Surviving a serial killer

August 8, 2008 9:00:20 PM PDT
Thirty-five years ago Friday, detectives were just starting to unearth the 27 victims of the worst serial killer in Houston's history. Only one man walked away from Dean Corll's torture chamber, and he's never told his story. But now, for the first time, Tim Kerley is speaking out, hoping to bring peace to victims' families and encourage young people to listen to loved ones about danger.

Three and a half decades ago, Kerley walked out of a Pasadena house with memories no one should have. He was tied to a torture board inside, and rescued just moments before he was sexually tortured and likely killed. Kerley's never told his story publicly.

"It was one day of my life," he told us. "I have two choices -- either accept it and move on or kill myself."

Kerley is the only known male survivor of a Houston killing spree that took the lives of 27 teenage boys in the early 70s. For three years, Corll, David Brooks and Elmer Wayne Henley targeted boys, lured them to parties and when they got high and passed out, Corll would tape their mouths shut, bound their hands and feet to a board and leave them tied face down to be tortured for days until they we're eventually killed.

"When someone ties you to a board, the odds are pretty good that you're not going to walk out of there," said Kerley.

Kerley was likely marked as the 28th victim. He was friends with Henley, who for more than a year scouted good looking boys for Corll. In early August 1973, Corll told Henley to bring Kerley over for a party.

"He placed an order and Henley delivered," said retired Pasadena PD Detective David Mullican.

Henley brought a woman there that night. In all the other killings there was never a woman, and her presence enraged Corll. Corll, though, was interested in Kerley and while Kerley lay naked, bound face down on the torture board, he asked God for help.

Kerley described it as absolute madness, terror while Corll threatening to cut off Kerley's arm and prepared to rape Kerley.

Henley was focused on the girl. He untaped her mouth and after years of luring and torturing and killing teenagers, that woman broke through to him.

"Rhonda asked me is this for real and I told her yes, and she said, 'Are you going to do anything about it?'" said Henley, when we spoke with him in prison.

That was enough. Henley, who earlier that night had been tied up himself, grabbed Corll's pistol and told Corll it had gone far enough.

"Dean stood up and I saw him change into a different person," Kerley said. "There was somebody inside him and it wasn't him. It was a spirit from hell."

Henley walked towards Corll and killed him.

"He emptied the gun in him," said Kerley.

With Corll lying dead in the house, Henley freed the others and called police. Over the next three days, Henley led police on a grisly tour of burial sites.

Kerley retreated. He's never reached out to the public or Henley in prison, uncertain of what he would say.

"I don't know if I would shake his hand and say thank you or beat the (expletive) out of him," said Kerley. "Thirty-five years, I still don't know."

And now, 35 years to the day that Corll was killed and Kerley was freed, Kerley is speaking out because 27 other young boys can't.

"There was a battle going on between good and evil in that room," said Kerley. "And good won. Maybe the victims' families can find some solace. We got him. You know, he's dead. He's dead and the other one is the penitentiary forever."

Kerley tells us he finally agreed to speak out after 35 years to offer some peace to victims families, so they know someone survived Corll's wrath.

Of the 27 bodies police found in 1973, 24 have been identified. The Harris County medical examiner's office still has the remains of 3 young men and the clothes found on those remains. The medical examiner has created computer images of what the boys may have looked like. In a few weeks, investigators should get DNA results back from a Heights family which may be a possible match.

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