Thursday, September 10, 2020

Highwayman File: #1 MASS MURDER IN HOUSTON

When I decided I wanted to write novels about serial killers, research was going to be an essential part of that process. But prior to that, prior to publication of the four books I have written, I came across a case that has continually drawn me back. 

It would become the dark inspiration for my first novel. THE EQUINOX. The case was the Houston Mass Murders and a crime which would leave  law enforcement reeling, families devastated, and unveil gruesome secrets shared by a monster and his two teenage accomplices. It was a news headline that caught my eye and brought me back to this serial killer case which still leaves me in awe. One of  the killers was dead from Covid-19.


Between 1970 to 1973, serial killer, Dean Corll along with accomplices David Brooks and Elmer Wayne Henley, killed at least 28 young boys ranging in ages 12 to 17 years.  The murders, which took place in an impoverished suburb in Houston, Texas, known as Houston Heights, were considered the most sadistic of their time. The victims were assaulted and tortured sexually, sometimes for days, before being killed.

The Grooming of an Accomplice

David Owen Brooks, then 12, met and was befriended by Dean Corll in 1967, who then worked at a family-run candy company. Corll was known to give free candy to the local children, and Brooks began to look at him as a father figure as Corll gave him money and gifts. This relationship would grow to a sexual by 1969 in which Corll paid Brooks for sexual favors.

In 1970, Corll abducted two teenagers and was in the process of torturing and molesting them when he was interrupted in his home by Brooks.  Corll promised Brooks a car for his silence, and the youth agreed. Brooks kept his silence, while Corll kept his promise and bought the teen a corvette. Corll would later confess to Brooks that the two abducted teens were killed after he (Brooks) had left them. Their bodies were buried near 18-year-old college freshman, Jeffrey Konen, who was Corll's first known victim.

Contract with the Devil

Dean Corll made Brooks an offer then. He would pay $200.00 for every victim he brought him. Brooks agreed, bringing local kids to the Corll's murderous lair. Brooks delivered one potential victim, Elmer Wayne Henley, to Corll's house, but rather than kill the young man, Corll took a liking to Henley and groomed him as a second accomplice.Then Henley was on the hunt for victims.

Children were missing, but authorities had no idea of the magnitude of their problem or the sheer number of children. Many victims forced to call or write their parents saying that they had run away. The torture of these children was beyond insidious. Corll had a box of torture devices he kept next to a 4X8 sheet of plywood fashioned with handcuffs and rope coined, "the murder board." The Corll house was a torture chamber beyond all belief, paralleling the torturous deeds of the Spanish inquisition, but worse, they were doing this to innocent children.

With Henley and Brooks recruiting young victims, the disappearance of young boys in the Houston Heights rose substantially. Still, police wrote most of them off as runaway kids, due in part to the false messages of leaving home forced by Corll and his accomplices. The level of depravity in the torture killings was so grotesque, going beyond the worst humanity can dish out and into the bowels of hell itself. Corll delighted in torturing his victims with such things as dildos, biting and mutilation, and even inserting glass rods into the urethra of his victims then breaking them off. Many victims were kept inside Corll's home for days until they either succumbed to the brutality or were executed with a gun and left to bleed out.

A Call to Police – August 8, 1973

The Pasadena Police Department received a call The call from Elmer Wayne Henley on that fateful morning. Henley claimed to have shot and killed 34-year-old Dean Corll in self-defense after Corll attempted to rape and kill him and two teenage friends. Pasadena police detective David Mullican responded to the call. Inside the house, shot multiple times, a naked dead Dean Corll lay sprawled in the hallway.

"It started out as any other homicide, Mullican remarked. But in the hours that would follow, Henley's admissions would lead to the arrest of himself and accomplice David Brooks, three mass graves, and the eventual uncovering of 28 victims.

First, Henley led them to a boathouse on Silver Bell Street in Houston. There, authorities unearthed the bodies of eight children on the first day.  All were naked, wrapped in plastic, covered with lye, and in various states of decomposition. The scene inside the boathouse was a gruesome spectacle in which men shoveled separated body parts in wheelbarrows and puledl the plastic cocoons of horror from their secret graves. The second day they removed nine more bodies.

Warning! This video is of a very graphic nature, showing Elmer Wayne Henley at the infamous boathouse. Click to watch.

Henley also led them to Lake Sam Rayburn,  where four more bodies were uncovered.

David Brooks joined them after turning himself in for his involvement in the murders, and the two would lead them to High Island, where six more bodies would be discovered.



In 1973, the term serial killer did not exist, and killers who had multiple victims were referred to as mass murderers. Law enforcement still had little understanding of the phenomena surrounding such killings. In 1973, the Houston Mass Murders were the worst the country had ever seen.

Evidence and accusations would paint both Brooks and Corll as willing participants in the killings, and Brooks would go on to allege that Henley took pleasure in not only the killing but the torture as well. Both boys would be found guilty and sentenced for their crimes,

In total, authorities unearthed 28 known victims; in one case, two brothers, Donald and Jerry Waldrop were taken and killed on January 30, 1971. There is speculation that other victims may exist. Victims abducted and killed before Corll's association with Brooks and Henley.

An Unknown Victim - 2012

Filmmaker, Josh Vargas, was producing and directing an independent film based on the life of Elmer Wayne Henley titled: IN A MADMAN'S WORLD. In doing so, Vargas not only interviewed Henley but gained access to clothing and artifacts owned by Henley and kept by his mother in an abandoned school bus on their property. What Vargas would stumble across would be a Polaroid from hell and leading to the investigation being reopened. The photograph is of a young boy attached to the murder board. Beside him, Corll's toolbox contains instruments of torture. Henley was interviewed about the photo and claimed no knowledge of who it was while acknowledging Dean may have had other victims. One would conclude that Henley either doesn't remember or is lying as the photograph was among his belongings.

Vargas asserts that the kid is probably deceased. Having read the case files, and given that he was attached to the instrument of torture, I would say Vargas is right. Authorities have ruled out the picture as being one of Corll's known victims. To date, there is no evidence beyond the photo, and the victim's identity remains a mystery.

David Brooks dies of Covid-19

After 20 denied parole applications, David Brooks contracted COVID-19 in prison and succumbed to the virus on
May 28, 2020, leaving Henley as the only living member of the trio. Brooks is an enigma in all of this. He cooperated with authorities in the initial investigation. Yet, unlike the talkative Henley, Brooks kept to himself and stayed out of the media spotlight for the entirety of his life. The only time his name would appear in the media was during the many attempts at parole.

Elmer Wayne Henley – Artist?

Henley remains in prison, supported by his mother, painting, and selling artwork without alleged profit from those sales. His art is substandard, most pieces looking like a novice trying watercolors for the first time.  But what draws people to the art of Elmer Wayne Henley is not the art itself, but the artist. There is a growing community of collectors drawn to the works of such monsters.  In interviews, Henley places the blame squarely on the shoulders of Dean Corll, presenting himself as just another victim of Dean Corll, but Henley is the stereotypical sociopath. He has relived his crimes through interviews, exploiting them through media notoriety and interest, and now enjoying some rekindled celebrity due to Netflix's MINDHUNTER Series.

Conclusion - References.

There are so many details not listed in this short blog. If it interests you to find out more, there is plenty of information available. From books like THE MAN WITH THE CANDY by Jack Olsen and THE TRUE STORY OF THE HOUSTON MASS MURDERS by Jack Rosewood. To date, Josh Vargas film, IN A MADMAN'S WORLD is not available to this authors knowledge.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

A Random History of Moi Part II – The Ecstasy of Gold

Composer: Ennio Morricone
In my headphones, a piano runs, whisked along by violins, and it lifts my spirit and weeping eyes to the ghost of Ennio Morricone. He was a film composer who left this earth a little better, his gift is a body of work that leaves most modern-day composers envious. His music was diverse, from Western to Gangland, to the use of electric guitar and harmonicas. His work has been covered by the metal band Metallica and reintroduced by directors like Quentin Tarantino. Morricone changed the feel of the modern-day western by the music he scored. It was urgent and uplifting; it came in long sweeps or in short hard telegraphs that ushered in villains and heroes alike. It was some of the most beautiful music ever composed, at least for this long-time listener. 

As a writer, I mourn the passing of Ennio Morricone, because this man and his music have been with me since I was a kid. It might seem a thousand years ago, but it was 1975 when I decided to be a writer, and it was also when I started listening to Ennio Morricone. We had an RCA cabinet stereo back in 1975, with a turntable, headphone jack, cassette player recorder and speakers that were about 30 watts each. The AM/FM radio even ran on tubes. Today this thing would be an antique. I spent a lot of time beside that RCA, on my belly, feet crossing and uncrossing, listening to an inspirational ballad called The Ecstasy of Gold. 

My connection with music and writing is something I have talked about before, but what I am telling you here is a little more personal, because this was where it started. The soundtrack at the beginning of my writing journey started with Ennio Morricone's The Good the Bad and the Ugly. When I listened to his music, mental movies would unfold in my mind. Purposely, in front of me, a binder filled with loose leaf paper whose lines were etched with the stories that came, only to be interrupted by a rough sketch.
In that old binder I wrote a horror story, in which a young man named David fights to get back to civilization after his best friend, John, is killed by a demonic creature they have awakened. Thew story’s title was: David vs. The Zombie, and it was a stupid story filled with the usual tropes, but the music of Ennio Morricone inspired it. And for the record, while David vs. The Zombie wouldn’t wholly pass the plagiarism sniff test; it was still a beautiful thing. First, because of the music that still calls to me 45 years later. Secondly, because back then, the well overflowed with ideas, and these were the purest muses in this writer’s life.

I wore a groove into that soundtrack, and it led me to more Morricone, to soundtracks like, Once Upon a Time in America and John Carpenter’s The Thing. Man, I got some mileage out of that last one, what a foreboding lonely soundtrack. Understandably, I loved the movie too. 

As I write this, revisiting that first soundtrack, I am reminded of other artists that would join the score and change the rhythm and the beat of my writing—pushing me to get it out. Sometimes even demanding.

So, I bid thee a goodnight and raise my glass to Ennio Morricone, who played a significant part in the soundtrack in my writing life.

Your musical spirit lives on as long as the earth exists.
--Ennio Morricone  
November 10, 1928 - July 6, 2020

Check out MJ Preston's work with WildBlue Press

The Equinox




Sunday, July 12, 2020


I am going to open by being humble. Like pretty much everyone else, I have been affected by the pandemic. After the publication of my latest novel, FOUR, the Highwayman Books were on a definite upward trajectory, but since the lock-down, sales and reviews have stagnated. On the positive side, the reviews that FOUR and Highwayman received were mostly positive, and some were downright fantastic. The challenge is reigniting that interest and getting my books into the hands of readers.
So how do we do that? Well, the most effective way to stir interest is word of mouth and reader feedback. I have said it in the past, and I'll repeat it, I need reviews, but I also need referrals. So, I need you, my friends, readers, and everyone else to make this lifelong endeavor for me to become a full-time storyteller successful. I am not looking for fame or fortune. A few bucks would be nice, but the end game for me is sustainability.

There are 168 hours in a week. Presently, I work a day job of roughly 50 to 60 hours a week, and I sleep 60 - 70 hours a week, when not interrupted by an evening pee, or two. I estimate that it leaves me roughly 40 to 60 hours every week to take care of the following. Personal business, work around the house, banking, eating, some entertainment, hang out with Stormy and the beagles, and tending to family needs. Quite honestly, it isn't a lot of time, and from that remaining 68 hours, I also must dedicate that time slot to promotion and writing. 

When I published Highwayman in July of 2019, Steve Jackson, the head haunch over at WildBlue, asked when FOUR, Highwayman's follow-up would be ready for publication. I suddenly found myself on a deadline. I panicked a little, the book was about a third to half done, and I wasn't sure where it was going or how it was going to end. I sent a note off to Steve, told him my progress and said I would work tirelessly to get it done. Steve came back with something like, "Don't work tirelessly; just write another great book." That's not it exactly, more like what we used to term in the military as: "words to that effect," and maybe I added the "another great book" part.  Regardless of what Steve said, I still knew that I had a deadline to meet. 

I got down to work. I shut down all social media. Then what I did for approximately four months to meet that goal was to rise a couple of hours before I'd have to get to work on weekdays, between 4 AM and 5 AM and write until 6 AM if I didn't have to be in early. On the weekends, I dedicated a good portion of my remaining time in front of my computer, working drafts, and getting the story finished.

That has pretty much been my schedule since I embarked on this crazy mission. Almost a year and a half ago, I submitted my work to a publisher called WildBlue Press, and they accepted Highwayman and contracted the yet to be finished FOUR. They also took on my two independent novels, The Equinox and Acadia Event, a rare occurrence as those books have already been published independently. 

This has been a strange and cool year. A good friend of mine, named Brad, said something that rings true. He said, "You've put out four novels in the last year." And that is true because my first two books were going onto platforms, they initially didn't have access. All my books are now available in print, digital, and audiobook format. The publisher was pulling out all the stops. But along with this comes the difficulty of promoting four books at once while trying to write another book.
The business reality of writing is this. Publishers take on your work because they need to generate sales, and to cover the costs they foot upfront. It's nice to think that they are all about the art, and they are, but the art must pay the bills. Costs include editors, voice talent, cover design, and advertising. While it would be nice to write and throw it out there even to a small demographic of readers, the reality is that if the books don't make money, the author's future works with a publisher can end up in jeopardy. 

I've been on both sides of this equation. I published my first two books independently, and then recently had all my work accepted to my publisher WildBlue Press. Being with a publisher opens doors and venues that usually aren't readily available to an indie author. The reason I add "usually," because there are independent authors who have pulled out all the stops. Some of them have gotten their books onto all platforms, but it comes at a cost. Some have had their work professionally edited, but that comes at a cost as well, unless you have writer friends willing to donate their time and talent to the task of editing someone else's novel. That happens, but being with a publisher has definite advantages. I also have a publicist who gets out there, pushing my name, arranging the reviews, interviews, guest blogs, and let me tell you; I don't know what I'd do without Mickey Mikkelsen. 

So, I'm busting my hump to get the word out. I know I write engaging and often dark stories, and I'm confident that readers dig what I do. But is it enough, and how far do you want to take this? I want to go all the way, and take it to the Max.

Let me close by saying, my name is MJ Preston. I write horror, science fiction, and thrillers. I just published four novels with WildBlue Press, and I'm hoping you will help me complete the mission of my craft.

Come and Find me!