Outlining the murder case against William Felix Vail

By By Johnathan Manning / American Press

The Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office outlined their case against William Felix Vail in

an eight-page arrest warrant and affidavit, released Friday.

After what Sheriff Tony Mancuso and

District Attorney John DeRosier said was a joint yearlong investigation,

Vail, 73, was

on Friday charged with second-degree murder, arrested in Canyon

Lake, Texas, and brought to Lake Charles. He waived extradition.

Vail is a suspect in the death of his wife, Mary Horton Vail, 50 years ago. When her body was pulled from the Calcasieu River

in 1962, her death was ruled a drowning.

Felix did not answer questions asked by reporters as he was transferred from an airplane at Lake Charles Regional Airport

to a sheriff’s cruiser Friday night.

Mancuso said Felix has not confessed to the crime.

The affidavit lists suspicious circumstances surrounding her death and says Felix is the last person known to have contact

with two other women who are missing.

When Calcasieu authorities traveled to

Canyon Lake to interview Felix at his home (described in the affidavit

as “a locked

compound, the property surrounded by an 8 foot fence topped with

barbed wire, and pad locks on all entry gates”), he claimed

he was the victim of a cover-up by former District Attorney Frank

Salter and other influential people in Calcasieu, the affidavit


Felix and Mary’s marriage was “marked by friction,” the affidavit said. She wanted another child and Felix did not want the

son they already had.

Felix claimed he and Mary were running

trot lines on the Calcasieu River in north Lake Charles on Oct. 28,

1962, but her relatives

claimed it was “extremely unusual” that she would have gone

fishing because she was frightened of dark water, the affidavit


When he pulled his boat into Shell

Beach dock at 7:30 p.m., two hours after sunset, he told officers that

he and Mary had

both fallen in the water, but when he surfaced he could not find

her, the affidavit said. Mary’s body was found near the Halliburton

docks on Oct. 30, 1962.

Felix was arrested Nov. 4, 1962, although he was released three days later. The case was presented to a grand jury in January

1963, but the grand jury said it could not make a decision, the affidavit said.

Investigators interviewed a former

roommate of Felix’s, Isaac Abshire, who was called to testify at the

grand jury. Abshire

was on his father’s boat, which had contracted with the sheriff’s

office to find the body, when Mary was pulled from the river.

The affidavit said he was extremely suspicious because her arms

were crossed in front of her, there was a scarf inside her

mouth and there was a bruise on both the back of her head and her


The original investigators gave Abshire two photos of the body being pulled from the river, as well as a copy of the original

report, which are the only known remaining copies, the affidavit said.

Investigators also interviewed a

Mississippi man, Thomas Turnage, who claimed that while riding to work

one day, Vail became

angry while discussing Mary, calling her a derogatory term, the

affidavit said. She “wanted another baby because she thought


might save our marriage —­ but I didn’t want the one I got and I sure

didn’t want another one ­— I fixed that damn bitch

— she won’t ever have another one,” Turnage said Felix told him.

Turnage claimed when he heard that, he knew Felix had murdered


Felix had taken out a $50,000 life insurance policy on Mary on June 1, 1962. Neighbor Norma Kee, with whom the couple had

left their son, Billy, the night Mary died, told authorities that Felix had also purchased an $8,000 life insurance policy

through Allstate.

Dr. Avery Cook, who was not a forensic

pathologist, performed the original autopsy. He ruled Mary’s death an

accidental drowning,

although he could not determine the manner of death, the affidavit

said. He said she had contusions on her neck and head and

on both legs.

In re-examining the autopsy, current

Calcasieu Coroner Terry Welke determined that Mary was “faced-down and

dead before she

was placed in the water,” the affidavit said. Welke said Mary was

murdered, although he could not state what killed her, the

affidavit said.

The case was reopened briefly in 1970 when Billy, Felix and Mary’s son, told investigators that he had overheard Felix sobbing

and telling girlfriend Sharon Hensley that he had murdered Mary, the affidavit said.

It was reopened recently after a report by Mississippi investigative journalist Jerry Mitchell, the affidavit said.

Hensley’s family reported her missing in 1973. Felix claimed Hensley left Key West, Fla., with an Australian couple named

John and Vanessa to sail around the world, the affidavit said.

The mother of Annette Craver Vail,

Felix’s second wife, reported her missing to Tulsa, Okla., authorities

on Oct. 22, 1984.

Annette was 17 when she married 46-year-old Felix. Vail claimed

that because Annette was unsatisfied with their marriage she

wanted to leave and he dropped her off at a Trailways bus station

in St. Louis and never saw her again, the affidavit said.

The property on which Felix now lives

was deeded to him by the husband of a man whose wife drowned while night

boating, the

affidavit said. Virginia Kathey Bias Thomason drowned on Canyon

Lake on July 3, 2005. She was in the middle of a divorce from

Charles Thomason, who had once been married to Felix’s niece,

Vicki Oakley, the affidavit said. No one placed Felix in the

area in July 2005, although he did receive a speeding ticket in

Canyon Lake in November 2005, the affidavit said.

A suspicious fire destroyed the house on the property in June 2007, after which Thomason received $215,000 in insurance money,

the affidavit said. He transferred the property to Felix in December 2012, the affidavit said.

If Mary died of an accident, “this is extremely unlucky as the disappearance of women associated with him is not uncommon,”

the affidavit said.

The 15 Points Of Suspicion

The 15 suspicious points investigators noted in 1962:

1. It was unlikely that Mary would have been sitting on the back rest of the boat seat without a life preserver when she could

not swim and had a fear of water.

2. If Felix maneuvered the boat as he said he did, they probably would have fallen in differently than he claimed.

3. When heading in for help, he passed a lighted tug boat without requesting assistance.

4. He passed other lighted locations where he could have requested assistance.

5. His boat likely would have continued to run even if his gas tank turned over.

6. The gas tank was not sitting in its proper place.

7. His trot line, which he had just taken up from the river, was coiled in his tackle box.

8. Felix had recently purchased a $50,000 life insurance policy on Mary, in addition to the $8,000 policy he already had on


9. He made offensive and vulgar statements about his wife, including that he did not love her.

10. Felix had sexual relationships with other females and at least one male.

11. A majority of the witnesses interviewed said Felix was capable of killing Mary.

12. He said it was the first time he had taken Mary on the river to run trot lines.

13. He had bought the life insurance policy even though he was behind on most of his major bills.

14. Felix said Mary was wearing a leather jacket when she fell in the water, but she was not wearing the jacket when she was


15. He did not give a reasonable explanation why he refused to take a polygraph test.