Comal County, Texas, deputies arrest Mississippi native and slaying suspect Felix Vail in Canyon Lake, Texas. Louisiana authorities have charged Vail with murder in the 1962 drowning of his wife, Mary Horton Vail. / The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger
CANYON LAKE, Texas -- More than a half century after his wife drowned in a Louisiana lake, Mississippi native Felix Vail is now facing a murder charge in her death - making his case the oldest prosecution of a serial killer suspect in U.S. history.
Authorities arrested Vail on Friday in Canyon Lake.
The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger, after an investigation that began in May 2012, detailed the peculiar circumstances surrounding the drowning of Mary Horton Vail and the fate of other women who crossed Vail's path. The Nov. 11 report prompted authorities to reopen the investigation.
Undercover Comal County, Texas, deputies waited outside Felix Vail's home in Canyon Lake for authorities from Louisiana, where Mary Vail drowned on Oct. 28, 1962, to arrive and arrest him. However, Vail left in his truck for town and was arrested at the post office.
A Comal County deputy told Vail as he put the handcuffs on him at about 5:15 p.m. Friday that he didn't know what it was about.
"I know what it's about," Vail replied.
Vail, 73, was the last known person to see three women alive - Mary Vail; his longtime girlfriend Sharon Hensley, who disappeared in 1973; and another wife, Annette Craver Vail, who disappeared in 1984.
An investigation by the Calcasieu Parish (La.) Sheriff's Department and district attorney's office in Lake Charles, La., led to Vail's arrest.
"What a birthday present," said Mary Vail's brother, Will Horton, when he was contacted about Vail's arrest. Horton's birthday is Sunday.
"He's getting what he deserves," Horton said. "Over the years, the freak fortune of fate has benefited him."
At the time of his wife's drowning, Felix Vail told authorities she had accidentally fallen out of a boat into the Calcasieu River in Lake Charles after he steered to avoid a stump. He told them he was laying trotlines.
Authorities held Vail for questioning, but he was released a few days later.
In January 1963, Calcasieu Parish grand jurors heard evidence against Vail, but then-District Attorney Frank Salter didn't let them consider a murder indictment.
After analyzing the autopsy of Mary Vail, renowned New York pathologist Dr. Michael Baden told The Clarion-Ledger he believed foul play took place.
That autopsy showed she had large bruises with bleeding into tissues on the left side of the neck, which suggests she suffered forceful neck trauma before entering the water, Baden said.
There are also bruises to the right calf and left leg above the knee, consistent with a struggle before her submersion, he said.
Authorities also found a scarf around her neck that extended 4 inches into her mouth, which suggests traumatic asphyxia before entering the water, he said.
This is the first time Vail has been charged with murder in connection with any of the women's deaths.
"It's been a long time coming. That family has suffered for many, many years," said Calcasieu Parish District Attorney John Derosier. "This process is just beginning, but hopefully this will give the family some closure."
Allen Horton Jr., Mary Vail's 80-year-old brother, wept when he heard the news of Vail's arrest.
"I wish my sister, mother and father were here to see this. However, I'm confident that they are very aware of what's happening," he said.
Enzo Yaksic, founder of the Serial Homicide Expertise and Information Sharing Collaborative, said Vail's arrest marks the oldest of a serial killer suspect in the nation's history.
He said Dennis Rader - known as the "BTK Killer" and now serving 10 life sentences in Kansas - was arrested 31 years after his crimes.
Starting in spring 2012, The Clarion-Ledger left Vail repeated voice-mail messages asking for comment, but Vail did not respond.
In fall 2012, he sold his property in Montpelier in Clay County and disappeared. The newspaper tracked him down to Canyon Lake.
In January, Calcasieu Parish deputies questioned Vail, who refused to talk about the women.
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Read the original story: 50 years later, man arrested in wife's death