A Sister Mourns


Houstonian’s brother left for a party in 1972, and became a serial sadist’s nameless victim

By MIKE GLENN
HOUSTON CHRONICLE

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Sandy Henrichs was 14 when her brother, Steven, disappeared. Now 53, she regrets squabbling with him earlier that day, but also strong is her anger at the Houston police: “They didn’t do anything.”

“My journey since I was 14 years old was to bring him home,” said Henrichs, “but not in this fashion.”

In the early 1970s, Corll orchestrated — along with accomplices Elmer Wayne Henley and David Brooks — the sexual torture and murder of what authorities believe to be at least 29 teenage boys and young men. Remains were found at three mass grave sites. Two victims have yet to be identified.

Sickman was last seen July 19, 1972, about a year before Corll’s murderous rampage came to light. On the day he disappeared, Sickman, 17, and his sister had been squabbling at their home near West 34th Street and the Northwest Freeway. He called her names and snapped a towel at her while she did the dishes.

“We were a typical brother and sister,” Henrichs recalled at her Katy home. “We picked on each other and we aggravated each other.”

Sickman later tried to make amends, even promising to take his younger sister to Astroworld.

“He apologized to me that day. It was the first time he ever apologized,” Henrichs said.

Later that evening, she watched as her brother left to attend a party with his friends.

“I was the last one to see him,” she said, with a slight catch in her voice.

Henrichs said her family immediately reported Sickman missing after he didn’t return home. The Houston Police Department didn’t seem particularly interested because he was 17, she said.

HPD ‘would just hang up’

Relatives searched their northwest Houston neighborhood and talked to Sickman’s friends. And as Corll’s story started making headlines, Sickman’s mother kept pressing police.

“Over time, they would just hang up on her,” Henrichs recalled.

Corll’s killing frenzy ended on Aug. 8, 1973. Henley, then 17, told police he grabbed a pistol and opened fire that night after realizing that he was now considered the prey during one of the torture sessions in Corll’s house.

Henley led investigators to the victims, who had been buried in shallow graves in a southeast Houston boat shed, on High Island, and in the woods near Lake Sam Rayburn in East Texas.

Henley and Brooks are serving life sentences in prison.

Sickman was not listed among Corll’s victims during the early stages of the investigation.

“There were some individuals who were so badly decomposed that there wasn’t a lot to go on,” said Sharon Derrick, a forensic anthropologist with the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences.

Mistaken conclusion

In 1994, medical examiners, relying on early DNA testing and a physical examination, concluded that one of the bodies found in the boat shed was that of a 17-year-old named Mark Scott, and it was later handed over to his family.

As it turned out, however, Derrick was to discover that those remains were actually Steven Sickman’s.

After being hired in 2006 as a forensic anthropologist, Derrick asked to be assigned to the Corll case. She eventually came across a missing persons report for Sickman.

“Everything fell into place,” Derrick said. She was sure that he was one of the victims, but a DNA test on remains still left unclaimed was not a match.

“Then we started looking at the Mark Scott identification,” Derrick said. “I felt that Mark Scott’s remains were also consistent with Steven Sickman’s. Even the teeth looked a little similar.”

Henley had always maintained that Scott was not one of the victims in the boat house, Derrick said.

Another round of more advanced and sophisticated DNA testing was ordered in 2010. Samples were taken from relatives of both Scott and Sickman.

Feels for both families

Derrick contacted both families in March of this year once she learned of the match for Sickman.

“It was a relief, but then, of course, I started bawling,” Henrichs said. “It was very hard for me to believe.”

Scott’s family could not be reached for comment. Henrichs said she has spoken to them.

“Now they’re dealing with, ‘Where is our son?’ ” she said. “This has been very traumatic for all of us.”

No remains for Scott

Even as she plans the trip to her mother’s home in Missouri for her brother’s memorial service, Henrichs remains angry at the way she feels Houston police treated her family over the years.

“They didn’t do anything. They didn’t talk to anybody,” she said.

Derrick said two of Corll’s victims have yet to be identified. The DNA match for Sickman also means investigators have no remains on hand for Scott, who was named by Henley as a victim.

Derrick said she won’t give up her quest to offer some measure of comfort to the grieving families.

“I just feel the need to follow through with this and get some answers for families who have never known,” she said.

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  1. So sad. At least there is some sort of closure.

  2. Loon, very true on both accounts.

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