The haunting

To the grief of his children and his wife's family, Walker Railey is resurrecting his story

Michael Pezzulli wasn't terribly surprised when NBC called him two months ago looking for Walker Railey. After all, the Dallas civil trial lawyer has had his share of high-profile clients.

There was, for example, the time he represented Lee Harvey Oswald's widow in her quest to exhume her husband's body. A British author had come up with the rather unusual theory that a Soviet agent, not Oswald, was buried at Rose Hill Burial Park in Fort Worth. And though the Brit failed to get a judge to give him permission to check out his hunch, when Marina Oswald Porter subsequently took up the cause, her lawyer, Pezzulli, eventually got the go-ahead to dig.

Now that attracted some media attention.
Pezzulli says the whole 1981 episode was pretty unsavory. So much so that when he and the pathologists were standing around the metal gurney at Baylor University Medical Center surveying what was left of the man who had killed President John F. Kennedy, Pezzulli made the executive decision not to divulge all the gory details to the press. "I didn't want to gross anybody out," he says.

But what the heck. It has been 15 years. And, besides, it seems like a far more appropriate way to remember the guy.

"It was very bizarre," Pezzulli says. "The body was 80-percent skeletonized. You could literally reach over and scrape the flesh off his arm. It had turned to soap. We cut his head off at C-2--cervical vertebrae two--at the neck, so we could pull the jawbone out. All the nerves were still intact. Then we picked up all the teeth and glued the teeth back into his jaw with Elmer's Glue. So it was an Elmer's Glue deal."

Momentarily caught off guard by all this delicious, disgusting detail--this was, after all, coming from a lawyer, a typically cryptic breed--all I can think to ask next is: "So, how did it smell?"

"Oh, yeah," Pezzulli says. "It stunk." Then he thinks of something else. "His hair was still there. On a skeleton face."

But the strangest thing, Pezzulli says, was what was on one of Oswald's skeleton fingers. "He was wearing a ruby ring--a ruby stone." (Get it--ruby ring?) "Nobody knew why. I directed the pathologists not to discuss that. One story was that Marina put it on him. I never confirmed that, and I never asked."

Well, considering all that--considering what NBC in New York could have been calling about--it's certainly understandable why Pezzulli considered it almost a big yawn that some TV producer was interested in talking to Walker Railey. (To be honest, I caught myself thinking, talking to Pezzulli last week, that if Railey is ever dug up posthumously, there will be no chance of finding hair atop that skeleton face.)

Pezzulli is the lawyer who--for no fee, he says--helped Railey get divorced, file for bankruptcy, and execute various other attempts to avoid the stiff $18-million default judgment that his former in-laws obtained against him in 1989 for maiming their daughter, they say, while trying to kill her. Since that endeavor is still ongoing, NBC folks figured correctly that they could find Railey through Pezzulli. When they got Pezzulli on the phone, they told him that Dateline NBC wanted to do one of its hourlong shows about Railey's criminal trial.

Yeah, that's right--that 3-year-old, rarely-talked-about-anymore criminal trial of our rarely-talked-about-anymore former Dallas preacher with the big-breast-and-blonde-hair fixation that eventually got him indicted for trying to murder his plain-Jane wife.

You remember the story: Railey was a rising religious star--pastor of the 5,000-member First United Methodist Church in downtown Dallas. Married to an accomplished organist, and the father of two young children, Railey seemed to have it all--until his wife, Peggy, was found nearly choked to death in the garage of the couple's northeast Dallas home in April 1987, leaving her in a persistent vegetative state that she will never recover from.

Railey quickly became the main suspect--particularly when it was revealed to police that at the time of the attack he was having a torrid love affair with a luscious local psychologist and minister's daughter named Lucy Papillon. Five years after the attack--after Railey had dumped his kids, divorced his wife, and moved to California, where Papillon also moved--he was indicted for attempted murder. But thanks to a tough case that was absolutely mangled by the Dallas County District Attorney's Office, Railey was acquitted in a trial in San Antonio in April 1993.

Ancient history--or so we thought.
Perhaps NBC was intrigued by that O.J. thing--you know, high-profile guys who get busted for brutalizing their wives and then get away with it. Or perhaps New York is simply three years behind the curve on our stock in trade in Texas: titillating tales about extremely twisted people. Or maybe--and this would be any Dallasite's first guess--Railey initiated the story because he simply needed a healthy dose of money, or attention, or both.

Well, it's none of the above.
New Yorkers apparently just think the story of Walker Railey is exceptionally fascinating and--lucky for them--the most fascinating person in it is inexplicably willing to vomit up the whole, sordid, sickening mess of raw sewage that is the Walker Railey story.

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