After a decade spent researching serial murder, Enzo Yaksic founded the Serial Homicide Expertise and Information Sharing Collaborative. Enzo and his team contributed their expertise to the investigation of Felix Vail, 74, as a serial murder suspect.
Five decades before Louisiana became the setting for Nic Pizzolatto’s True Detective, the bayou served as the backdrop for another serial killer’s quest for domination, degradation and control.
Officials believe Felix Vail's first murder was in 1962. The victim was his wife, Mary, and the motive was her pregnancy, the second of their union. But his wife’s death was ruled a boating accident because Vail, like the killer in True Detective, was aided by a peripheral political connection: the late District Attorney, Frank Salter Jr., declined to prosecute Vail, a family friend, for Mary Horton Vail’s drowning death in Lake Charles.
Despite the similarities, Vail differed from the killer in True Detective in at least one crucial way, and it likely was the reason he was able to operate in plain sight for so long: he wasn’t a flaunter, baiting authorities with showy acts of violence. He kept his belief in his superiority and his ruthless pursuit of his needs above everyone else’s to himself, self-aware enough to realize that a well-honed veneer of normalcy would help him exploit others and attain his goals.
That worked for him, until decades later when an FBI analyst detected a common denominator among several missing and dead women in Louisiana: Felix Vail.
My exposure to Vail began in October 2012 when Jerry Mitchell, an investigative reporter for the Jackson, Mississippi newspaper The Clarion-Ledger, asked for my help. Mitchell was working on an in-depth article on Vail, and hoped I could connect him with the FBI analyst who first suspected Vail of being a serial killer back in 1993. The analyst had retired, but Mitchell and I began to confer about the case with current FBI MCS (Major Case Specialist) Wayne Koka and BAU (Behavior Analysis Unit) Chief Armin Showalter. Showalter reached out to local authorities in Louisiana, and they promptly reopened Mary Vail’s case. A reexamination of the evidence, including a bruise on the back of Mary Vail’s head and the presence of a scarf in her mouth, led to Felix Vail’s arrest for murder on May 17, 2013.
I dubbed his arrest “the oldest serial killer suspect case in U.S. history.”
Since Jerry Mitchell suspected Vail of the 1973 and 1984 disappearances of his longtime girlfriend Sharon Hensley and another wife, Annette Craver Vail, we continued to delve into his past. We consulted with Dr. Henry Lee about DNA evidence, contacted Thomas A. DiBiase and the folks at NamUs about other no-body murder prosecutions, reached out to a jewelry expert to identify earrings that Vail retained, and even emailed the Internet Adult Film Database to inquire about a triple X film in which Vail may have participated.
During several visits to his residence, private investigator Gina Frenzel surreptitiously audio recorded Vail and photographed thousands of pages from his journals. It is from the analysis of Vail’s utterances and the content of his writings that the following vignette is offered. Since we are not psychiatrists, this evaluation is based strictly on how Vail compares to previous offenders in the Radford Serial Killer Database. A trove of this magnitude of a serial killer suspect’s intimate thoughts has never been available for examination. For that reason, it is difficult to approximate exactly how Vail fits into the grander spectrum of serial homicide offenders.
Vail, a detached observer, refers to himself primarily as a scientist studying the anatomy of the ego; an entity whose mission is to overtake our electrical life force, or spirit, which is labeled as the limiting factor of the human species. Intending to triumph over the ego by subverting and then neutralizing it, Vail hopes to reach a state of “free brain awareness” where total autonomy, self-governance and spiritual enlightenment can be attained. Suppression of the ego requires isolation, discipline and focus, he believes, as one must instruct the mind to overcome bodily functions like breathing and hunger. Through periods of fasting, “elimination,” “simplification” and the “ceasing of verbalization,” all toxins can be purged and unwanted aspects abandoned.
The undercurrent of eccentric flair that Vail exudes is accented by his existential leanings and esoteric beliefs. Vail is handicapped by a preference for abstract thought, an immensely inflated sense of self-worth and a tendency towards megalomania. He boasts about a range of abilities that have surpassed those of his peers from an early age, granted by being privy to the brain’s remaining “ninety-percent.” Vail evidently places a high degree of importance on intelligence, considering it a cherished attribute. His desire to tap into the consciousness of strangers to access information within their minds signifies his lifelong quest for absolute omniscience. To anticipate underlying motives, Vail has conducted body language research and has become a student of psychology; measuring and profiling in an effort to determine when the truth is falsified. For him, the worst thing is the world is to be undermined.
The strangeness of the adult world, namely the distinction between what is thought and what is spoken, has confused Vail from a young age. This dissonance manifested as a schism between intellect and emotion and an inclination to understand the concept of dualism that has dominated his existence and decisions. It upsets Vail that we are “in and out of synchronicity” with ourselves. While discussing Waiting for the Galactic Bus and The Little Prince, two works that describe extraterrestrials’ observations of the human condition, Vail highlights his disdain for the mainstream and reflects upon the parallels of his journey with those of the characters in the stories.
Vail takes pride in thinking “outside the social parameters” to which others are programmed. Ignoring “social ethics” and “religious morality” affords him the ability to realize his ultimate potential. Fitting into the social order is hampering, according to Vail, and requires putting the mind “in neutral.” He cares not for what is deemed permissible by society and openly disregards the illegality of his prior actions. Although Vail relishes his outsider status, he’s keenly aware that perception is afforded more attention than actuality. To avoid sending “red flags,” he pretends to be influenced by the disapproval of others, thriving on the cons that he perpetuates.
As humans are amalgams of environmental and situational occurrences, some events have impacted Vail’s capacity to maintain enduring relationships. Growing up on a farm with sharecroppers and orderlies instilled in Vail a penchant for dehumanization and the opinion that some are subhuman. As no woman could equal him emotionally, mentally, or spiritually, they existed merely to be used. The search for a “mother substitute” for his son during their travels was based specifically on what she could provide. Vail admits to a sexual addiction and claims to have slept with “hundreds and hundreds” of women. In reminiscing about trading “electrical energy” with his mother during nursing, Vail demonstrates that his view of normal sexual relations was warped from childhood.
While awaiting his trial, Vail is undoubtedly contemplating the paradoxical nature of recent happenings. The image of a supreme being yearning for complexity has now been forcibly juxtaposed with the fallible man undone by weakness.
One final note: Felix Vail was the last person to be with Mary Craver Rose's daughter, Annette Craver. For 30 years, Mary has never given up her belief that her 19-year-old daughter’s killer would be brought to justice.
Now, Mary needs our help so that she can attend Felix Vail's trial. Mary will most likely testify now that evidence concerning her daughter has been deemed admissible.
Mary's tenacity and all of her investigative work eventually led her and authorities to the families of the two other women, and many connected with the case have hailed her as the person responsible for bringing Vail to justice because of her persistence.
Whatever money remains after Mary deducts her travel expenses will be donated to the New England Learning Center for Women in Transition for a fund for women who are battered and abused and their families.