Felix Vail has been suspected of snuffing out the lives of his wives for many years, dating back to the 1962 drowning of his first wife, Mary Horton Vail, mere months after she gave birth to their son, Billy. She was only 22-years-old. Subsequently, Vail’s girlfriend Sharon Hensley, whom he considered a common law wife, disappeared after he allegedly admitted to her that he had killed Mary. His second wife, Annette Craver Vail, also vanished without a trace. Decades later, the disappearance of both women remain a mystery.
Mary Horton Vail, The First Wife
Mary Horton married Felix Vail on July 1, 1961. The couple’s son, Billy, was born a year after their wedding. Shortly thereafter, on October 28, 1962, Mary accompanied her husband on a boating and fishing expedition which ended in tragedy, reports CBS News. Mary Vail reportedly fell out of the boat into the Calacasieu River and drowned, though Felix claims he tried to save her.
At the time, the newly widowed man was arrested, but the death of his first wife was ruled an accidental drowning.
A 2012 article in the Clarion-Ledger connected the dots surrounding the women in Felix Vail’s life, linking the death and two disappearances. In each case, Felix was the last person to have seen any of the women alive. In the article, a pathologist was said to believe the photos of Mary after the drowning indicated homicide rather than an accidental drowning. He referenced bruises on her neck and legs, and in an extremely odd finding, noted that four inches of the scarf she wore was in her mouth.
This caught the interest of Terry Welke, a forensic pathologist and Calcasieu Parish coroner. According to ABC News, the photographs from the 1962 death led Welke to state that, in his professional opinion, Mary Horton Vail had been murdered. Apparently, when one drowns, the body is found face down with arms at the side. In Mary’s case, her body was stiff, in a face-up position, and her arms were crossed.
Testifying in court, Welke said he is very familiar with details of death, both drowning and otherwise. His case load generally includes about 10 drowning deaths a year.
“I’m familiar with what happens when people drown, and I’m familiar with what happens when people die.”
— KPLC (@KPLC7News) July 29, 2016
Sharon Hensley, The Girlfriend/Common Law Wife
Felix Vail met Sharon Hensley when she was 20. He was 10 years her senior. According to the Redding Record Searchlight, the couple collected Billy Vail from Felix’s parents’ house, where the boy had been living, and took him to California. They basically lived on the streets, eating little and delving into the world of marijuana and LSD.
Billy Vail, who lost a battle with cancer in 2009, said his dad made him take drugs.
“He thought it would enlighten my mind. I didn’t like it.”
When Billy was 8-years-old, his life changed forever. He said his dad would sometimes talk about the day Mary had died.
“[He said] he and my mother were out fishing … that a boat had come by and caused a big wave and knocked my mother out of the boat and she didn’t know how to swim, had on no flotation and immediately sank and drowned. My father said he almost died trying to rescue her.”
But Billy overheard a conversation between Felix and Sharon that would wound him to his very soul.
“He told her that he had murdered my mother. I heard the girlfriend saying, ‘Oh, I know you just must feel responsible for it.’ … He said, ‘No, you don’t understand. I really did kill her.'”
“I was just so angry with my father. He was actually a good father in many ways, but still how do I reconcile what I’ve just heard? I couldn’t.”
Billy walked to a town two miles away to reach the police department and turn Felix in for his mother’s murder.
“At first, they didn’t believe me, just kind of shooed me out, said, ‘Yeah, kid, go away,’ but I was committed. I was not going to take ‘no’ for an answer.”
The cops caught up with the couple, finding them with LSD. Billy was able to return home to his grandparents’ house and finish his childhood in the safety of their love.
In 1973, 11 years after Felix Vail’s first wife died, Sharon Hensley disappeared. He wrote her family a letter with a story that didn’t quite sit right with Sharon’s brother, Brian.
“When I saw Sharon last was about a year ago in Key West. We met this couple from Australia who had a boat they were traveling and living on (about 35 or 40 ft. I think). I didn’t hear their last names or have the occasion to ask if the boat was registered to either of them. If the boat had a name I didn’t see it or hear it mentioned.”
“Anyway, they (John and Venessa) invited us to marry them and sail around with them. Sharon wanted to and I didn’t. They seemed like nice loving people but I wanted to wait until we could get our own boat. She seemed to think that I was too much of a straight country boy to ‘evolve’ at her speed so she decided to leave me. She also said she was going to try to forget me, her family, and everybody else that she knew so she could become a new person, clean and free from memory associations.”
However, Billy recalled a time when his father told them that Sharon “would never bother anyone ever again.”
“There was not a soul I could tell about it because I had had my experience in court when I was 8 … No one would believe me. It would be my word against his, and no one would believe a 13-year-old.”
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) July 30, 2016
Annette Craver Vail, The Third Wife
The Recorder reports that Annette Vail’s disappearance occurred in much the same way as Sharon’s. Annette married Felix Vail when she was 17-years-old. She inherited nearly $100,000 when she turned 18 in 1984. She used a chunk of the money to pay Felix Vail’s loans, signed her house over to her husband, and they departed on a fairy tale vacation.
However, Annette was not with Felix when he returned from vacation. She disappeared 11 years after Felix’s common law wife also vanished. Her mother, Mary Rose, believed the man had murdered Annette, so she went to visit his sister. After learning of Vail’s first two wives, she was even more convinced he had killed her daughter. Contacting Sharon Hensley’s mother, she was dumbfounded to hear almost the exact same story as Felix shared about Annette.
“She thought she was in love with him, and I trusted her. She was very, very bright. If I had been more mature, I would’ve suspected that there was something up because he was so much older, and she had money.”
Mary Rose contacted the journalist who wrote the story for the Clarion-Ledger, leading to the arrest of Felix Vail.
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) August 3, 2016
— Chivas Sandage (@ChivasSandage) August 10, 2016
Felix Vail is currently on trial for the murder of all of his wives. For continuous updates, check out #FelixVail on Twitter.
[Photo by Uncredited/Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office/AP Images]