Nearly 50 years after the death of a sadist who, at one point, was considered the most prolific serial killer in U.S. history, there is a renewed effort to find the remains of possible additional victims.
Known as “Candy Man,” Dean Corll raped, tortured and murdered at least 27 young men in the Houston, Texas area between 1970 and 1973. Corll’s family had owned a candy factory, and the always-smiling man was known to give out sweets to children—hence the nickname. [Corll is not to be confused with a different killer with the same nickname, Ronald Clark O’Bryan.]
The so-called “Houston Mass Murders” made headlines around the world, attracting reporters from as far as Japan and Pakistan, and even the famed Truman Capote, according to a Texas Monthly article.
Corll acted with the help of two teenage accomplices who, in exchange for money, lured victims to his home in Pasadena, Texas, just outside of Houston. Corll handcuffed and shackled his victims to a plywood board, sometimes for days, before killing them.
[Watch Invisible Monsters: Serial Killers in America in the A&E App.]
It was one of his accomplices, Elmer Wayne Henley, who shot Corll to death after Corll threatened to kill him and two friends on August 8, 1973.
Within a week of Corll’s death, Houston police found the remains of 27 young men between the ages of 13 and 20, mostly in their mid-teens. The remains were found buried in several mass graves in the area, including in a rented boat shed, in the woods and along beaches. Later, questions arose about whether one of the victims was killed by Corll.
The remains of a 28th victim were found in 1983 and identified in 2009 through DNA testing.
Many believe Corll killed even more people who haven’t been identified—possibly as many as 20—based on statements made by Henley, who is serving a life sentence at John B. Connally Unit, a maximum-security prison in Texas.
In a statement to A&E True Crime, Sgt. James Anderson with the Pasadena Police Department said, “Our next step is to ask [Elmer] Wayne Henley if he would accompany us to sites where there may be more bodies. So far he has agreed to help. The lead investigator in this case, Sgt. David Mullican, told me before he passed that he did indeed believe there were more undiscovered bodies.”
In November 2021, volunteers with the nonprofit Texas EquuSearch worked with police to dig up the back yard of Corll’s former home in Pasadena, Texas. However, they found no human remains, only small bones from an animal.
The group said it plans to look at other east and southeast Texas locations in the months ahead.
Texas EquuSearch was started in August 2000 to provide volunteer horse-mounted search and recovery for lost and missing persons. The daughter of the founding director, Tim Miller, was abducted and murdered in Texas’s Galveston County in 1984. The nonprofit says it now has more than 1,000 volunteers.
Miller told ABC13 in Texas that he got involved in the Corll case after several families reached out to him saying they believe their loved ones may have been Corll’s victims. Miller said he wrote Henley a letter and, to his surprise, received a response.
“[Henley] said he would do whatever he could do to help us on this,” Miller said.
Miller also told KHOU 11 in Texas, “If we can find one of these victims, bring closure to families, one family, well, it’s all worth it.”
Corll’s other accomplice, David Owen Brooks, died in prison of COVID-19 at age 65 after serving 45 years of a life sentence.
After the discovery of Corll’s heinous killing spree, Houston police were criticized for not properly investigating the young men’s disappearances—despite the fact that many were reported missing from the same neighborhood, Houston Heights.
“Back then, sadly, most of them were just considered runaways,” victims advocate Andy Kahn told KHOU 11 in 2018. “There really wasn’t any effort made to locate [them]. You didn’t have groups like Texas EquuSearch.”
The police chief in Houston defended his department in a 1975 Houston Chronicle article, saying that “running away from home is not a violation of any law, and that until the bodies of the victims are discovered, there was no evidence of foul play in any of the disappearances.”
And despite the tragic events, “handling of missing and runaway juveniles remains substantially unchanged since the multiple murders,” police said at the time.
Meanwhile, all of Corll’s victims have been identified except one, whose name remains a mystery to this day.
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the boy died in 1972 or earlier. He was 15 to 18 years old and between 5 feet, 2 inches and 5 feet, 7 inches in height, and had brown hair about 7 inches in length. He was found with belted Catalina swim trunks with vertical red, turquoise, gold and dark blue stripes, with the letter “C” on the silver buckle and a khaki-colored long-sleeved T-shirt that tied in the front. The T-shirt had a large blue and white peace symbol and the letters USMC and L84MF written underneath. The boy was also found with dark blue corduroys with a 32-inch waist and a 30-inch inseam, a knotted leather ankle bracelet and brown leather cowboy boots.
Dr. Sharon Derrick, formerly of the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences, told the Houston Chronicle in 2018 that she still had confidence that the boy—for whom facial reconstruction was done with new technology—would be identified.
“Somebody out there knows who this young boy is,” Derrick said.