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Murder Suspect’s Pattern of Missing Lovers Upheld

(CN) - The upcoming trial of a man accused of killing his wife 52 years ago can include evidence of the disappearances of his girlfriend and his second wife, a Louisiana appeals court ruled.

William Felix Vail was indicted for the 1962 murder of his wife, Mary Horton Vail, after a coroner's re-examination found that the woman did not drown accidentally but was killed.

Last year the state filed a notice that it would introduce evidence regarding the 1973 disappearance of Vail's girlfriend, Sharon Hensley, as well as the 1984 vanishing of Vail's second wife, Annette Carver-Vail.

After the trial court in Calcasieu Parrish permitted the introduction of such evidence this past March, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal held a hearing on the matter in September.

Vail maintains that Mary, his first wife, fell overboard in 1962 while they were boating on the Calcasieu River. He says he was unable to save her from drowning.

Hensley and Vail started dating after meeting in San Francisco in the late '60s, according to the ruling. The court notes that the pair was arrested for drug possession and child endangering, and that no one in Hensley's family has heard from the woman in over 40 years.

In March 1974, Vail sent Hensley's mother a letter saying he had not seen her since she boarded a sailboat with another couple the previous year to cruise the world.

After a two-year courtship, 43-year-old Vail married the 17-year-old Annette in 1983. When she turned 18, the second Mrs. Vail inherited $100,000 and some property, which she deeded over to her new husband in August 1984.

Vail claims that Annette left him $10,000 and has been living in Mexico ever since he helped her catch a bus from St. Louis, Mo., in September 1984.

His sister Sue Jordan nevertheless told investigators that Vail and Annette visited her in Lake Charles in October 1984. When Jordan saw her brother alone a few days later, he told her Annette had gone to Mexico, Jordan said Jordan has since died

Louisiana prosecutors advancing charges over Mary Vail's death say the disappearances of the three women, spaced apart in 11-year intervals, were not accidents.

As motive for getting rid of Sharon, the state notes that the couple was arrested after Vail's 8-year-old son, Billy, complained to police that he was tired of living in an orchard, eating grapes and being force-fed drugs.

Billy also told police that Vail had confessed to Sharon about murdering Mary.

Vail countered that Sharon was a rebellious hippie, and that her family did not report her missing until 2013 when prompted by the state.

The state characterized Vail's explanations of Sharon and Annette's disappearances as "shockingly similar."

"Both Sharon and Annette, who never met one another and who are separated by both time and space, decided independently of each other and independently of Felix Vail that they each needed to shed all contact with their current lives, leaving behind parents and siblings and all that they had ever known and loved, to become new people, clean and free of memory associations and to drop everyone and start over," its memorandum states.

Though Vail says that, the last he heard, Annette is doing well as a mother in Mexico, he contended that it would be extremely prejudicial for the state to introduce evidence of the other disappearances in his upcoming murder trial.

He cannot counter the evidence without proving that Sharon and Annette are alive, and that he cannot do, Vail says.

The appellate panel agreed on Nov. 5 that the state's evidence is admissible.

"We find that the lack of direct evidence that Defendant disposed of Ms. Hensley and Ms. Carver-Vail does not preclude or weigh against admission," Judge John Saunders wrote for the three-judge panel.

"To the contrary," Saunders added, "defendant's apparent lack of direct culpability weighs in favor of admission because it minimizes impermissible negative inferences about his character."

Louisiana would have to "prove by clear and convincing evidence that there were other criminal acts performed by defendant in this case that bear upon determination of the crime charged," the panel added.

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