"I just blew his life away." -Elmer Wayne Henley

If Elmer Wayne Henley had committed his crimes during this decade, the outcome of his trial may have been very different. Henley is currently serving six consecutive life sentences for the murders, mutilations, and torturous sexual assault of several victims. These crimes are sickening, but you might ask yourself, was Henley really to blame?

You often hear the term "grooming" now, and whether it's frequently being used in a disingenuous way is up for debate. However, in Henley's case, it would be an honest way to describe what happened to him. He was groomed by an older man into a monstrous sadist. So why is he still behind bars, and why was he considered an "inspiration" for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre? We will take a look, and I'll let you reach your conclusions.

Pasadena mugshot with edit
Pasadena mugshot with edit

Henley's life might have been quite different if he'd never met Dean "Candyman" Corll, a man in his 30s whose family owned a candy shop. Henley was intelligent if troubled, and he did well in school until his parent's divorce, instigated by his father's physical abuse. Henley took low-skill and low-wage jobs to help out. It was Texas in the early 1970s, and it was harder for single mothers to get by. Henley would drop out at age 15.

Henley wasn't without friends, though. His friend David Brooks introduced him to Dean Corll. Corll paid the teens to burglarize homes for him. It was easier, quicker, and more thrilling than the menial work Henley had been forced out of school to do. And the "work" may have been a method to push down fear- many boys his age, some friends included, had recently gone missing from his low middle-class neighborhood in Houston. The police said all the missing boys were runaways. Did Henley buy that? If he didn't, did he think he'd be next? He'd find out the truth soon enough. 

Corll had another way that Henley could make some desperately needed cash: find him a boy, purportedly for a "slave ring." Henley resisted the offer until he felt he had no other other choice. Henley lured a young man with the promise of marijuana to Corll's home, left, and was paid $200 the next day. The next time Henley procured a young man, he learned the truth. Corll was binding, sexually assaulting, and murdering the boys- and then burying them under his boat shed.

Was Henley horrified? Perhaps at first. But he didn't run to the police. He was culpable, right? And so began Henley's descent into sadism, murder, and torture- until it all ended with a literal bang.


You either enjoy what you do—which I did—or you go crazy. So when I did something, I enjoyed it, and didn’t dwell on it later.” - Henley


After nine abductions, Henley briefly moved away and attempted to enlist in the Navy. He was rejected because he never finished High School. Henley was also afraid to ever really leave Corll- as Corll "liked" Henley's little brother too much.

The tension between Henley and Corll would come to a head on August 8th, 1973, when Henley, "ruined everything," by bringing a 15-year-old girl over to a "party" at Corll's house. Of course, the party was another ruse to take in another victim. Corll was furious but waited until Henley and his friend were passed out drunk to bind them. Henley convinced Corll to untie him- he had, after all, been such an active participant in the past.

But this time, Henley was no longer willing to comply- he did not want to torture and kill this girl. So he shot Corll several times, killing him. One of the most prolific serial killers was now dead. And his accomplice, or victim, or both, was the only reason Corll was no longer killing. The police response had been virtually nonexistent. Remember, those were just "runaways" after all, rotting under the boathouse.

That same night, Henley confessed to being an active participant in the murders that occurred during his tenure with Corll (many happened prior to their "friendship"). He even helped police find the bodies of 27 victims. He didn't attempt to paint himself as a victim- he was "man" enough to admit what he did. This is what  Kim Henkel, co-writer of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, called Henley's "moral schizophrenia." The ability to participate in the horrific, but to at least be honest with himself about it, was something Kim Henkel wanted his sadistic and murderous characters to reflect.

Luckily for Henley, Harris County prosecutors did not seek the health penalty in his case, even though the death penalty had just been reinstituted after a brief hiatus in Texas. Because of this, Henley recently sought a "compassionate release", that is, a release from prison due to a terminal illnessThis request is not an option for those found guilty of capital crimes. He was denied. The living family members of his victims have been outspoken advocates against his release. And Texas has never been a state to appear soft on crime- especially of this magnitude.

Was Henley a monster or the victim of a monster? I believe that he is both.

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