Serial killer Dean Corll's lone female survivor recalls attack
Forty years ago, Houston was coming to grips with a mass murder we still don't fully understand. Dean Corll and two teenage accomplices kidnapped, tortured and killed at least 29 boys from the Houston Heights. Over the years, we've learned a great deal about the case but never heard from the lone female survivor -- until now.
That survivor, Rhonda Williams, called us recently and said 40 years of silence is long enough. Now in her 50s, she is ready to tell her story, but not ready to be seen. She says she still gets death threats surrounding the case and wanted us to conceal her face.
Growing up, there really wasn't anyone Williams could depend on. "At some point, I was used to a lot of things that weren't so great," Williams said.
She claims she was raped as a three- and four-year-old, in and out of foster homes as a child and suffered silently as she was repeatedly beaten by her drunk, and now deceased, father. "Screaming is one of those things that I would not have done because I knew it would get you in more trouble," Williams said.
In her teen age years, though, she did count on Elmer Wayne Henley, a boy she knew from her Heights neighborhood.
One August night in 1973, Henley heard Williams' drunk father threatening her and climbed in her bedroom window to help her escape. "We creeped down the stairs," Williams said.
What Williams didn't know then, was that the teenage friend saving her from her father was helping Corll, Texas' most prolific serial killer.
Henley drove Williams and another teen, Tim Kerley, to Corll's Pasadena home, partied and awoke hog tied in the middle of Corll's rage. "He started kicking me saying, 'Wake up (expletive)!'" Williams said.
Corll untied Henley but took Kerley and Williams into a bedroom and lashed them to his handmade torture board. "I could hear Tim hit the floor," Williams said. Still, she wasn't worried. "I couldn't see Wayne hurting me. I just trusted him," Williams said. But then Henley told her...
"He was afraid that he wasn't going to be able to save me. So he was going to sit down with me -- you know, lay down with me like he'd been doing when we talked -- and he was going to put the gun by my head while we were talking and then he was just going to shoot me," Williams said.
Betrayed, again, but now tied to a torture board between a friend and a madman as the night dragged into early morning. "All of a sudden, he came in and Dean was focused on Tim and the gun was on the dresser," Wiliams said.
But then staring down at two of his friends, Williams says something snapped in Henley. Williams was not going to be Corll's next victim. "The fact that I wasn't hysterical and I just kept looking to Wayne to get me out of there. He had always been my protector, so yes, I was like, 'When are you going to get me out of this?'" Williams said.
With the body count then at 29 boys, Henley had seemingly had enough of Corll's killing. "He stood at my feet, and just all of a sudden told Dean this couldn't keep going on, he couldn't let him keep killing his friends and that it had to stop," Williams said. "Dean looked up and he was surprised. So he started getting up and he was like, 'You're not going to do anything to me.' And then Wayne, he had the gun raised already, and he just started shooting it." Still tied to the board, Williams watched as Corll fell dead and Henley called police to confess.
Over the days and weeks that followed, Henley led authorities on a gruesome trail across southeast Texas, picking up the buried, decomposed bodies of Corll's victims. Henley was sent to prison.
Williams, who was jailed and hospitalized for a time, was let go and told to forget and never speak of that night again. It was a promise she kept, until now. "Physically and mentally, it's taken my life from me," she said.
Williams also knew Corll from the neighborhood. She was engaged as a teenager to one of the victims but knew none of the gruesome killing details until she was tied up. One more shocking detail: She still talks to the imprisoned Henley.