For over 35 years the bodies of the last two remaining victims of the Houston Mass Murders remained at the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences (formerly Harris County Medical Examiner's Office) waiting to be identified. The Houston Mass Murders, as it came to be known through the media, was in reality the largest serial killer rampage in Texas history. Dean Corll, along with his two teenage accomplices, Elmer Wayne Henley, Jr. and David Owen Brooks abducted, tortured, raped and murdered 28 young men over a three year period between 1970 and 1973.
In our May, 2010 issue, The Police News reported the story of the incredible hard work that Dr. Sharon Derrick, a forensic anthropologist with the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences, is doing to resolve these cases. When Dr. Derrick's work began in 2006, there were yet four victims to be identified. Her painstaking research combined with today's advancement in DNA technology enabled her to name two of these victims. Randell Lee Harvey, missing since March 3, 1971 and Joseph Allen Lyles, missing since February 1, 1973 (found 1983).
With two remaining, Dr. Derrick granted an interview with Barbara Gibson, freelance investigative reporter for The Police News, to once again reach out to the public for any possible leads or tips to identify these young men. "After meeting Dr. Derrick, I was so inspired by her passionate pursuit in identifying these victims that I wanted to do everything I could to help. I had high expectations that our story would generate that one tip that would bring a name to these victims and closure to a family's decades old search for their missing son. Well, that tip didn't come in and after a few weeks of no response from the public, I started to take a closer look at the case" said Gibson.
The two remaining victims, known as "swimsuit boy" case #ML 73-3356 was one of 17 boys found buried in a shallow grave inside a boat stall rented by Corll in the southwest area of Houston. The other victim, #ML 73-3378, was one of four victims found buried in a secluded wooded area near Lake Sam Rayburn in San Augustine County.
Gibson continued to research the case through news archives and the police and autopsy reports. In a report by Detective David Mullican of the Pasadena Police Department, Henley confessed to Mullican that he had been involved in or had personally killed six victims at the house on Lamar St. in Pasadena. They were Billy Lawrence, Charles Cobble, Marty Jones, Homer Garcia, Mike Baulch and Raymond Blackburn. He also said that Lawrence, Garcia, Baulch and Blackburn were buried at Sam Rayburn; Baulch had been strangled. Also, in a later report, Henley said that Billy Gene Baulch, Jr., the brother of Mike Baulch had also been killed, but buried at High Island in Galveston County.
While reviewing the autopsy report on Michael Baulch, case #ML 73-3333, Gibson found conflicting information. The report indicated the cause of death as two gunshot wounds to his head and that his body was recovered in the southwest Houston boat shed. In addition, using the degree of decomposition, the autopsy report indicated the time of death as August 1972. She then cross referenced the police reports and discovered a statement from the victim's mother dated August 13, 1973, that her son had only been missing "about a month". Henley's description of how the victims were killed and where they were buried proved to be correct, except for Michael Baulch. The remains of the victim identified by the parents as Michael Baulch was far more decomposed than they could have been if missing only a month.
Michael Baulch alive (L) Reconstructed face (R)
When the news of this horrific case broke, the Houston Police Department was under intense scrutiny by the press and deluged by calls from terrified parents across the country that wanted to know if one of the victims could be their missing son. The Harris County Medical Examiner's office took hundreds of reports and worked feverishly to identify the victims as quickly as they could. DNA technology wasn't even heard of in 1973 and Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Joseph Jachimczyk had to rely on dental x-rays, x-rays of prior injuries, clothing recovered at the crime scene, family identification and missing person reports to confirm identification. The boys that had no dental work or prior bone injuries posed the greatest challenge.
Michael Baulch's case posed that challenge as he had no dental work history and had not suffered a bone fracture. The identification came down to Michael Baulch's missing person report and his parent's identification.
According to the M.E.'s supplemental report to the autopsy, Mr. and Mrs. Baulch were shown the remains of two victims; Unknown #2 and Unknown #26. They felt positive about Unknown #26 being Billy Baulch, Jr., but not as certain that Unknown # 2 was Michael. The mother thought the hair was too light to be Michael's and the father didn't think the hair was coarse enough to be his. However, they described a chip in tooth #9 and a vertical crack in tooth #8. This information matched the remains of Unknown #2. The Baulch's were shown the jaw and Mrs. Baulch said she could not be sure but it could be Michael's mouth. Mr. Baulch studied the smile by cupping his hands over the jawbones and looking only at the teeth and decided that, yes, it was Michael.
The Baulch's were then shown photographs of all victim's clothing. They recognized a silver buckle and a belt as belonging to Michael. At their request, the traumatized parents were shown all the autopsy photographs including the two gunshot holes. At this point each parent agreed this was Michael and it was Michael's hair.
At the core of the misidentification was the fact that Michael's parents had filed a previous missing person report when he hadn't returned home in August of 1972. He did, eventually, return home a few weeks after that incident. Given the fact that this was the only missing person report on file for Michael, Houston police sent it to the ME's office and it was then used to establish the time frame of decomposition.
Based on these facts, Gibson suspected the body had been misidentified as Michael Baulch and buried with brother, Billy, Jr., Michael's murdered brother. This information was given to Dr. Derrick who was able to confirm through DNA testing that the "unidentified" victim known as ML73-3378, is Michael Anthony Baulch. In a recent interview with Barbara Gibson, Dr. Sharon Derrick, PhD - Forensic Anthropologist and Dr. Jennifer Love, PhD -Director of Anthropology, responded to these questions;
Gibson: What was your initial reaction when I brought you information about the possible misidentification of Michael Baulch?
Dr. Derrick: My initial reaction was surprise. We had not fully investigated the cases that had been identified back in 1973. We didn't have any real question about those identifications. So, we had not gone back to look at those yet.
Gibson: What do you think caused the misidentification?
Dr. Derrick: I think back in that time period the methods that are used as a standard today, such as DNA, were not available to the researchers & the investigators. So they had to go on what was available as far as circumstantial & biological evidence went. This individual was mostly skeletal and so the pathologist did an autopsy, the dentist looked at the teeth, there were no dental records for comparison with those teeth. The individual was not recognizable, there were some personal effects that the family recognized as belonging to their son among all of the stuff of the victims, and there was a brother who was also a victim. The family felt that they could identify certain aspects of the teeth from his smile. So there were several things that were used to make a circumstantial identification. Unfortunately, without DNA confirmation they weren't able to catch what we did with DNA.
Gibson: What steps did you take to confirm it was Michael Baulch?
Dr. Derrick: When the idea that the decomposition stages might not be consistent with this being Michael, I went back and looked at all the photographs that we had of the individual victims from that time period and looked at the condition of #ML 73-3333's remains and there was information in the police record that was conflicting. The information that was used by this office said that Michael Baulch had been missing since 1972. There was other information in the police records that said he had only been missing a month. This individual from the boatshed, #73-3333 was more consistent in his decomposition with other individuals in the boatshed who had been missing for a longer period of time than Michael would have been missing if he had only been missing since July 1973. So, I felt that this was enough evidence that we should really intensively review these cases. So, we looked at the decomposition, we looked at what the family said regarding his hair type and what they thought about who this individual might be.
We looked at the hair type of the #73-3378 (Sam Rayburn victim) individual, we looked at the dentition, interestingly enough Billy Baulch's dentition was much more similar to ML 73-3378 than the individual identified as Michael Baulch. There were some characteristics in the dentition that are known to be inherited, although not a method of identification, not in an odontological identification in this case. These inherited traits were the same in these 2 individuals, not the same in ML 73-3333 (boatshed). There were also some statements by the perpetrator who placed burial of this body (Michael Baulch) later in time at a different location at the Sam Rayburn site rather than the boat stall.
So with all of that together, we felt that there was enough evidence that we should see if we could collect a family reference sample. So, I had to search for family and one of the siblings agreed to give a sample of DNA - a buccal swab through the cheek & we were able to compare her DNA profile with the profile of #73-3378 (Sam Rayburn victim) and were also able to obtain a DNA profile for ML 73-3333 (boat shed victim) from some bone that had been retained as part of the autopsy. We compared all 3 of those things.
The living sibling was related quite strongly to #73-3378 as well as Billy Baulch. Because we were also able to collect DNA from his bones that were retained and she was not related at all with the DNA profile to the individual identified as Michael Baulch.
Gibson: How did the Baulch family react to the news?
Dr. Derrick: The Baulch family is quite understandably concerned and saddened because it's been 37 years since they buried Billy and the person they considered to be Michael. But, they are interested in making sure another family does get the opportunity to identify their loved one, so they are cooperating with our new investigation.
(A member of the Baulch family was unable to be reached for comment. Both parents, Billy Sr., and Margaret Baulch, are now deceased. The Baulch's were no strangers to tragedy. In addition to losing two sons to murder, they had also lost their oldest son, Marvin age 15, in a tragic car accident in May 1969. Billy Jr., age 17, and who was thought to be Michael, age 15, are buried in an unmarked grave next to Marvin in the Woodlawn Cemetery in Houston.)
Gibson: You stated that you had a long process ahead of you. Describe that process.
Dr. Derrick: We are going to need to do a full anthropological examination of both boys #73-3333 who is currently interred with Billy Baulch. So, the first thing we need to do is disinter them and identify which boy is Billy and which boy is #73-3333 and give them a complete examination. There is a process to this and Dr. Love has been working on this and I'll let her address it.
Dr. Love: In order to exhume them we need to get permission. We are beginning to file for permission for disinterment, once that's granted we can go and bring both victims here (ME's office) and separate them. Then we disinter Michael from the county cemetery.
Gibson: How long will this process take?
Dr. Love: This is our first case to disinter, so we don't know how long it will take for the paperwork to get through the system with the State. So we're at a learning curve. We're actively working on it and keeping the family updated on the process.
Gibson: Do you have any idea as to who the victim is that is currently buried in Baulch's grave? Were you able to get DNA?
Dr. Derrick: We have a DNA profile. There was no hit with the CODIS system (CODIS Missing Person DNA database) that has a database of other samples of DNA or the CODIS criminal DNA (because they didn't take DNA back then). But I suppose there could be a hit with someone that would be related to him. But, no there has been no hit with one of these databases. The next thing to do will be to construct his biological profile, put together what we consider to be a good idea, a picture, of who this person might have been biologically. Then we can start to look at circumstances and try to find families who have never had their children identified that may have been a victim. We could then put this out to the media and try to get some DNA sample from possible relatives.
Gibson: Will you be doing the facial reconstruction of that victim as well?
Dr. Derrick: I have discussed this with Dr. Love, and did send an email to the FACES Laboratory that did the other reconstructions because I wanted them to know this boy #73-3378 had been identified that they had done the reconstruction on. They wanted to know if they could do another reconstruction on this other boy. That would depend on what we ascertain from looking at the skull's condition to tell if they can do a reconstruction. Then we'll talk about it.
Although the identity of one unknown victim has been resolved, Dr. Derrick must now begin the task of identifying the new unknown victim (ML 73-7333) buried in Michael Baulch's grave as well as the remaining unidentified victim (ML 73-3356). M73-7333, whose body was recovered in the boatshed, is described in the autopsy report as being a white male, 15-18 years of age, 5'8 to 5'10 with light brown hair approx 7" in length. It is believed that this victim would have gone missing in 1972. ML73-3356, also recovered from the boatshed, is described as being a white male, 15-20 years of age, 5'2-5'7 with dark brown hair approx 7" in length.
According to a statement made by David Owen Brooks, 2 victims were killed at the Columbia Street address in the Heights. Corll lived at this address between September of 1971 and February 1972. No identified victim corresponds to these dates. Could these 2 boys be those victims?
If you have any information that would assist in identification of these victims, please contact Dr. Sharon Derrick at 713-796-9292 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elmer Wayne Henley, Jr., was never charged with the murder of Michael Baulch even though he confessed to the crime. It is unknown whether further charges against Henley will be pursued in light of these developments.
Barbara Gibson is a freelance investigative reporter focusing on cold cases. She is currently working on her first true crime book about the Corll murders. She can be reached at email@example.com