Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Felix Vail: The Missing Suspected Serial Murderer

Felix Vail. Police photo.

Update 05/21/2013: Felix Vail has been arrested in Canyon Lake, Texas. He is charged with 2nd degree murder in the death of his first wife Mary. 

 

Originally published 04/02/2013.

As of this 2013 writing, the whereabouts of suspected serial murderer Felix Vail are unknown. So are those of two of his suspected victims.

Felix Vail’s first wife, Mary, was from Eunice, Louisiana. Leonard Matt, a friend of hers, attended a pool party in Lake Charles, about two hours west of Baton Rouge, during the early 1960s with Felix and Mary. Matt recalled the Vails squabbling. He would later state that Felix “walked up to Mary and just slapped the heck out of her.”

Mary Vail wrote a letter dated May 3, 1962 in which she said Felix “hasn’t been acting so sweet earlier but I haven’t helped. I never stand up for him or say anything nice to him.”

Jerry Mitchell reports in The Clarion-Ledger, “Sylvia Bird, one of Mary’s classmates at McNeese State College, said Felix wouldn’t interact with Mary’s friends and would leave whenever they arrived. When Mary visited friends at a local apartment and Felix arrived to pick her up, he would never leave his car, expecting her to come outside to him, Byrd said. Her friends said Felix controlled her and manipulated her, doing his best to bring her to his way of thinking.”

Mary’s brother, Will Horton, said Mary discussed divorce with her mother. However, her mother, a Roman Catholic, urged Mary to work it out.

On July 1, 1962, Mary gave birth to son William Felix Vail, Jr., usually called Bill. Mary’s cousin, Claudia Hidalgo, visited Mary and the baby at the Vail apartment. An insurance company called to discuss the $50,000 life insurance policy Felix had on Mary. Hidalgo asked Mary why Felix took out a life insurance policy on her. Hidalgo says Mary answered, “If something happened to me, Felix would need this money to help raise Bill.”

According to Mary’s family members, that life insurance policy had a double indemnity clause that meant it would double in an accidental death.

On the evening of October 28, 1962, Felix drove onto Shell Beach in Louisiana and informed authorities that his wife had just accidentally fallen into the water while they were laying out trotlines. Felix claimed he had dived into the water to try to rescue her but was unable to. Felix’s friend Isaac Abshire was with police deputies when they pulled her body out of the water two days later. Abshire recalled, “She had a scarf wrapped around her neck and in her mouth. It had a big old knot in it.” Abshire also said the trotlines were dry. It is not known if the pun was intended when Abshire described Felix’s story as “fishy.”

In an autopsy, Dr. Avery L. Cook described the scarf as extending four inches into Mary’s mouth and said her corpse had bruises on neck and legs. Nevertheless, coroner Dr. Harry Snatic ruled her death accidental.

Judy Turney, a friend of the Vails, rode in the vehicle with Felix as they traveled to Eunice, Louisiana for Mary’s funeral. “His reactions were very unusual,” Turney stated. “There was no sign of an emotional upset.”

The insurance company suspected foul play and refused to pay the double indemnity amount. However, the company could not prove foul play so they settled with Felix for the amount of $10,000. Despite receiving this sum shortly after his wife’s death, Felix never paid the $1,022.50 bill for Mary’s funeral.

After Mary’s death, Felix allowed Bill to live in the home of Mary’s aunt, Pat Odom, for several months. Claudia Hidalgo, Odom’s daughter, said, “Nobody knew where Felix was.” Pat Odom planned to adopt Bill. Those plans were disrupted when Odom, Hidalgo, and Bill were sitting before the television one evening and heard a knock at the door. It was Felix – who wanted his son back.

Odom was disturbed. She did not believe Mary’s death was an accident. However, Odom had no legal grounds to keep Felix from his son. Felix took Bill and they moved to Montpelier in Clay County, Mississippi, where Felix’s own parents resided. Bill was raised primarily by his paternal grandparents. Felix got a job in the nearby town of West Point.

A West Point neighbor of Felix’s, Wesley Turnage, has said that Felix referred to the dead Mary as his “ex-wife” and derided her as a “bitch.” Turnage asserts that Felix claimed his former wife wanted to have a second child but Felix “didn’t want the one [he] had.” Turnage also claims that Felix commented that he had done something to “that bitch so she would never have another one.”

Mary had written a letter on June 8, 1962, shortly before Bill was born, in which she indicated her pregnancy was unplanned. “We had been so careful and still I got pregnant,” she wrote.

Felix, with Bill, moved to California. In 1970, Felix began dating Sharon Hensley. Bill, only eight years old, went to police to tell them his father had illegal drugs in the house – and had confessed to murdering his mother, Mary Vail. Felix was arrested for illegal drug possession, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and child abuse. Bill was placed with his maternal grandparents. Felix pleaded guilty to the drug charge and was sentenced to six months in jail. California authorities reported the confession to Mississippi police but it did not make enough evidence to arrest Felix for murder.

Sharon disappeared in 1973 and none of her family or friends heard anything from her. Felix claimed in a 1974 letter that Sharon went on an around-the-world cruise with an Australian couple named John and Venessa. Felix said he burned all her identification because she told him she wanted to start fresh as a different person. In 1975, Felix’s mother wrote to someone claiming Felix had told her Sharon left with a couple named Frank and Sally.

Felix married Annette Craver, 17, in 1983. Her mother, Mary Rose, recalled, “He convinced her that I was the bad person, that she needed him, and that he needed to rescue her.” Annette Craver’s friend Nicky Clay had a low opinion of Felix. According to Clay, “Felix had so much anger. He was very controlling.” Clay added that Felix was a negative influence on Annette. “She was such a vibrant, lively person,” Clay remembered. “After she was with Felix, that brightness and joy vanished from her being.”

When Annette turned 18, she received more than $98,000 in life insurance from the policy on her father, who had died years earlier. Felix and she went to a bank in San Antonio, Texas to withdraw those funds. Charley Project reports that, with the money, they “paid off Felix’s loans, bought a car, and deposited $36,000 in the bank, leaving $41,000 in cash.”

Annette went to her mother’s house in April 1984. Mary Rose, formerly Mary Craver, says, “She said [Felix] tried to hit her in the face. She dodged and he hit the wall.” Annette started to share alfalfa sprouts from her garden with her mother but then appeared to think twice about it. Mary Rose states, “She told me, ‘I don’t make any decisions without talking to Felix.’”

Felix and Annette went on vacation but Felix alone returned in October 1984. Felix claimed Annette went to visit friends in Denver, Colorado. Mary Rose reported Annette to police as a missing person on October 22, 1984. When police questioned Felix, his story changed. He said Annette took a bus from St. Louis, Missouri to Mexico. This might have seemed plausible since she had previously visited Mexico. However, as is true of those close to Sharon, none of Annette’s family members or friends have heard of her since her disappearance.

In 1987, Felix dated Beth Field. In December of that year, an infuriated Felix brutally beat Beth, blacking both her eyes and shattering an eardrum. A year later, he showed up drunk at her house. She said he was “angry about my imagined promiscuity.” She sought an emergency protective order. A judge granted it.

In 1993, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) started investigating Felix as a possible serial murderer because it is statistically so unlikely that one person would have a wife die under suspicious circumstances and both a wife and a girlfriend disappear. However, the FBI closed its investigation in 1994 without amassing adequate evidence for an arrest.

Bill died in 2009 of cancer. Before he died, he recorded a video statement of what he said his father had said about murdering Mary Vail.

In 2012, investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell, whose articles have been quoted here, wrote a series of pieces on the case for Mississippi’s The Clarion-Ledger. At the newspaper’s request, famous pathologist Dr. Michael Baden examined Mary Vail’s autopsy report. He concluded her death was a homicide. Mitchell writes that Baden “said the large bruises with bleeding into tissues on the left side of the neck suggest she suffered neck trauma before entering the water. There are also hemorrhagic bruises to the right calf and left leg above the knee, consistent with a struggle, he said. The scarf in her mouth suggests traumatic asphyxia before entering the water.” Baden stated, “Somebody had to put that scarf into her mouth. She had to have that scarf wedged in her mouth before she went in the water.” Felix was living in Mississippi at the time and Mitchell sought to interview him. Then Felix, like the women he’d been with, disappeared.

Felix Vail has a peculiar talent with vanishing. Let us hope that law enforcement agencies will demonstrate an even greater skill in finding him and his probable victims.

Update 05/21/2013: Felix Vail has been arrested in Canyon Lake, Texas. He is charged with 2nd degree murder in the death of his first wife Mary. 

 

Mitchell’s series on Vail, titled “Gone,” is now available on Amazon and iTunes. 

 

 

Sources on following page. 

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