaulting two young men. Instead of informing the police, he decided to help his terrifying older friend find more victims however he could. Before long, he also helped kill them.
11 He Paid Teens To Lure Others Into His Home
A mere 12 years old when they met, it should go without saying David Brooks didn’t begin his relationship with Dean Corll looking for love. Not that it fully excuses his later actions in the least, but the kid was looking for acceptance in any form he could find it, and that included pleasing Corll in whatever way he possibly could. When Brooks walked in on Corll abusing his first two victims, Corll convinced him it was part of an illegal gay p--------y ring and said he would pay up to $200 if Brooks could find more teens to be in his pictures. The price tag remained the same after Brooks realized that there was no pornography involved and that Corll was in fact torturing and murdering his victims. Many of the kids Brooks would bring Corll were his own friends, all males ranging from 13 to 20 years old. Corll’s lone female victim was largely an accident, an effort to keep her quiet and not part of his usual MO.
10 His Second Accomplice Was Originally Intended To Be A Victim
Roughly one year into the mass murders being committed by Dean Corll, with the help of David Brooks, a second accomplice entered the fold, ultimately changing all three of their fates in the process. Ironically, Elmer Wayne Henley himself later claimed to believe Brooks introduced him to Corll with the intention of being his next victim. Unexpectedly, however, the two struck up a sinister and highly deranged friendship, with Henley highly intrigued at the idea of being involved in some sort of illegal crime ring. Henley also suffered from an abusive father, and his family was desperately poor, making it easier for him to listen to any male authority figure and do his bidding for money. Soon, Corll made Henley the same offer he made Brooks of $200 for each boy he could bring him. Just like with Brooks, it also wasn’t long before Henley found out the real goal was murder and delighted in joining in.
9 Police Found The Bodies Of 28 Victims
With David Brooks and Elmer Wayne Henley at his side, Dean Corll murdered no less than 28 teenage boys between September 25, 1970 and August 8, 1973, the day of his death. All victims were either strangled or shot in the head, and most were tortured or abused in various horrific ways. Before they were killed, Corll would force most victims to write letters to their parents explaining their absence, albeit unconvincingly so. Because Corll himself died before police knew anything about his actions, this number only represents what they were later told by Elmer Wayne Henley and David Brooks. Similarly, any murders committed prior to September of 1970 are unknown yet entirely possible. The bodies were only discovered after Henley and Brooks led police to them, and there could've easily been hiding spots the two boys didn’t know about.
8 The Victims Were All Sexually Abused
The news Dean Corll murdered 28 young victims is enough to make him one of the worst monsters in American history, and yet this is only the tip of the iceberg with regard to the Candy Man’s true villainy. In some respects, death may have been a reprieve for some of his victims, as it meant the torture he was inflicting upon them was finally over. Some victims were kept alive in Corll’s home for up to four days, when he would repeatedly sexually abuse them and terrorize them in vicious and sexual ways. Corll’s preferred activities included pulling out his victim’s pubic hair, inserting glass into their urethras, and violently penetrating them with sex toys. There were also countless horrific sex acts, including forced sodomy and fellatio. That’s not even the worst of it, as some victims were also found castrated, their genitals removed and placed in nearby plastic bags near their bodies.
7 He Tried Killing His Accomplice For Inviting A Female To The House
For the many disgusting ways Dean Corll delighted in his young accomplices bringing him male victims, the Candy Man never had any interest in females, positive or negative. Perhaps this is why he reacted so viciously when Elmer Wayne Henley brought Rhonda Williams to his home along with Tim Kerley. Neither were intended to be victims, or so Henley claims, but rather mere friends over for a night of drinking and partying. Corll initially seemed to accept this, aside from the fact he was tired and wanted to go to sleep earlier. After the teens had all passed out from the drugs and alcohol, though, Corll went about his usual implements of torture and tied all three up, binding and gagging them in his bedroom. This was the second time Elmer Henley nearly became Corll’s victim, yet he somehow managed to talk his way out of it yet again.
6 Elmer Wayne Henley Shot Him Six Times
Faced with the very terror he had directly brought upon so many others, Elmer Wayne Henley was tied up in Dean Corll’s apartment, and the Candy Man was ready to torture and kill him. However, there were two differences between Henley and Corll’s average victim. Henley was closer to Corll than anyone else, and his two friends were in the room with them, albeit also bound and gagged. He still found a way to use this to his advantage, convincing Corll to set him free so he could join in on the torture of Rhonda and Tim. Showing that he was far from a hero, Henley almost sexually assaulted Rhonda before she asked if he was really going through with it, at which point he came to his senses and grabbed Corll’s gun. From there, he shot his deranged mentor/friend six times, resulting in his death.
5 His Bedroom Had Been Converted Into A Torture Chamber
When Houston police were confronted with the fact three teenagers had just killed the friendly neighborhood Candy Man, they had no idea how to react. Throw in the fact that the kid who did the shooting, Elmer Wayne Henley, was telling a crazy story about how Dean Corll made him find victims to torture and murder for years, and disbelief strongly set in as the main reaction. That didn’t last very long, though, as Henley’s story involved a specific implement of terror called the “torture board,” a wooden slab with multiple handcuff arrays where victims could be kept up to four days. This was the centerpiece of Corll’s bedroom, which was filled with other implements of torture Henley was also able to describe to police in detail, along with how he used them on countless victims.
4 Both Accomplices Were Sentenced To Life In Prison
Given all that Dean Corll had done, police chose not to charge Elmer Wayne Henley with his murder, accepting it had been committed in self-defense. That didn’t account for the many victims Henley was directly complicit in bringing to Corll before that, however, crimes which he still had to be held accountable for in court. Ultimately, Henley was found guilty of direct involvement with six of the murders and sentenced to a 99-year prison sentence for each body, totaling 594 years. Corll’s earlier accomplice, David Brooks, was only tried for one of the murders but was nonetheless sentenced to life in prison upon being found guilty. Both Henley and Brooks appealed their cases to no avail and remain incarcerated to this day. Little is known about Brooks’s life behind bars, while Henley has become an artist, with displays of his work creating great controversy amongst the families of his victims.
3 Police Paid Little Attention To The Missing Children Until They Were Found
One thing readers may have noticed about Dean Corll’s horrific crime spree is that not a single police officer had any involvement in the Candy Man’s story until after his death. This is because the area law enforcement was highly apathetic to the cause of missing children in general, to the extent it caused embarrassment to the department when Corll’s actions became public. Many of his victims' parents later reported they had repeatedly informed police their children were missing, only to receive boilerplate responses one woman later described as being like “talking to a blank wall.” Apparently, the police believed each and every missing child was a runaway, assuming parents who didn’t accept this were in denial. With this mindset, it’s no surprise Police Chief Herman Short was voted out of office the first election after the Houston Mass Murders came to light. That said, in all fairness to the Houston police, this was a solid two decades before Amber Alerts were even a thing, so it’s not like they would've known how to deal with a predator like Corll in the first place.
2 Some Of His Victims Remain Unidentified
Because of how Dean Corll’s story ends, the unfortunate truth is that the true extent of his crimes will never be known. As already mentioned, he Candy Man isn’t around to make confessions about any victims prior to him taking in his accomplices, and it’s painfully obvious the police of his era weren’t paying enough attention to missing children to connect them to his actions after the fact. There are even mysterious ones amongst the bodies police found, including at least three victims who remained unidentified for decades. Recently, DNA research may have finally been able to find out who one of these children was, yet that leaves two more families who have yet to receive closure on their missing sons. On top of that, documentarians searching through Elmer Henley’s home may have found evidence of a 29th victim, once again implying there could easily be more -- and with unknown identities at that.
1 His Girlfriend Was Clueless The Whole Time
Alright, so the police were too distracted, disbelieving, or unprepared to handle the Candy Man, and his overprotective mother had left town. Dean Corll was still a regular man with a normal job, though, and thus, one would expect someone in his life had the slightest idea he was up to no good when it came to all the kids he was hanging out with. Unlikely as it sounds, however, not a single acquaintance of his would claim any knowledge of his actions in retrospect, not even his girlfriend of some five years, Betty Hawkins. This is despite Corll regularly bringing Elmer Henley and David Brooks along on their dates, yet she would also take her own kids with them, too, so perhaps, she simply misunderstood their relationship. Questioned about Corll’s actions after the fact, Betty was adamant she had no inclination of any of his later actions, though she did acknowledge Corll was rarely interested in sex, at least with her.
Sources: Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, New York Daily News, Daily Mail