Local woman’s push for justice in daughter’s death subject of TV show

  • Mary Rose is interviewed by Jim Avila of 20/20 about the loss of her daughter and the trial of the man accused of killing her. The story is the subject of another television show airing this month.Recorder file photo

Recorder Staff
Published: 5/24/2017 2:21:24 PM

GREENFIELD — It’s been nearly 10 months since Felix Vail, the country’s oldest suspected serial killer, was convicted of murdering his first wife and sentenced to life without parole.

For Mary Rose of Newell Court, the verdict has brought an immense sense of peace. Rose, 69, believes Vail also killed her daughter Annette Craver, in 1984 and another woman, Sharon Hensley, 11 years earlier. 

In August, Vail was convicted of the 1962 murder of his first wife, Mary Horton Vail.

“It was the best Mother’s Day I’ve had in 33 years,” Rose said. “I feel so much more at peace and so much lighter about this, even though he has never admitted any wrongdoing and likely never will. I feel like I can move on now with my life.”

On Monday, May 29, Rose’s story will appear on the Investigation Discovery show “The Real Story With Maria Elena Salinas.” The episode, called “A Mother’s Quest,” airs at 10 p.m. It will air again June 4 at 9 a.m.

Rose has been pursuing justice for her missing daughter for decades, ever since she learned that Vail’s first wife died while boating with him in the Calcasieu River in 1962. Vail claimed his wife fell out of the boat while fishing; her death was ruled an accidental drowning. However, authorities revisited the case when, nearly 50 years later, a newspaper reporter wrote a 9,000-word story on Vail and the suspicion around the death and disappearances of his wives. An autopsy report showed Mary Horton Vail had a 4-inch bruise on the back of her neck and a scarf stuffed 4 inches into her mouth. Vail had also purchased a life insurance policy on his wife just months earlier.

It was Rose’s dogged pursuit of Vail that brought the case to the reporter’s attention, and ultimately, to criminal investigators.

Rose flew to Miami, Fla., in November to be interviewed for the show. The prosecuting attorney in the case and Jerry Mitchell, the investigative reporter for The Clarion-Ledger who wrote the story that helped lead to Vail’s arrest, were also interviewed, as well as the brothers of the two other women.

“It’s going to be the whole group of us that were affected by this,” Rose said. 

At first, she said she was on the fence about whether to participate, but the show’s producers convinced her. She hasn’t seen the episode yet, but said Salinas was tough on her during the interview.

“I’m nervous and I’m looking forward to how they handled it,” she said. “She was really tough on me in the interview about my choices.”

In particular, she said Salinas scrutinized her for letting her daughter leave with Vail at such a young age. 

Vail was in his early 40s and Rose’s daughter just 16 and already a high school graduate when they met in Houston, Texas. The two began dating after Rose and her daughter moved to Tulsa, Okla. The pair traveled across the country and to Mexico and Central America.

“She thought she was in love with him, and I trusted her. She was very, very bright,” Rose previously told The Recorder, adding her daughter was an adventurer and it would’ve be difficult to stop her from leaving. “If I had been more mature, I would’ve suspected that there was something up because he was so much older, and she had money.”

Craver’s father died several years earlier and she was due to receive a large life insurance settlement when she turned 18.

The pair married when Craver was 17. When Craver turned 18, she withdrew more than $98,000 in life insurance money and used some to pay off Vail’s loans. In the fall of 1984, after Craver had deeded her house over to Vail, the couple told neighbors they were going on vacation. Vail returned alone.

Rose said over the years, as she pursued Vail, she often grappled with the difference between justice and revenge.

“It wasn’t about revenge, it was about justice for the families — all of us,” she said. “That seemed important to me because I’d grappled with that through the years — what my motivations were, why am I so adamant about making him accountable? I realized the value of it, certainly for me, it’s given me a lot of peace, and same for the other two families.”


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