Dean 'Candy Man' Corll: The Houston Mass Murders

Serial killer Dean Corll in military uniform in black and white photo
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News & Politics
Heather L Lawton

The 1970s was the era of teenage runaways, and Houston was no different. But, what happens to the adolescent who mysteriously vanishes and desperately wants someone to find them?

Who's searching for the young man, or young woman, that disappears from the happiest home, or at the very least, the mediocre household with the moderately sincere mom and the dad who is, at the minimum, a "nice" drunk?

Most parents and siblings of the missing believe that the kid who enjoys a roof over their heads and halfway decent parents wouldn't take off and never contact their folks again.

But, this is what the authorities wanted families of misplaced youngsters to believe in the 70s. And, this is what serial killer Dean Corll wanted law enforcement to conclude. For a while, that's what they did concur.

The Candy Man's Plan

A variety of candies
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The serial murderer is a master at living double lives. They create alternative personas that society deems decent while preferring a darker one. When they slide onto officials' radar as a person of interest, their neighbors, friends, and loved ones tell the police, "he could never do a thing like that," because just like the victims, they, too, too, have been manipulated.

Corll received the nickname "Candy Man" while giving free candy to children from his family businesses.

The mass murderer met two friends, Elmer Wayne Henley and David Owen Brooks, who would later become his accomplices. The trio would go on to rape, torture, and kill 28 males ranging between the ages of 13 and 20 from 1970 to 1973.

The 1970s And Runaways

A diagram of outlined blank faces portraying runaways
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The 1970s seemed to have been plagued by teen runaways. One of the main reasons that drove teenagers away from home during that era was homosexuality. Either their families rejected their sexual preference, or they chose to no longer "burden" their family with their lifestyle. Big cities like Houston attracted these underdogs. But, in Houston, the boys were disappearing. Where were they headed?

“Running away from home is not a violation of any law, and until the bodies of the victims are discovered, there's no evidence of foul play in any of the disappearances,” said the Houston police chief in 1975 to the Houston Chronicle.

Prolific And Horrific

A body wrapped in a blanket in wooded area
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Dean is called one of the most prolific serial killers in United States history. While the remains of a 28th victim were found in 2009, authorities believe others are still unidentified.

Accomplices Grow Tired

Man looking menacing in the dark with just eyes shown
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The details are unclear as to whether Henley grew tired of the violence he helped to inflict upon Corll's victims or if he couldn't bear torturing and killing a female victim. One of Corll's last victims was Rhonda Williams, whom he tied to a wooded panel. Before he sexually assaulted Williams, Henley shot Corll to death, ending the serial murderer's reign of terror in 1973.

Henley, who was offered $200 for every boy he could lure to Corll, received a life sentence and is serving time in a maximum-security prison in Texas. According to recent reports, Brooks died in prison of COVID-19 after serving 45 years of his life sentence.

A Candy-Coated Background

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For those weary of psychologists and criminologists attempting to sell a story about the "poor abused serial killer who had it rough, so that's why he unleashed a rage of fury onto those he deemed weaker than him," perhaps we can skip it. According to reports, Corll came from a family who appeared focused on success and tried to include their children in their professional activities.

He was a salesman in the family business and did not leave home to join the military to escape a cruel life. He was drafted. In fact, after requesting and receiving an early acquittal, he came home and returned to his position as vice president of the Corll Candy Company.

So, what in this seemingly candy-coated background led Dean Corll down a murderous path? We may never know or understand what creates the serial killer. Maybe they kill because they want to. And, that's the frustrating element for the police and the frightening part for the public.