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Sharon Hensley / The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger

JACKSON, Miss. -- Authorities are testing DNA from a woman's skull found in a Florida orange grove four decades ago to see if the unidentified remains may be that of Sharon Hensley, who disappeared in 1973

Felix Vail, a 74-year-old Mississippi native who is charged with killing another woman, called Hensley his wife and is the last known person to be with Hensley.

In a March 20, 1973, letter to his mother, Vail wrote that days earlier he had sent Hensley and an unnamed man "off to the ocean and each other with my good wishes and blessings."

A year later, Vail wrote a letter to Hensley's mother, saying that he was in west Florida and that the last time he saw Hensley, she was in Key West, where she was leaving to travel the world with an Australian couple named "John and Venessa."

In 1975, Vail told his mother that Hensley had left with a coupled named "Frank and Sally."

On Sept. 23, 1975, Hillsborough County, Fla., authorities found a skull in an orange grove near a cemetery in Thonotosassa, not far from Tampa.

A pathologist determined the skull was that of a white woman between the ages of 17 and 25. Hensley was 24.

A forensic artist did a drawing based on a reconstruction of her face. Hensley's brother, Brian, noted that "the jaw and cheekbones are very similar" to Hensley's.

He contacted a deputy who telephoned the FBI on Wednesday about testing the DNA of the unidentified woman in Florida.

In addition to Hensley, Vail is also the last known person to be with his first wife, Mary, who died in 1962, and another wife, Annette, who disappeared in 1984 and is presumed dead.

In 2012, The Clarion-Ledger began publishing stories on Vail, quoting an expert who concluded there was foul play in the death of Mary Vail.

Authorities in Lake Charles, La., reopened the case and arrested Vail a year ago on a murder charge. No date has been set for his trial, which would mark the oldest prosecution of a suspected serial killer in U.S. history.

In a recent letter, Vail told private investigator Gina Frenzel he is being railroaded by "slanderous lies from hearsay witnesses coached by people who want their 15 minutes of fame."

In letters he wrote and conversations he had with Frenzel, Vail talked of traveling with Hensley and surviving off "live food" that included oranges from groves, grapes from vineyards and apples from orchards.

In 1970, police in California arrested Vail for LSD possession and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Vail's 8-year-old son, Bill, told police he overheard his father say to his girlfriend that he had killed Mary, his first wife and the mother of his son.

That girlfriend was Hensley, whom Vail blamed for the arrest.

"I'm not married anymore," he wrote his mother, "and although she has just been gone 2 days my thinking is starting to clear from the clouds that were in her mind. I saw them there from the time she got us busted in California and I thought I could get her clear but I've given up the experiment (with her anyway) so now I can begin training full time."

Vail told his mother: "One more thing about my last wife (for your own information and in case her folks inquire). She met a man who has a boat and although he invited us both, I convinced them I have more pressing things to do at the moment, and so, I sent them off to the ocean and each other with my good wishes and blessings (and, I might add, all to my great relief)."

"

After his travels, he returned to Mississippi, this time without Hensley.

Vail told Bill that Hensley would "never bother him again," according to a recording the son did with his pastor before Bill Vail's death in 2009.

Vail blamed what his son said on "false memories."

"I have saved several people's lives," he wrote. "I have never taken any."



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Woman's skull tested for link to slaying suspect

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