The First Victims
Such was the case in Houston in the early 1970's. Houston was growing rapidly and there were simply not enough police per capita to keep the crime rate under control. Missing persons was a real afterthought, especially if the person missing was a kid from a rundown neighborhood. Such a neighborhood was The Heights, an old area of the city that boomed in the late 1800's, but was tired and decrepit after World War II.
A huge tragedy began quietly in The Heights on May 29, 1971. 13-year-old David Hilligiest and his 16-year-old friend Gregory Malley Winkle did not come home from a trip to the neighborhood swimming pool. According to author Jack Olsen, the Hilligiests were told by police that:
Times had changed. Boys were running away from the best of homes nowadays, and said he would have to list David in the runaway classification. No, there would be no official search for the child, but if he were spotted during school hours, he would be stopped and questioned. That was all the law allowed. A runaway was not a criminal.
The boys' parents put forth a Herculean effort to track down what happened to the kids. That night, Mrs. Winkel got a very strange phone call from Malley just before midnight. When she asked where he was, there was a long pause.
"We're in Freeport, Mother," her son told her. "I called to let you know where I was."
She was very angry that he had gone some 60 miles away from Houston and asked him what he was doing and who was with him. He told her he was just with a bunch of boys swimming, but that they would bring him home later. The next day, she heard that Malley and David had been seen in a white van, but none of his friends knew what had happened to the boys.
The Hilligiests drove to Freeport to search for the boys, distributed flyers, offered a reward, and even hired a private detective with their very meager funds, but to no avail.
One of David's friends, Wayne Henley, dropped by the Hilligiest home with an offer to help pass out the posters that the parents had printed up. The younger Henley boys played with David's younger brothers.
A few months later, on August 17, 17-year-old Ruben Watson was given some money by his grandmother to go to a movie and told his mother he would see her when she got home from work at 7:30 p.m., but he never made it.
Ten months later on March 24, 1972, Rhonda's boyfriend, Frank Aguirre, finished his shift at the Long John Silver's restaurant and told his mother he would be home by 10 p.m. He also called Rhonda and said he was on his way to her house. She waited outside, but he didn't come. She walked down to the corner and noticed that Frank's car was gone. Rhonda went back home and continued to wait, but he never showed up. Instead, he disappeared.
Months later when Rhonda and some of her friends were hanging out at Long John Silver's after school, Wayne Henley came into the restaurant looking for Rhonda. He pulled her aside and told her to stop thinking that Frank would ever return. Wayne told her that Frank had gotten into some trouble with Mafia-type people and they had taken him. Wayne told her that he couldn't say any more than that because he was afraid of those people and he was putting himself in danger for speaking to her about Frank. Then Wayne left the restaurant and got into Dean Corll's van.