LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Mary Horton Vail was a young wife, mother, and school teacher who had the world at her fingertips, but in 1962 the homecoming queen was found dead in the Calcasieu River.
The man at the center of the investigation, Felix Vail would remain free for the next five decades.
Convicted 54 years after her death, Felix Vail is now serving a life sentence in Angola. He spoke with KPLC’s Rhonda Kitchens. You can hear Rhonda’s interview with him during KPLC’s two-night special, Vail of Silence, which airs at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday.
“Well, she came home in early September of the year that she died,” Will Horton, Mary’s brother, said. “She died in October, and she had a closed-door session with my mama and I believe that she said she was ready to leave him. I think mom said go back and see what you can work out and she was dead before she came back, before she had a chance to come back.”
Felix told authorities Mary drowned in the Calcasieu River while the two were running trot lines.
“I went into the same spot that she went in and it started pulling me down so I was pulling with it trying to go faster to catch up and I never caught,” Vail said. “It had already taken her out deeper that I could go or deeper than I went and when I ran out of air I cam up and went down and did that until I couldn’t anymore, so that’s it. She was gone and I knew the river had her.”
Mary’s body would be located two days later. The impact of her death would last a lifetime for the couple’s son, Bill.
“I did not want to live,” Bill said. “I had been ready to go to heaven since I was a child."
Bill would die of esophageal cancer in 2009, seven years before Felix would stand trial in Mary’s murder.
“And I say to my defense attorney, I might as well get on the stand and try to tell them the truth since nobody knows the truth anyway,” Vail said. “Their head almost hit the ceiling. They got in my face yelling ‘you can’t do that. In one week we’ll be writing you in Angola.’ ”