Dean Corll – Houston Mass Murders : Victim Names Still Unknown

Dean Corll

HOUSTON (AP) — One after another, as a steamy summer evening faded from dusk to darkness, the bodies of young boys were pulled from the dirt floor of boat stall No. 11.

By night’s end on Aug. 8, 1973, eight corpses had been recovered from makeshift graves. The next day, nine more were discovered inside the corrugated metal shed in southwest Houston.

Another 10 bodies were found on remote High Island beach, 80 miles east of Houston, and in a wooded area near Lake Sam Rayburn in East Texas.

Twenty-seven dead. Some as young as 13, none older than 21. All victims of one killer, Dean Corll, and his two teenage accomplices, Elmer Wayne Henley and David Owen Brooks.

The term serial killer had not yet been coined, so this unfolding horror was simply called the Houston Mass Murders — at the time, the worst in U.S. history.

Most of the bodies were badly decomposed, their identities obscured by time and elements. A few were buried with mementos that whispered of their youth and the fashions of the day: a brown fringed leather jacket, ankle-high leather boots, shorts in a tie-dyed pattern.

The condition of their bodies hinted of agony in their final minutes.

Some were wrapped in plastic, and encased by a thin layer of lime powder. Others had cords wrapped around their necks, and tape strapped around their feet and mouths. A few had been sexually mutilated. One boy was found curled in a fetal position.

All over Houston, all over the country, parents of missing boys learned of the murders and feared the worst. In the working-class Houston neighborhood where Henley and Brooks lived, where Corll had once owned a candy shop across from an elementary school, where dozens of boys had seemed to vanish over the previous three years, the dread was almost unbearable.

Were our boys, our sons, among the dead?

For some families, the answer would come swiftly. For others, it would take decades. But some have been trapped in a limbo that has stretched from the Nixon administration into the 21st century.

Three bodies remain — three young men, believed to have been 15 to 20 years old, their bodies chilled to 38 degrees in the long-term storage unit of the Harris County medical examiner’s office.

The 11th and 16th bodies unearthed from Southwest Boat Storage. One of the young men found at Lake Sam Rayburn.

ML73-3349. ML73-3356. ML73-3378.

Nameless. But not forgotten.

Not by Sharon Derrick, a forensic anthropologist with the medical examiner’s office. Not by the families who still contact her, seeking word of long-vanished sons and brothers.

At the coroner’s office, the search for their identities has not ended. Instead, it has intensified.

Parents and other relatives are aging. Many have passed away. The window for finding family members is closing — and with it, the possibility of finding the names to match the numbers.

“We need to get the word out, because at some point before too awful long, there won’t be anyone living that will have memories of them,” said Derrick. “We really need to push this.”

She displays three images — forensic facial approximations — that show what the three might have looked like at the time of their deaths.

One wore a navy blue jacket with red lining, and denim jeans with a 30-inch waist. He was buried with an orange plastic pocket comb. Another had cowboy boots, corduroy slacks, red, green and blue-striped swim trunks and a knotted rope bracelet popular in the 1970s.

Also found with the boys: a tie-dyed tee-shirt emblazoned with a peace sign.

“I can’t quite let go of them yet. I’ve spent long hours with their remains and I’ve seen what they went through and I just want them to be taken care of,” said Derrick. She speaks of the three victims with an almost maternal tenderness, her hands brushing across the images as if caressing their cheeks.

Somewhere, in the voluminous police case file of the murders, yellowed news clippings, and 12-inch stack of old missing persons reports, Derrick believes there may be some name, some incident, some clue that might lead her to the right families.

Somewhere, in the hundreds of plaintive letters written by parents trying to find lost sons, there may lie the path to the three nameless boys’ identities:

“I have a son missing who was, when last heard from, ‘heading toward Texas.’ If he is among those found, would you please notify me?”

“Dear Officers! I am watching the terrible news from Houston … our Dear Son is missing for a long time. He is very handsome and proud and I fear the worst.”

“I know you are getting thousands of letters like this one but I just have to try to find out something. …”


The night he disappeared, on Aug. 3, 1973, 13-year-old James Dreymala hopped on his red bicycle and went out for a ride.

He never came home — like Marty Ray Jones and Charles Cobble, who slipped from sight two weeks earlier, and James Eugene Glass and Danny Michael Yates, who had vanished from an evangelical rally three years before.

Like so many boys from the Houston Heights, then a working-class neighborhood of bungalows and Victorian cottages, James just vanished.

Anguished parents called police, filed missing persons reports, questioned friends and classmates, but they could find no sign of the missing boys — until Aug. 8, 1973, when Elmer Wayne Henley called police in the Houston suburb of Pasadena to report a shooting.

The 17-year-old high school dropout said he had killed Dean Corll after the 33-year-old electric company employee threatened to rape and kill Henley and two other teenagers who had gone to party at Corll’s modest bungalow.

But there was more.

Henley, a slight boy with a sagging mustache, also told police that Corll — a former resident of the Heights who was known to socialize with teenagers — had sexually tortured and killed more than 20 boys over the previous three years. The bodies, Henley said, were buried in a boat storage unit Corll had rented in southwest Houston.

The scene inside Corll’s house seemed to back up Henley’s outlandish claims, recalled David Mullican, the now-retired Pasadena homicide detective who investigated the case. There, police found a plywood board with holes cut out for handcuffs and restraints, plastic sheeting covering a bedroom floor, and a toolbox filled with a variety of sexual devices.

Then, Henley led police to the storage shed.

“When we opened the door to the boat house, he turned as white as a sheet of paper,” Mullican said. “And we knew he was involved.”

The next morning, in a rambling confession, Henley told police that he and David Brooks, 18, had procured boys for Corll, who would pay them anywhere from $10 to $200 per victim. Many were friends or acquaintances from the Heights.

Henley and Brooks also helped Corll kill and bury some of the victims, who were strapped to the plywood “torture board” and suffered hours, sometimes days, of unimaginable sexual and physical abuse before they were shot or strangled.

“Those kids suffered a lot,” said Mullican. “Henley was kind of ashamed of what he had done, but he wanted to tell us everything.”

Inside the boat shed, at High Island, and at Lake Sam Rayburn, Henley pointed to each grave, told police who they would likely find buried there, and how that boy was killed.

“I desired that the entire incident be over with and the only way to completely end it was to give up all the information,” Henley said in a recent interview. “It took me way too long to figure out how to get out of it, but once I made that step, I wanted to get all the way out.”

There were only a few victims he could not name.

After three days, four bodies had been identified, and the police were flooded with inquiries about missing boys from as far away as Russia.

James Dreymala, the last boy to disappear, was the first body recovered from the boat shed. Not far from his crumpled body was the bicycle he had been riding.

Donald and Jerry Waldrop, 15-year-old and 13-year-old brothers who disappeared on Jan. 30, 1971, after heading to a local bowling alley, were found buried in the same grave.

Billy Lawrence’s father recognized Wayne Henley as a boy his 15-year-old son had befriended shortly before he vanished in June 1973. Billy’s body was found at Lake Sam Rayburn.

Many of the bodies were not much more than skeletal remains. They were identified through dental records, histories of broken or fractured bones and physical descriptions.

At the end of the first week, 11 boys had been identified, but the number of teenage boys who had vanished from their homes and fit the profile of Corll’s victims crept upward of 200.

By July 1974, when Henley was convicted in six of the murders and sentenced to six life terms in prison, 21 victims had been identified. Brooks was convicted of one murder, and also sentenced to life.

It would take more than a decade to identify the next two victims, and another 10 years and the advent of DNA testing to confirm the death of the 24th, 15-year-old Mark Scott.

ML73-3349, ML73-3356 and ML73-3378 still had no names.


One thought has propelled Derrick though months of fruitless investigation.

“Their families need to know,” Derrick said. “If there’s an 80-year-old mother who has thought, ‘Well, maybe my son just didn’t love me and just took off and never wanted to see me again,’ I would want her to know that he would have come home, that it wasn’t his fault he didn’t come home.”

Last year, Derrick sent samples from the three boys to the University of North Texas for DNA testing, hopeful that advances in technology could result in a breakthrough. She hit the jackpot. There was mitochondrial DNA from all three boys.

Now, she needed a relative to provide a match.

So she again pored through the paperwork. One name caught her eye: Randell Lee Harvey.

The 15-year-old fit the physical description of one of the remaining victims. His disappearance in March 1971 fit the time frame. His last known addresses in the Heights fit the right neighborhood.

And his name turned up again and again.

It was included on a list of 22 missing boys compiled by Houston police 10 days after the bodies were discovered. Another report noted that a local man had mentioned a boy named Randy Harvey had vanished without taking any clothes or personal belongings.

A third report, dated Aug. 11, 1973, shows that police contacted Randy’s mother, who had previously filed a missing persons report on her son. They asked her to provide dental records for the medical examiner.

But there was no record of the results, no further mention of his name.

Derrick finally found Lenore McNiel and Donna Lovrek, Randy’s two sisters, in Trinity, Texas.

For decades, the two have suspected that their brother was one of the Corll victims. One of Lenore’s boyfriends, Malley Winkle, was found in the boat shed, and they had friends among the dead.

Their mother, Frances Conley, died just after Mark Scott was identified through DNA. But she did not want to go in for testing.

“When Randy went missing, she knew in her heart that he was dead. She didn’t want to go through that heartbreak again,” said Lovrek.

But Lovrek and her sister want to know. In late May, they submitted samples of DNA for comparison with the unidentified victims.

“I tried every resource to find him. It was like he dropped off the face of the earth,” said Lovrek. “Now, I’m relieved and scared and terrified that it could be him. Relieved, because if it is him, I can put him to rest. Scared that what happened to other boys, happened to him.”

It may take up to two months to get results. But then, perhaps, she’ll know, leaving only two nameless young men in the coroner’s cold storage.

Dean Corll – Houston Mass Murders : Victim Names Still Unknown was last modified: June 9th, 2008 by Admin

57 Responses to Dean Corll – Houston Mass Murders : Victim Names Still Unknown

  1. Rhonda Williams is the only living SURVIVOR of Dean Corll’s torture board. She feels she has to live her life in obscurity and is one of the sweetest people I have ever met. The HMM torments her to this day. Lets not forget she is an innocent victim in all this and needs no attacks put towards her. She has gone on with her life, as difficult as it has been, raised a wonderful son and put herself through college. There is so much more than grainy black and white images from old news reels and words from faded books. The attacks on Rhonda must stop.

  2. i want to retract my statement about josh vargas i was miss informed about him idolizing henley and it quite the opposite, i regret saying that

  3. since writting in dec i have come across alot of people and some im glad that i have met and other i wish i never had. i hate that i got involved with magazine article and the movie josh vargas is trying to make claiming he out of all is getting the truth out of henley what a dumb kid he is , henley is not only a murderous punk he has learned to be a con artist in prison only grasping for whatever will get him out josh vargas says that he idolized henley and rhonda williams writing “i miss you” on his facebook page it is disgusting and where they think they are going to tell the true story theyre only hurting the family members we do not need to be reminded of what happen to our love one and informing another generation is not only sick its done right putting thoughts in our young people that shouldnt be there. editors book writter movie makers yall need to get out of our business we can handle keeping those two in prison and us family members are the only ones who can let us remember our loved ones as their lifes of laughter, and prand growing pains and who they were to us. im tired of my brother being the victim of this he was a real boy with family who loves him and that he meant the world to us but all these people care about is henley and lineing their pockets farmgal you got it right and i wouldnt of believe it but i have met these people and i know for myself now God have mercy on yall and i will be there to make sure this movie or this book wont be shown or sold anywhere if i can help it shame on all of you who cont to explode this subject at the expense of the people who are being hurt by it

  4. Henley and Brooks are evil sociopaths.
    Prison has a reputation of dealing with child torture rapist murderers very harshly.
    How are these two still breathing?

  5. I will be 54 in May 2009; the day that Marty Jones and Charles Cobble(room mates) went missing I was suppose to move in with them to share the apartment, I was 18 at the time. Although I never met Marty and Charles I have had night mares of the event for the past 35 years. God bless the victims’ families and I always thank God that I wasn’t a day earlier.

  6. watch a video on youtube. type in News Houston Mass Murders Dean Corll

  7. danny yates was my baby brother. im glad to see that he is not forgetten even after 40 years danny was not a runaway he was jim glasses friend and jim came from a troubled home and stayed at our house alot. dean correl picked them and my other brother up hitchhiking from the thunderbird drive-in to the oakvillage theater the week before they were murdered. he bought them beer but i think dean thought there was too many to handle at that time so he gave them a number and made plans for the next week the church was only a front and im glad they were at God’s house before they were cruelly murdered. Giving minors alcohol is a terrrible thing and the only reason that brad is alive is he got sick during that week and our mother wouldn’t let him go and he has had to live with that we have had to live with the lost of a wonderful brother that would of been so many things in life i don’t believe you can rehibilitate the actions of brooks and henley out of them and they should be grateful that they have had the priviledge to breath which is more that they have given danny and the others danny would of graduated from spring woods high scho0l we grew up in west houston he has been terribly missed and i think about him every day but i know he is with Jesus because 0ur mother took us to the altar at a young age. our mother and father and danny are all together now and when my time comes i will see him again any 0f his friends who want to email me [email protected] God bless you all

  8. Anyone interested in discussing this case, please contact me.
    D Phinney
    Texas Crime News
    [email protected]

  9. Hi Debra,
    My name is Larry Kirk, I knew you then and all of these were friends i grew up with.
    Just prior to the story breaking i was at Wayne’s house hanging out with his brothers, when him and Dean ask if we wanted to go run some errands with them to Pasadena.
    When the story came out on the news that night, I almost had a nervous break down, my Mom lost it as well.
    My brothers are Jack an Timothy(Tim), Wayne, Alfred and Tim all dated Wanda, which is who Wayne took with him, that pissed off Dean, so he was going to kill him for bringing her and that’s when he let him loose, Wayne went in the kitchen got the gun and shot Dean, there is much more that I remember, it scares me.
    I stay in touch with Gary Mc Glothlen on a daily chat and we stay in touch with Donna Lovrek as well.
    Please reply, thanks Larry

  10. Hi Craig,

    My name is Debra. I grew up in the Heights and knew Mark very well. I “Went steady” w/him when his dad owned the gas station by Hamilton. My nic name was Toby. Please email me if you’re still around.


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