On the evening of Oct. 28, 1962, Vail pulled up on the beach in Lake Charles, La., telling authorities that his wife, Mary, had accidentally fallen out of the boat and drowned in the Calcasieu River.
While the coroner ruled the death an accidental drowning, deputies weren’t so convinced.
They discovered Vail took out two separate life insurance policies on his wife, Mary, months before she died. One promised to double the payout in case her death was accidental.
Despite insurance companies paying him $10,000 in a settlement, he paid nothing toward her funeral, headstone and burial.
In 2012, The Clarion-Ledger shared her autopsy report with pathologist Dr. Michael Baden, who concluded her death was a homicide. He pointed to the hematoma on the back on her head, bruises on her legs and a scarf 4 inches into her mouth.
Louisiana authorities charged Vail with her murder seven months later.
Although her nephew, Allen Horton III, never knew his aunt, he and his family revered her.
He said Monday that the lack of justice in his aunt’s death ate at his family’s soul, “which I am confident led to my grandparents’ early deaths.”
He told Vail that although his “ruthless, unforgivable actions in 1962 gave you …satisfaction, in reality, you were not so successful.”
Over the past four years, he said many kind people have shared their memories, enabling him and other family members to see “flickers of Mary. … Your conviction established my aunt’s immortal presence in all of us.”
He said his father, Allen Jr., is leaving the courtroom, knowing “this long ordeal has finally ended. No, he has not gotten the answers he needs or wants — none of the three families has. But at least our dad knows that his sister’s death has been publicly confirmed a murder rather than a mere, common accident.”
He told Vail, “We are all at peace, Felix — a feeling you will never have. And I look forward to that day when I will meet my aunt.”
Vail shook his head and smiled.
Will Horton spoke about how much he loved his sister, Mary, and how special she was to everyone who knew her, including her son, Bill, who was only 3 months old when Mary died.
“You say you love Bill,” he said, “but by depriving him of his mother, you devastated him, too.”
Bill Vail suffered a number of health problems, and before he died of cancer in 2009, he talked on tape about overhearing his father saying he killed his mother.
Because he wasn’t cross-examined, that tape wasn’t admissible at last month’s weeklong trial.
But prosecutors were permitted to introduce evidence of the two women’s disappearances. The Louisiana Supreme Court allowed the evidence under the doctrine of chances.
Felix Vail wrote letters to the families of Sharon Hensley and Annette Vail after their disappearances. In each, he insisted the women had gone away because they wanted to disappear, start over and leave their pasts behind.
Sharon’s brother, Brian Hensley, and Annette’s mother, Mary Rose, who each testified at trial, were unable to attend Monday, but sent statements addressed to Vail. Those statements were submitted to the district attorney, but were not read.
In the courtroom, Will Horton told Vail, “You are a killer, and you are headed to the place where killers deserve to go, Angola, and God will direct you after that.”