Those of us who have been unfortunate enough to live in so-called “broken homes” know all too well the value of escapism. Some turn to drugs, some to drinking, some turn to sex: anything that makes the pain and loneliness we feel just a little better for a time.
Rhonda was a teenager with a rough home life. Her mother died when she was very young and her father, who was cantankerous before her passing, was worse afterwards. At 15-years old, Rhonda relied heavily on her friends, specifically her best friend Wayne, to help her through her bad times. But Wayne had a dangerous secret, one that Rhonda was about to discover first-hand…
Awakened by Pain
Rhonda woke up from the blackness that had enveloped her to a sharp pain at her side. She’s tied up and her mouth has been duct-taped. The man kicking her is a local electrician named Dean. Beside her, bound in handcuffs is her best friend Wayne and her new friend Tim. She couldn’t remember anything besides the fun they’d been having only a few hours prior.
She remembered the night prior, and how the three of them, after Dean had gone to bed, were hanging out on the living room carpet, huffing acrylic paint, smoking marijuana, and taking shared shots of Wayne’s dad’s moonshine. She had come there to escape her abusive father, but now she wished she’d stayed home…
Carry Wayne Off
Dean, angry as ever, walks over to Wayne and carries him into the kitchen. Rhonda, who is 15 and frightened, can hear two voices now, discussing what they should do with her and Tim. Dean walks back into the living room holding a modded transistor radio, which he places on the floor between she and Tim. It’s still dark, which meant she couldn’t have been out long.
Rhonda notices that Wayne is now loose as well and seems to be in league with Dean in some way. She doesn’t know it yet, but by the time this night is over, Wayne will confess to killing, or helping Dean kill, 29 boys and burying their bodies in Houston and the surrounding areas. He isn’t the only one helping Dean, either. For tonight though, Rhonda’s only concern is survival…
As she lay there, tied and helpless, Rhonda thought back to the time her boyfriend Frank had disappeared. Frank told Rhonda he was heading over to pick her up after his work shift, but he never showed. Eventually she got tired of waiting and walked over to his house. His car was gone. She stayed there the whole night, but he never returned and he never would. She didn’t know it at the time, but Frank was only one of the many young men Wayne had brought to his partners in crime.
Her friends, including Wayne, had assured her that he’d just moved away and started a new life and after a few months, she moved on too. 17 months later, Frank’s remains were found buried in High Island, a noose had been tied around his neck. He was one more apparent victim of the “Houston Mass Murderer”: in reality Dean Corll, David Brooks, and Wayne Henley…
With Frank gone, Rhonda began to turn to Wayne whenever she felt overwhelmed. He became something of a big brother to her and the two became even closer than they had been to begin with. They biked everywhere with one another and Rhonda never suspected that her best friend was actually helping two maniacs, torture, rape, and murder countless young men like himself.
One night, after a particularly bad night at home with her angry, vindictive father, Rhonda and Wayne went on a bike ride to White Oak Bayou. On the way back, Rhonda got a flat and they were stuck walking their bikes down the street. Suddenly, Dean Corll pulled up to them in his white van, looking none too pleased that Wayne was keeping company with a young woman, still, he offered to give them a ride back…
Wayne looked white as a sheet, but at the time, absorbed as she was in her own thoughts, Rhonda didn’t notice. She hopped into the van and sat on a wooden box. The trio was uncomfortably quiet all the way back to Rhonda’s house. When she got home, and heard her father carrying on as he always did, she wished desperately to stay out.
Always Protect Her
Thankfully, Wayne came to her rescue soon enough. He was always there in a trice as soon as he heard Ben Williams shouting at his daughter. He was her protector. She snuck out again and Wayne took her over to his friend Dean’s so that they could indulge themselves. Even tied up, gagged, unable to move, she knew deep down that he’d never let anything happen to her. Before she could finish the thought, she passed out again…
Take Care of Rhonda
Rhonda awoke to find Wayne and Dean standing above her in the living room holding a knife with an 18-inch blade and a blue-steel .22-caliber revolver, respectively. Without giving her a second look, Dean told Wayne to “take care of her” and grabbed up Tim, who he drags into the bedroom. Once he was gone, Wayne knelt down beside her and whispered, “Everything’s going to be all right; I am going to get you out of here.”
Even this assurance seems hollow at this point though. She knows what Wayne is and what he’s done. In the other room, she can hear Tim screaming. Wayne began to pace back and forth, taking swigs of the moonshine and wondering what to do. Dean comes into the room, scoops up Rhonda and brings her into the bedroom with Tim, who is now naked and tied to some sort of board…
Naked and Afraid
The room is chaos now. Wayne is told to strip Rhonda, Tim screams for God, and Dean demands that Tim have sex with the frightened 15-year-old despite his panic. The two killers take turns walking in and out of the room before Dean loses patience and punches Tim in the gut, he straddles him and tells him what’s about to happen: as if either of his victims don’t know the endgame already.
Could Have Done It…
It wouldn’t be until many years later that Wayne would tell Rhonda how close he came that night to just shooting her in the back of the head and getting it over with. He could have done it, perhaps he should have. It would have saved his own skin and his freedom and the secret of the Houston Mass Murders would have remained one. Instead, he took the .22 off the dresser and emptied it into Dean Corll, before calling the police…
Dean staggered into the hallway and died. Wayne untied Rhonda and Tim, apologizing for what happened and when police arrived and found four people, one of them dead, they erred on the side of caution and charged them all with murder: until they could get things straight anyway. As Rhonda sat isolated in her cell, the world at large believed them all to be killers.
The gory details of that night spread like wildfire through the media and when Ben Williams came to get his daughter out, all he could do was tell her how disappointed he was and how she was no longer welcome in their home. He believed the worst. Eventually, things were cleared up and Wayne came clean about his complicity and she and Tim’s innocence…
No one ever came to reclaim Rhonda after that. Thankfully, a probation officer, who herself was only in her mid-twenties, took pity and invited the abandoned 15-year-old victim to her house. Once there, Rhonda would help the officer cook for her husband and would lean upon their hospitality, but all was not right. Then the judge called…
Judge Cole told the girl that she had to change her name. He added that she was never allowed to talk about what happened that night, to forget about Dean Corll, the killings, Wayne, everything. Her mind had already mostly done that on it’s own in an effort to spare her it seemed. It would be 40 years until she felt ready to face what had happened…
Forty Years Later
40 years after that night, Rhonda has come out to speak publicly about her ordeal. Like her, Tim Kerley was one of the Houston Mass Murderer’s forgotten victims. They were expected to carry on with their lives as if they hadn’t been face to face with death and lived to tell the tale. The process turned Tim into an alcoholic and left Rhonda’s sense of identity in shambles for most of her life.
As for her best friend Wayne Henley, he is currently serving six consecutive life terms in prison, that’s 594 years. In 2005, when this tale was first told, Rhonda visited Wayne in prison for the first time since that night. She had many questions and received many cryptic answers, but found little solace.