Making of a Monster: Dean Corll (Pied Piper)

Pick Me Upmagazine asked for my professional opinion on Dean Corll, an American serial killer also known as the ‘Candy Man’ and the ‘Pied Piper.’ With two accomplices, Corll raped, tortured and murdered a minimum of 28 boys in Houston, Texas over the period of 1970 to 1973. The crimes were known as the ‘Houston Mass Murders’ and only become known after one of Corll’s accomplices shot and killed him. Here are my answers to their questions, published on 19th July 2012.


Dean’s parents split up, reconciled and split up again. What affect would this have on a childlike Dean? And are some children more affected by divorce than others?

Divorce can increase the risk of children developing psychological and behavioural problems, so just imagine the impact that two separations would have had on young Dean Corll.  As a quiet child, it is likely that any emotions he felt regarding the separations, be that anger or sadness, were pushed inside. This further increases the risk of psychological and behavioural problems.  Divorce will impact any child to some degree, but of course not all children are affected as deeply as Dean was.  With support and the correct parenting style, millions of children all over the world survive parental divorce and go on to be healthy adults.  For Dean, however, that support system and protective parenting style was not available.

Would the illness he suffered as a child and his removal from school sport activities have had an effect on him?

The illness Dean suffered as a child, which resulted in him being removed from school sport activities, would have impacted Dean socially.  Not only did his illness exclude him from activities that other children his age were taking part in, but it also excluded him from being around these other children and having fun with them.  Although Dean was shy anyway, this wouldn’t have helped him develop his communication or socialising skills.  It would have also acted to make him feel ‘different’ to other children; this difference could be interpreted negatively (i.e. I am different because something is wrong with me) or positively (i.e. I am special and better than other children).  Neither interpretation is likely to lead to a well-adjusted adult.

Why was he seemingly unable to socialise with children his own age? And later in life, why was he still unable to socialise with people his own age, choosing instead the very young as his companions?

In many ways, young Dean was prevented from socialising with children of his own age due to shyness and exclusion from school sports. As an adult, Dean was now in a position to do what he had always wanted to do – interact with children. The adult Dean was stuck in the past, still feeling like the little boy who wanted other friends of his age.

He had to work night and day as a child, sugar-coating pecan nuts for his family’s business. Would this sort of labour affect a young person?

Such labour would affect children differently, but for Dean the main problem was further isolation from spending time with children his own age.  Dean had to grow up fast, hence his desire as an adult to hold on to some semblance of childhood, even if that meant socialising with young boys.

When he was older, he made advances towards another young man who worked for his family’s company. After the young man complained, he was fired by Dean’s mum. What message would this have given Dean about sexuality?

It is not known whether Dean himself was reprimanded for the sexual advances he made on this young man.  Nevertheless, by firing the man, Dean’s mother was protecting his son from both a complaint and from further temptation.  This gives the message that his sexuality was wrong and not to be tolerated.

Why would a 28year-old man enjoy the company of a 12-year-old?

Simply, Dean could regress to his lost teenage years when around a 12-year old.  There is no evidence that Dean was developmentally young and therefore it can only be concluded that he chose the company of teenagers in an effort to be close to something that he craved – youth.  Furthermore, a 12-year old is vulnerable and easily manipulated, giving Dean a level of control he could not experience around people his own age.

Why do some killers retain keepsakes from their victims, in this case keys? What is the significance of keys?

Many killers retain keepsakes as a ‘trophy’ or record of their kills.  They can use these keepsakes to revisit a time that made them feel powerful.  For serial killers, keepsakes also help them keep track of their victims.  Why Dean kept keys will never truly be known, but in psychological terms keys represent hidden secrets and locked doors.  This meaning takes on a sinister tone when applied to Dean Corll, who managed to hide his monstrous acts until his death.

Why did Dean flip out so much when his young accomplice brought a young woman into his home? 

Dean wasn’t interested in the torture, mutilation, and killing of females.  In addition, when his accomplice Henley brought back a woman in addition to the usual young male, Dean might have felt somehow betrayed.  From accounts of how the partnership worked, Henley had diverted from the usual arrangements without Dean’s permission.  Part of having a young accomplice was to manipulate and overpower him into doing things his way.  Here, Henley was thinking and acting independently, which would have rocked Dean’s sense of control over the situation.

Categories: Psychology

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5 replies

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  2. I would like to add that when he made advances towards another young man, by sacking him, his mother sent Dean a strong message that “you can behave badly and I will protect you.” (Yes, that was bad behaviour by Dean, at a time when homosexuality was illegal).

    Also there might have been experiences in the army that set him on the path to evil.

    Also there is little doubt Corl took full advantage of police apathy regarding missing boys whose parents insisted their boys were not runaways.

  3. I would like to add I have met the cousin of the accomplice that killed Corl. Sometimes it a small world.

  4. You make a lot of assumptions here. Interesting. I want to try too.
    I think the only constant thing in this man’s life was his mother. Maybe he couldn’t bear to hurt a woman.
    I also think he was sexually abused as a child, possibly by the dad or step dad.
    I also wouldn’t be surprised if he was involved in a sexual ring because I wonder how he found the money to keep up with his disturbing lifestyle. There could have been a cash incentive for the rapid turnover of boys.
    Also adding to Henley’s bit, I personally think he had feelings for the girl and wanted to protect her, which is what made him say enough is enough at the end.
    They say the first five years of life are the most important, a period of time we have no control over as adults. Pity this guy being so lost and hurting so bad that he felt the need to cause so many people so much pain. Wish someone could have helped him before he started the mass assault and murders. 42 missing boys in those 3 years. What were the police doing?

  5. This case always haunted me, perhaps because I was as young as the youngest victim when it broke in the news, and the thought of meeting an East Coast equivalent of Corll was enough to cause nightmares. Part of what was so fascinating about Corll was that so much of his life seemed relatively ordinary, and there was so much that was unexplained or mysterious. He was the child of divorce, his mother was a bit of a flake, his father was distant, and he was a closeted homosexual during a time when homosexuality was anathema to the culture at large. How many people have gone through that without becoming what Corll became? I’ve always felt, like Mandy, that he must have been molested as a child. There was a time when he was a child, according to what I’ve read, where he was being watched over by an older couple (in Tennessee, I believe) while his mother worked. Could it have happened then? Could it have happened somewhere else, with someone else? Who knows? As a layman, though, I can’t think of what else could account for such hellish rage and sadism. How can someone become so evil without such a psychologically catastrophic event happening in their childhood? I suppose someone conceivably can be born that way, a sociopath from birth. Corll was killed before he could have answered any of those questions, so I guess we’ll never know for sure.

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