Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Man With the Candy

Man With the Candy

I picked up this book a few weeks back at a book show. A piece of scary, mostly forgotten Houston history, it became relevant once again as the remains of another victim of Dean Corll was discovered, nearly 40 years after the fact. The author of this book about the Dean Corll serial killings really has it in for Houston, down to his mocking depictions of people's accents (Author Jack Olsen seems to consider himself a master of dialect).

But one thing he gets right is the sheer awfulness and incompetence of the Houston Police Department. Houston was the murder capital of America, and its police force was undermanned, underpaid, and run by a psychotic, Herman Short, who spent more money on running an anti-subversive unit than on homicides. The disappearance of 26 boys from the Heights was poo-poohed by the police, who wrote them all off as runaways.

Houston's police continued to be a bad joke throughout the 70s (for example, consider Joe Campos Torres and Randy Webster), and the local law enforcement system continues to struggle with legitimacy--challenged every time an exonerated man walks free.

Whatever its flaws, this book is a chilling reminder of how bad things were in Houston and in the Heights. It's hard to believe the affluent Heights of today has anything to do with the white slum that was the Heights in the 1970s.

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