Tonight Investigation Discovery is airing a 20/20 episode looking at the case of Felix Vail, who was found guilty in 2016 of killing his first wife Mary Horton nearly 54 years earlier.
Mary was thought to have drowned while the couple were boating on Louisiana’s Calcasieu River on October 28, 1962. Vail is now 76 and had pleaded not guilty to the charge of murder.
Vail’s story is that he swerved the boat to avoid a stump in the water, but Mary fell into the river and he couldn’t save her. Her body was discovered two days later.
The prosecutor in the present-day case, Hugo Holland, said that Vail was “either the most unlucky human being who has lived since Job, or he’s a killer that learned from his mistakes”.
At the time, the coroner ruled that Mary’s death was accidental, but local law enforcement had their doubts.
Vail had taken out two life insurance policies on Mary shortly before her death — with a combined value of $500,000 in today’s money.
A grand jury investigation was started in 1963, but the district attorney stopped the probe and the case with no explanation. The court records don’t tell us why this happened.
To add to the intrigue, Vail has also been linked to the disappearances of two other women, Sharon Hensley and Annette Vail (the latter being Vail’s second wife).
Annette’s mother Mary Rose has spent over 20 years trying to find out what happened to her daughter.
She found an ally in investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell, who was then on a quest to find out what happened to Mary Vail, and some of the pieces of the puzzle of Mary’s death started to come together.
Mitchell learned that a private citizen had kept gruesome photos of Mary Vail on the night her body was pulled out of the river.
The photos were given to forensic experts, who recognised that the position of Mary’s body and the oil stains on her clothes were not consistent with an accident.
There was a bruise on the back of her head and a scarf had been pushed about four inches into her mouth.
Shortly afterwards, people began to share their stories with Mitchell and the case against Vail got stronger and stronger.
This chilling tale sees a murderer finally being brought to justice, although the disappearances of Annette Vail and Sharon Hensley are still unsolved, despite firm belief that Vail was linked to their deaths.
20/20, The Last One to See Them, airs tonight at 8/7c on Investigation Discovery.