Half a century after this young man was murdered in Houston, Texas, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children is releasing brand new imagery of John Doe 1973 in hopes it will lead to his identity.
Can you help solve this 50-year-old mystery?
The Early 1970s in Houston Heights
It was the early 1970s and across the U.S., artists like Elton John and Led Zeppelin topped charts on the radio, gas prices were around 36 cents a gallon, and on the big screen, Marlon Brando uttered the famous line “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”
Just a short distance away from downtown Houston, a community called Houston Heights was filled with families. Kids rode their bikes around the neighborhood and played outside until dinner time. However, beneath the surface of this seemingly normal neighborhood, a troubling pattern had emerged.
Between 1970 and 1973, young boys and teens mysteriously vanished across the city. Although the missing reports continued to rise, the disappearances were often brushed off as runaways, leaving grieving families with unanswered questions about their missing sons.
It seemed the boys were vanishing without a trace.
Within Houston Heights, an outwardly average and friendly guy, Dean Corll, worked locally as an electrician. Corll was known to residents as “The Candy Man,” a nickname he’d earned himself from working at his mother’s candy company when he was younger. Corll often handed out free candy to local children and befriended young boys in the area, allowing them to hang out around the candy shop.
Dean Allen Corll, seen in his home with a stuffed dog. Photo Credit: AP Photo/The Houston Chronicle.
However, beneath Corll’s façade of innocence lurked a chilling secret – one that would come to light years later.
The Houston Mass Murders
On Wednesday, Aug. 8, 1973, police officers responded to a distress call at 2020 Lamar Street in Pasadena, Texas, where Dean Corll had moved earlier that summer.
Upon arrival, investigators say they discovered 17-year-old Elmer Wayne Henley, alongside Corll’s lifeless body. Henley claimed to police that he shot Corll six times in self defense. Yet, what seemed like an average homicide scene would become something else entirely. Henley would begin to reveal shocking secrets that would lead police to a crime scene no one was expecting.
Henley and Corll’s other accomplice, 18-year-old David Brooks, led investigators to multiple gravesites across the Houston area, including a boat storage shed, Sam Rayburn Reservoir, and a beach at High Island. Each location revealed a scene straight out of a nightmare.
Newspaper clipping featuring photos of 2020 Lamar Street and the boat storage shed. Photo credit: NewspaperArchive.com/Playground Daily News, August 1973.
This dark chapter in history would become known as the Houston Mass Murders, marking the worst serial killing in the United States at that time.
The Aftermath and “The Lost Boys”
In total, the Houston Mass Murders claimed the lives of at least 28 young men, though the true death toll will most likely never be known.
Over the years, the victims were collectively given the group name of “The Lost Boys.” They ranged in age from 13 to 20 and many of them vanished while going about their daily routines, walking to work, or trying to use the payphone.
Henley and Brooks, who knew some of the victims as friends, were responsible for luring many of the victims into Corll’s home under false promises of fun. Henley reported to police that Corll paid them $200 for each victim.
Newspaper clipping featuring a photo of Elmer Wayne Henley and David Brooks on the beach at High Island. Photo Credit: NewspaperArchive.com/Abilene Reporter News, August 1973.
Both accomplices pled not guilty to charges brought against them for their part in the crime. Despite their plea, both received life sentences. Henley was sentenced to six consecutive life sentences and although he has made many attempts at parole, he remains incarcerated today.
David Brooks also received life in prison for his part in the murder spree. Brooks died in prison in 2020 due to complications from COVID-19.
Can you help us solve the final mystery?
Over the years, investigators were able to identify 27 of Corll’s known victims, giving each of “The Lost Boys” a name – except one.
In a new effort to bring awareness to his case, forensic artists at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children created this brand new reconstruction image of what he may have looked like in life.
Facial reconstruction image created by forensic artists at NCMEC. Photo Credit: National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
According to police, this young man was one of 17 bodies discovered in the boat storage shed on Aug. 9, 1973. Investigators believe he was between 15 and 18 years old at the time of his death, and he had likely been deceased for 12 months or more prior to his recovery.
He was Caucasian, with possible admixtures including Hispanic, but investigators believe his outward appearance would have been primarily white. According to the medical examiner, he had brown hair, approximately seven inches in length. Examination revealed that he had a mild form of spina bifida, which may have caused him lower back pain or possibly affected his stride; however, it may not have produced any noticeable symptoms at all.
In addition to the facial reconstruction image, forensic artists at the National Center worked collaboratively with the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences to create brand new digital reconstructions of the items found with John Doe.
He was found with belted Catalina brand swim trunks with vertical red, turquoise, gold, and dark blue stripes. The swim trunks also had the letter “C” in the center of the wings on the silver buckle.
Catalina swim trunks found with John Doe 1973. Photo Credit: National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
John Doe 1973 was also discovered with a khaki-colored long-sleeved ‘70s style shirt that tied in the front. The shirt had a large red, white, and blue peace symbol on the back. Although it was previously thought that the shirt contained the letters “USMC” inside the peace symbol, the National Center confirmed with the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences that the shirt contained the letters “USA” within the symbol.
Long-sleeved khaki shirt discovered with John Doe 1973. Photo Credit: National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
The shirt also had the following writing underneath the symbol:
Writing underneath the peace sign on John Doe 1973’s shirt. Photo Credit: National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
In addition to the above items, John Doe 1973 was also located with brown leather cowboy boots that went above the calf and had the word “NEOLITE” on the heel. Investigators also discovered a knotted leather ankle bracelet and dark blue corduroys with his remains.
Cowboy boots discovered with John Doe 1973. Photo Credit: National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences has ensured that Houston John Doe 1973 is uploaded into all national missing person databases and his DNA has been entered into the national DNA databases, CODIS, actively searching for a match since 2005. Forensic genetic genealogy has also been pursued, but to date, has not been successful at advancing the investigation.
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children encourages anyone who may have information on John Doe 1973 or the items he was discovered with to come forward. It only takes one person to see something, say something, and help us solve this 50-year-old mystery by giving this victim his name back.
“We remain hopeful that this young man’s family and friends are still looking for him,” said Carol Schweitzer, supervisor of NCMEC’s Forensic Services Unit. “He may have siblings, cousins, classmates, neighbors, or friends who have always wondered what happened to him. This young man’s friends and classmates would be in their late 60s to early 70s and we hope that this new imagery reaches them and helps bring in that one single lead needed to resolve this case.”
If you have any information on John Doe 1973, please call the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST or the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences and reference case number ML73-3356.
You can view the current missing poster for John Doe 1973 here: https://www.missingkids.org/poster/ncmu/1109009.
To find unidentified cases in your area, check out our interactive map here: https://www.missingkids.org/theissues/helpidme.