Man On Trial For Decades-Old Deaths Of His Partners


One of the oldest cold cases in U.S. history is now being tried in Louisiana.

In October 1962, the body of 22-year-old Mary Horton Vail was recovered from a river near Lake Charles, Louisiana, reports The Washington Post. The death was ruled an accident, but the woman’s family remained suspicious. They say her husband, Felix Vail, was responsible for the mysterious death.

In 1973, Vail’s girlfriend Sharon Hensley went missing, as did his second wife, Annette Craver, in 1984. Neither woman has been found, and their disappearances remain mysteries to authorities.

Prosecutors are now linking the three unsolved cases in a trial that began in August 2016. After a private investigation into the death of Mary Horton Vail produced additional details of the incident, Vail, now 76, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder.

While Vail is only being tried in the case of one death, prosecutors will also introduce evidence tying him to the later disappearances, according to the Clarion-Ledger.

The Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that this evidence is allowable under the “doctrine of chances,” a legal concept derived from a 1915 murder case that suggests that the more times a defendant is involved in an unusual or suspicious event, the less likely it is that they occurred by chance.

Vail was first arrested shortly after his first wife’s death, at which time he was questioned by authorities and gave an official statement. In 1963, a grand jury ruled that there was insufficient evidence to put Vail on trial, and the case went cold.

Public defender Andrew Casanave says there is still not enough evidence to try the case, pointing out that none of the officials that investigated the case in 1963 are still alive, according to CBS News. Nearly all the records of that investigation, including witness statements and photographs, have been lost in the five decades since.

“The claim that there is evidence on which to prosecute is an insult to those good people who are now gone,” he said in a statement.

Vail was most recently arrested in 2013 after a private investigation uncovered additional evidence in the 1963 case. Prosecutors say this evidence includes new coroner’s evidence that rules the death a homicide. Prosecutors will also introduce testimony from Mary Horton Vail’s family, who dispute the defendant’s account of the night of the woman’s death.

Sources: The Washington Post (2), Clarion-Ledger, CBS / Photo credit: Scott Clause/Clarion-Ledger

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