In my 29 years in prison, I’ve only known two serial killers personally. The most infamous one was Elmer Wayne Henley. He has had numerous magazine articles written about him and his crimes. He’s also in a book about serial killers.

He was only 16 when he was procuring young boys for an older man, Dean Corll. Those kids were drugged and tortured to death. Elmer still swears he had nothing to do with the killings. Knew nothing about it. But he knew where the bodies were buried. He did kill his mentor. We can all thank him for that, but he only killed him to protect himself.

Old Elmer Wayne is a dignified old gentleman in his 60s now. He’s been locked up for over 50 years. Unless someone told you, there’s no way you could pick him out of a crowd. He lives on safe-keeping [isolation cells]. He’s a control freak. Very quiet and self contained. He likes to taunt people and play mind games.

The one time he and I bumped heads, I was sitting on the bench in front of him. I had told him to shut up a few days before, when he got all up in my business and was trying to play the role of CO [Corrections Officer]. You’d think he’d known better. To me it was forgotten. I saw the book he was reading and asked if he had another by the same author. His answer was to say, “I’m shut up.” 

I apologized and returned to watching television. No big deal. Then his voice took on a mesmerizing tone as he kept quietly saying, “I like you Dani. I just want to be your friend.” I finally got fed up and spit in his face and turned my back on him. I have no doubt that if he could have found a way to safely encapsulate me, I’d have died a horrible death, but he was not going to fight. He might get hurt.

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The first serial killer I ever met was Michael Scheifer, from Austin. A slim man. Sort of mousey looking. Gay. Well educated. Lots of money. He told me he had killed 129 people. There was no remorse. In the first 128 murders he left no evidence. Cops were baffled until his ex-wife and mother of his 13 children told them, “I think my ex-husband killed my boyfriend.” 

Turned out she was right. He had. No one would ever have dreamed he had killed the other 128 people. He was a doctor. Respected. Had worked as an emergency room physician for years. Then he got another medical degree so he could change his field of expertise and became a forensic pathologist. He told me he had done this because he got a thrill playing inside of dead bodies. We all called him Doc. 

When detectives began to investigate him after his ex-wife’s complaint they immediately realized he fit the profile perfectly for the other 128 murders. The D.A. threatened him with the death penalty. Prosecutors swore they’d take him to trial 129 times, if they had to, until they could get a jury willing to put him to death. That scared him. He pled guilty and got 129 life sentences running consecutively. He’s got about 3,000 years to go until parole. That’s his count, not mine. He also told me he thought he’d get his convictions overturned one day. He’s in fantasy land. They will never let him out. Be thankful. 

In prison no one considers him dangerous. I met him in general population. Nice guy. We used to walk around the outside recreation yard and talk. He got slapped in the shower by an angry black man and called a maniac. Accepted it. 

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That’s been my experience with serial killers. They fear pain and death. They always believe they will be released one day. Let’s hope not. In prison they are no threat. Out in the world they would be very dangerous to the weak and infirm, or those they might catch unaware and then incapacitate. 

The crazy part is how many people are fascinated by serial killers. Elmer has never missed commissary and gets mail every night from a bevy of women who revere him. Why? They all dream of having him come home to them one day. I expect that dream would soon become a nightmare they’d never wake up from.

As for Doc, he has lots of money. He was a doctor and his father manages it and sees he gets anything he wants. Doc told me once as we were walking laps, “Dani, most times when people came to the emergency room for treatment I’d do everything I could to help them. Other times I’d look in their eyes and know they wanted to die.” 

Maybe it’s no wonder so many serial killers get killed in prison. Most criminals are actually pretty good citizens with family and friends in the world. None of us want to see such depraved individuals live to get out. We know what they’d do. Do you? 

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Daniel H. Harris