With the gruesome arrival of Netflix's sequel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, we're once again asking the universe if this is based on a true story? We just can't help ourselves. The original, which was released in 1974, had that low-budget, nearly found footage quality that really tricks the brain into believing what it's seeing. Regardless, we're certainly not road tripping with some friends in a van anytime soon.
Is 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' based on a true story?
There's no real Leatherface and there was certainly never a chainsaw massacre, but there were two murderers who influenced Chainsaw writer Kim Henkel. One is Ed Gein, the lonely Wisconsin man who murdered two women and had a penchant for digging up dead bodies. He used them to create one of the world's freakiest Etsy shops, with items like a belt made from female human nipples and human skull bowls. Now, who was the other murderer who had an unknowing hand in this movie?
In a 2004 interview with Texas Monthly, Kim Henkel confessed that at the time he was writing Chainsaw, he was fascinated by a serial killer named Elmer Wayne Henley. According to Kim, he "saw some news report where Elmer Wayne was identifying bodies and their locations, and he was this skinny little ol’ 17-year-old, and he kind of puffed out his chest and said, ‘I did these crimes, and I’m gonna stand up and take it like a man."
What held Kim's interest was the fact that in the middle of doing some truly horrific things, Henley had this kind of "moral schizophrenia." Kim tried to infuse the characters in Chainsaw with this same sense of backwards right and wrong. He accomplished that beautifully because you always got the sense that the Sawyers were operating from their own personal moral compass.
What did Elmer Wayne Henley do?
Henley was born May 9, 1956, in Houston where he was the eldest of four boys. His alcoholic father regularly abused him, his mother, and his brothers. By the time he was 15 years old, Henley had dropped out of high school for a life of petty crimes.
A friend of Henley's named David Brooks happened to spend a great deal of time with an older man named Dean Corll (also a serial killer). After David introduced Henley to Corll, it wasn't long before he was being paid to commit burglary. Evidently Corll even went as far as to ask Henley if he would ever kill for him, to which he said yes. Henley was also getting paid by Corll to bring teenage boys to him under the impression that Corll was selling them into a sex slavery ring. Instead, he was raping, torturing, and murdering them.
Eventually Henley discovered what Corll was really doing, but that didn't stop him from continuing to bring him victims. Between June and July 1973, Corll, along with Henley and Brooks, killed seven more boys between the ages of 15 and 20. Of those seven, Henley participated in at least five of the abductions or murder.
One evening, as Corll sexually assaulted one of Henley's friends, Henley decided enough was enough. He grabbed Corll's pistol and eventually shot and killed him. Soon after, he confessed everything to the police and was arrested and tried for his crimes. He would later be sentenced to six consecutive 99-year terms of imprisonment. He is 65 and still serving time at the Mark W. Michael Unit in Anderson County, Texas.