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The Railey Case : The Brutal Attack on the Popular Pastor’s Wife and His Suicide Attempt Became Dallas’ Most Haunting and Sensational Mystery in a Decade

Associated Press

Bewildered friends and followers would recall that he looked tired and depressed, still grief-stricken and mystified over the savage assault on his wife.

Little more than a week had passed since he found her comatose on the garage floor, choked senseless and left for dead. She had not regained consciousness.

Now, in the early evening hours of April 30, 1987, the intense, balding man excused himself and disappeared into a private hospital suite.

He locked and chained the door, sat down with pen and paper and began composing a chilling letter.

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“There is a demon inside my soul,” he wrote. “It has always been there. My demon tries to lead me down paths I do not want to follow. At times that demon has lured me into doing things I do not want to do.

”. . . My demon has finally gotten the upper hand.”

When security officers broke in the next morning, they found him sprawled across the bed. He was alive but unconscious and in critical condition.

Nearby were empty bottles of prescription drugs and his rambling letter, which began with instructions for his funeral and ended thusly:

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“I have finally made the decision to take care of myself. I have grown weak. God has remained strong. Therein lies your hope. I have none.

“Walker L. Railey.”

The vicious attack on Walker Railey’s wife and his ensuing suicide attempt devastated three families, split a church and outraged a city.

For Peggy Railey was by no means an ordinary homemaker, and her husband was perhaps Dallas’ most dynamic and socially conscious young minister. At 39, Walker Railey reigned as the senior pastor of the city’s 6,000-member First United Methodist Church and loomed as a rising star in his mainstream Protestant denomination.

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The news of the suicide attempt swept through town, nowhere more devastatingly than at First Methodist, where Railey’s flock was already reeling from the attempted murder.

‘Keep Him in Our Prayers’

His chief assistant, the Rev. Gordon Casad, told the congregation the next Sunday, “We must remember our pastor and the troubling of his mind and spirit and keep him in our prayers.”

Asked if Railey was now a suspect, Park Stearns, supervisor in the Dallas FBI office, replied: “This is a big no comment.”

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Although police refused to reveal the contents of Railey’s letter, they described it as an apparent suicide note. And they redoubled their efforts to review with the convalescing minister what happened the night his wife was attacked.

A fellow pastor, the Rev. David Shawyer of Plymouth Park Methodist Church, said, “I’m praying that it is not what it looks like. I’m praying that what the police are suggesting could never be true.

“I’m praying this will all come out some other way.”

Latest Twist in Mystery

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Railey’s attempt on his own life was only the latest twist in what would be called Dallas’ most haunting and sensational mystery in a decade. One unrestrained commentator called the attempted murder the city’s most extraordinary crime since the assassination of President Kennedy.

Peggy Railey survived, but only barely so. Comatose, she could not identify her assailant.

Several anonymous, typewritten death threats preceded the attack, apparently provoked by Railey’s strong sermons and public statements against racial prejudice and injustice. But friends said Peggy Railey did not frighten easily, and she had encouraged her husband not to soften his stand.

The last letter was slipped under the door of a church office just prior to Easter Sunday services. It said: “EASTER IS WHEN CHRIST AROSE, BUT YOU ARE GOING DOWN.”

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Wore Bulletproof Vest

Under the stern scrutiny of security officers, Railey delivered his Easter sermon wearing a bulletproof vest beneath his robes.

It would be his last appearance in the pulpit of First Methodist’s historic old sanctuary. He hammered the congregation with a theme of death and resurrection that morning.

“You’re going to die,” he said, pointing his finger at parishioners.

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“You’re going to die,” he repeated.

“I’m going to die.”

Police and church officials first theorized that the attempt on Peggy Railey’s life was some kind of grotesque retaliation for her husband’s outspokenness.

With his wife in critical condition, Railey stationed himself outside her hospital room, interrupting his vigil only for a trip downtown to give investigators an account of his activities the night of April 21.

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Noticed Open Garage Door

He said he’d spent the evening doing research at Southern Methodist University libraries. Returning home about 12:40 a.m., he said, he noticed that a door to the darkened two-car garage was partly open.

Driving inside with his headlights on, he found his wife lying on the floor, writhing in convulsions. Her face was puffy and discolored and she was frothing at the mouth.

He said the children, Ryan, 5, and Megan, 2, were inside the house and unharmed.

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After the interview, Capt. John Holt, 37, the tall, sandy-haired supervisor of crimes against persons, told reporters the questioning was routine.

“We don’t have any indicators that would point to him as a suspect,” he said.

Arranged for Hospital Suite

Railey returned to the hospital to arrange for a suite near his wife. He spent the day greeting a parade of visitors who expressed shock, sorrow and support.

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Among those who came to share their grief that day was a striking frosted blonde who carried a single red rose and disappeared into Railey’s hospital suite.

With the investigation in full swing and the FBI trying to identify the source of the death threats, Railey continued his hospital vigil under heavy police protection.

“He’s just numb. . . . He’s overwhelmed by it,” said Ralph Shannon, a longtime church member.

If Railey was silent, his ministerial colleagues were not.

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Rabbi Joseph Ofseyer of Congregation Shearith Israel said that Railey had suffered for his message of justice and equality but that the religious community would not “be cowed into silence” and “permit such a person to stand alone.”

Almost lost or overlooked in the outcry was an observation by Police Lt. Ron Waldrop that the abusive letters appeared to be the work of one individual and not the concerted effort of a white supremacist group.

“There’s no central theme,” he added.

A short time later, the FBI determined that the death threats had been written on an office typewriter at First Methodist.

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Walker Railey’s rise to clerical prominence seemed almost preordained from his turbulent childhood days in Owensboro, Ky., a coal mining town on the south bank of the Ohio River.

The oldest of three children, Railey grew up a nonsmoker and nondrinker who delivered his first sermon at age 17 and became something of a circuit preacher while a history major at Western Kentucky University.

He attended Vanderbilt Divinity School for a year, then headed to Dallas and the Perkins Theological Seminary at Southern Methodist University.

It was there, in 1970, that he met Margaret Nicolai, an equally talented, intelligent and religiously dedicated young musician whom everyone called Peggy. She had arrived at SMU from Wisconsin to pursue a master’s degree in organ music.

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Acquaintances say Peggy recognized early on that young Walker was a man with great ambition and potential but that she was not much taken with him romantically. His persistence won her over and the couple were married in August, 1971.

After obtaining a doctor of ministry in 1973, Railey ministered to several rural churches in Oklahoma and then was appointed an associate pastor at First Methodist in Dallas. In 1980, after a stint as a senior minister at a suburban Dallas church, he returned to First Methodist as senior pastor at age 33.

Eight Ministers Became Bishops

The appointment was the most dramatic step in a meteoric rise. Although not even the largest Methodist church in Dallas, First Methodist had the reputation as the nation’s mother church of Methodism, in no small part because eight of its ministers had gone on to become bishops.

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Under Railey’s leadership, First Methodist grew and prospered, its membership approaching 6,000 and its annual budget doubling to $2 million. And although Railey himself was short, balding and physically unimposing, his radiant ministry served as a magnet for the young, energetic and socially conscious while not alienating older, more conservative parishioners.

He spoke out boldly against those who practiced or condoned racial intolerance. He clashed with a City Council member over what he perceived to be a racist stance on illegal aliens.

He challenged President Reagan to take a “more visible and articulate stand” for peace and he once said of fundamentalist Jerry Falwell, “I guarantee he doesn’t speak for the Kingdom of God, let alone the people in it.”

When the threats came, the Raileys seemed to take them in stride. The FBI encouraged Peggy Railey and the children to leave town for a while. Although she went to her parents’ home for four days, she did not seem overly concerned.

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Diane Yarrington, wife of First Methodist’s minister of music and one of Peggy Railey’s closest friends, said Peggy told her that she and Walker were taking precautions but that they refused to be intimidated.

Long before the attack, the Yarringtons and Raileys pledged to care for one another’s children in the event of tragedy.

That pledge would soon come due.

As Railey and his wife lay near death in the same intensive care unit, police were anxious to talk again with First Methodist’s senior pastor. After his first interview, police found unspecified “inconsistencies” in Railey’s account of April 21.

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Friends in the church hired a tough, no-nonsense criminal defense attorney named Doug Mulder to advise Railey, and as the minister recovered, he wasn’t talking to police.

He did, however, speak with reporters.

“To be honest with you . . . I just don’t know anything,” he told a veteran religion reporter.

Later, he told the Associated Press:

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“I didn’t attack my wife. I didn’t plan to have someone attack my wife. I didn’t orchestrate a plan to attack my wife. And if I had written the letters, I wouldn’t have written them on a typewriter in the church. But I didn’t write them.”

‘I Don’t Understand Why’

He could not rationalize his suicide attempt, which he knew was construed by some as an admission of guilt.

“I don’t understand why I did it, any more than I understand why I lived beyond it.”

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Mulder arranged for a private polygraph test, which indicated that Railey did not try to kill his wife. Presumably because of those results, Mulder approved a police-administered examination the next day. That exercise was described as “inconclusive.”

“The results showed that he didn’t have anything to do with the attack, nor did he conspire with anyone,” Mulder said.

Though Railey’s followers took new heart, investigators were unimpressed and restated the ongoing request to interview him.

Holt accused Mulder of misrepresenting the outcome of the police-administered examination. He suggested that some of Railey’s responses were “untruthful,” but refused to elaborate.

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All but overlooked in the flap over the polygraphs was an unattributed police statement that Railey’s account of his activities the night of April 21 was “in direct conflict with indisputable evidence.”

The key word was “indisputable.”

The frosted blonde with the sparkling eyes was no stranger to the congregation at First United Methodist Church. Lucy Papillon grew up in the magnificent sanctuary, the daughter of the Rev. Robert E. Goodrich Jr., a former senior pastor and later a Methodist bishop.

A portrait of Goodrich, who died in 1985, hangs in the First Methodist foyer.

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“She had that knotted Goodrich chin, his thin, drawn smile, and the dark eyes that were his most distinctive feature--eyes that seemed remote but also searching and intelligent,” journalist Larry Wright, a childhood acquaintance, wrote in Texas Monthly.

“It was a strong face, like her father’s, and if in some lights it appeared hard, in others you could detect a vulnerable and even wounded soul who had lived past the point where life surprised her.”

As a youngster, Lucy played the piano in Sunday school and was a cheerleader at an exclusive girls’ school. She entered Southern Methodist University in 1959 to pursue a degree in music education and, four years later, married a Methodist preacher. They were divorced in 1973 after she bore two sons.

Worked Variety of Jobs

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Friends say she worked at a variety of jobs, including a stint as a part-time model. Somewhere along the way she became enamored with psychology. She married and divorced again and, in 1982, received a doctorate in psychology and moved to California to complete her training. She found various jobs in her new field there and reportedly began to visit the Esalen commune.

And it was there that Lucy decided to take on her identity as “Papillon,” French for butterfly. In 1986 she opened a private psychology practice in Dallas and legally changed her name to Lucy Papillon.

On July 14, 1987, Dallas County’s chief prosecutor sat down with police and the FBI and heard for the first time all the facts of the case.

Challenged to ‘Talk or Walk’

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His face flushed with anger, his thick mustache almost bristling, Norm Kinne, 53, stormed from the meeting room into a cluster of reporters and challenged Walker Railey, as one headline proclaimed, to “talk or walk.”

Eyes flashing and his finger jabbing at the nearest of four television cameras, Kinne declared:

“I’m tired of this man fooling with the justice system and the life of his wife. . . . I’m going to tell you, Walker Railey, I’m tired of you messing with the Dallas Police Department, and you’re going to come before the Dallas County grand jury and you’re going to clear up these discrepancies, or you’re going to leave the country!”

Kinne could subpoena Railey to appear before grand jurors, but he had no way to compel him to answer questions if he invoked the constitutional protection against self-incrimination. Nor was it in the fiery prosecutor’s domain to order a reticent Railey out of the country.

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Photographs Triggered Outburst

But at that moment, nobody was foolhardy enough to argue the issue with Kinne.

Later that evening, a vaguely contrite Kinne said it was the photographs of Peggy Railey after the attack that so outraged him and triggered the outburst.

“I got irritated because we have a lady here who is a loving wife and mother and who is lying in a hospital more dead than alive,” he said. “And we have an alleged pillar of the community who will not talk to us about this.”

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Six days before Kinne’s outburst, a Dallas Morning News story linked Lucy Papillon to the Railey case, calling her a potential “reluctant witness.”

The article said mobile telephone records revealed that Railey called Papillon twice the night of the attack. Railey had neglected to mention those calls in his lengthy interview with police the morning after April 21.

Two Calls Placed to Home

Phone records also showed that Railey placed two calls to his own home between midnight and 12:30 a.m., the last one about 10 minutes before he reported finding his wife near death on the garage floor.

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Investigators refused to discuss the significance of the mobile phone records but it seemed safe to assume they somehow represented the “indisputable evidence” of inconsistencies in Railey’s story.

Later, on the eve of a grand jury meeting on the Railey case, the Morning News reported that Railey had visited Papillon the night his wife was attacked.

Inside the jury room, Kinne was eager to confront Railey, although he was certain that the embattled minister would refuse to answer questions and invoke his Fifth Amendment rights. Railey took the Fifth--43 times.

Knew Nothing About Attack

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“I have followed the advice of my lawyer consistently and will consistently do that,” Railey remarked brusquely when he emerged from the closed-door session.

Papillon spent an hour before the panel and, according to her attorney, Phil Burleson, answered every question. She knew nothing about the attack, Burleson said, and then cautioned reporters against drawing conclusions that his client was romantically linked with Railey.

But it made no difference. Leaks poured out of the grand jury room that Lucy Papillon was Walker Railey’s mistress.

According to those present, Papillon told grand jurors she first met Railey on a religious television show and they became romantically involved in June, 1986, about the same time she changed her name. She said she had accompanied Railey on several ministerial trips and had vacationed with him in California.

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Nor were their liaisons confined to this country. Papillon revealed that Railey stopped over for a prearranged rendezvous in London while returning from a World Methodist Council meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, in July, 1986.

In one particularly chilling disclosure, Lucy said they embraced and kissed in Walker’s hospital suite while Peggy lay near death nearby.

Despite the sensational revelations, the grand jury testimony raised almost as many questions as it answered. And the “indisputable evidence” remained cloaked in secrecy.

“We still have a lot of discrepancies, but we’re not going to discuss them,” said Police Lt. Waldrop. “There is no statue of limitations on attempted murder, and that’s how long we’ll be working on it.”

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Eventually, the discrepancies and the indisputable evidence did unfold.

On the night of the attack, Railey made several calls from a cellular telephone installed in his car at church expense only hours earlier as a security measure because of anonymous threats. A phone company computer recorded the times.

Railey called home at 5:55 p.m. to say he was leaving the office. At 5:58 p.m., he telephoned Papillon and talked for one minute.

Arriving home shortly before 6:30 p.m., Railey said he found his wife working on a faulty garage door lock with a bar of soap. Investigators later found no trace of soap on the lock, which was working fine.

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Railey said he sat on the hood of his wife’s Chrysler and talked with her for several minutes. He told her he intended to spend the evening on a research project at the SMU libraries. He did not change from his business suit and left the house a little after 6:30.

At 6:38 p.m., Railey, who never wore a watch, called on the car phone for the time.

He said he spent half an hour or so at SMU’s Bridwell Library and was back in his car by 7:26 p.m., at which time he phoned the family baby-sitter and discussed plans for a trip to San Antonio the Raileys planned later in the week.

At 7:32 p.m., he phoned Papillon at her home near SMU. He drove directly to her house, where he spent the next 40 minutes.

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Railey Went Back to Library

Railey told a friend later he went there to get some relaxation tapes to help relieve stress.

From 8 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., Railey was back at Bridwell, where he asked a librarian what time the library closed. At 8:30, Railey, using a pay phone, called home on a private line. Peggy Railey told him she was putting the children to bed. She then called her parents long distance in Tyler and talked from 8:49 p.m. until 9:14 p.m.

At 8:53 p.m., Raily bought gas at a Texaco station near campus. After drinking a wine cooler, he said, he returned to Fondren Library, SMU’s main library. But no one saw him there until after 11 p.m.

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At 9:30 p.m., a jogger in the Raileys’ neighborhood spotted a man in a business suit and street shoes running through a yard south of the Railey home. Between 10:15 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., a neighbor heard rustling sounds in the alley behind the home.

Tried to Leave Business Card

Sometime after 11 p.m., a librarian saw Railey at Fondren. Upon leaving at midnight, he attempted to give his business card to a student at the checkout desk. On the back of the card was a message requesting help in finding research information. Railey also noted the time, 10:30 p.m., when in fact it was midnight, the student told police.

At 12:03 a.m., Railey called home on the car phone, but this time he used the public line. According to friends, the family seldom answered the public line, which was connected to an answering machine.

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“Hi, Babe,” he said. “I’m calling you from my mobile phone. Peg, it’s about, oh, I don’t know. I don’t have a watch. It’s somewhere between 10:30 and 10:45, somewhere along in there. I worked at Bridwell until they closed and now I’m going to Fondren.”

This could not have been true. He had in fact just left Fondren, according to other accounts.

‘Lock the Garage Door’

“I’ll be in about 1. If you want to, go ahead and lock the garage door and I’ll park out front. It really doesn’t matter to me at this point. My concern is that you’re safe. . . .”

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This portion of the tape might explain why Peggy Railey would enter the garage that night. Even so, Railey would still have to explain why, if he really intended to speak with his wife, he had called on the public line and left a message.

Twenty-three minutes later, Railey phoned the answering machine again, and on this occasion gave the correct time: 12:29.

“Hi, Babe,” he began. “It’s 12:29 and I’m on the way home from SMU. . . . Everything really went well. I got a lot accomplished. I had to leave my card with the reference librarian because there was one deal that I couldn’t quite work out. I’m not calling on the private line because I know you’re already asleep, but in case you get up with the kids, I just wanted you to know that I’m on my way home. It’s 12:30. I’ll be home about 12:45.

“Love you. Bye-bye.”

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No Sign of a Struggle

At just past 12:40, Railey drove into his driveway and found his wife.

There was no sign of a struggle. There was no skin under her fingernails to indicate that she had either fought her assailant or scratched herself when grasping at whatever was pulled around her throat.

Railey said he determined that the children were safe and notified police.

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“Dallas Emergency, Ms. . . ,” the dispatcher answered.

“This is Walker Railey,” he interrupted. “Send the paramedics and police, please.”

An ambulance arrived, along with neighbors. Inside the house, both children were in the living room, Megan watching a silent television screen and Ryan staring blankly ahead.

Months later, Kinne told a reporter he thought it possible that Ryan witnessed the attack, but he said the youngster gave investigators inconsistent accounts of what might have happened that night.

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“Maybe Daddy did it,” the boy told investigators once.

Doctors transferred Peggy Railey, her body alive but her brain barely functioning, from a Dallas hospital to a nursing home in east Texas so she could be near her parents.

Bill and Billie Jo Nicolai live in Tyler, but they had spent almost all day every day in Dallas, about 60 miles away, attending to Peggy’s needs. Though a full-service hospital was no longer required, she remained in a vegetative state from which she might never awaken.

Back in Dallas, no sign was posted, but the Raileys’ home was quietly put on the market and sold.

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Walker Railey voluntarily surrendered his credentials as a minister in the United Methodist Church, and then surrendered control of his wife’s legal affairs to her parents. He granted temporary custody of his children to the friends who had kept them since April 22, John and Diane Yarrington.

Mother Assumed Guardianship

Billie Jo Nicolai requested that a court grant her guardianship of her daughter, and Railey waived his right to continue in that traditionally spousal role.

And then, after the stunning developments and disclosures of mid-November, Railey vanished.

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“I know he has some job prospects,” Yarrington said.

Over the next few months, Railey and Dallas reporters played a game of hide-and-seek.

In early December, Railey told religion reporter Helen Parmley of the Dallas Morning News in a telephone interview from California that he fled despair, not speculation. And he maintained that he was not abandoning his children.

“In this case, while I am relocating, looking for work, financially strapped, not knowing where I’m going to end up or what I’m going to be doing, everybody involved in this drama believes . . . the most stable, loving, Christian environment they can be in is where they are,” he said.

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But before anybody could get themselves too lathered up over Railey’s plight, Dallas Times Herald columnist Laura Miller put a new slant on the case by telling a tale of the anger and indignation of Peggy Railey’s family--her father and her grandmother.

Both believe Railey was behind the attack.

The motive? “A divorced man doesn’t get to be bishop,” said the grandmother, Ella Renfro.

Larry Wright, a contributing editor at Texas Monthly magazine, grew up in the First United Methodist Church in Dallas. His childhood pastor was Robert Goodrich Jr., Lucy Papillon’s father.

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He left the church once in disenchantment but had been drawn back by Railey’s socially contemporary ministry. Then he had seen the devastation at First Methodist after the attack on Peggy, Walker’s suicide attempt and the minister’s affair with Lucy.

So Wright was less a journalist than a confused and angry member of the congregation when he confronted Railey.

Did Peggy know about his affair with Lucy?

“We--that never came up,” Railey stammered.

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She didn’t know?

“I can only say it never emerged.”

Did she suspect?

“I have no way of knowing, regarding that, that she suspected at all, about anything.”

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Changing the subject, Railey revealed he had slipped into the First Methodist sanctuary to attend funeral services for a family friend. Some of his former parishioners avoided him but most embraced him.

‘They Could Feel Pain’

“They could feel my pain,” Railey said, crying. He said he also felt love.

Did you feel a sense of shame, Wright asked.

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“I felt a great need to be forgiven, if that’s what you’re talking about.”

Wright decided that was as much of a concession as he was likely to get. But before departing, he said he could not construct an innocent man out of Railey’s behavior. The journalist recounted Railey’s misleading testimony to the police, his avoidance of the grand jury and his inexplicable actions on the night of the attack.

‘I Think You Are Guilty’

“I think you are a guilty person,” Wright said.

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“I hear what you’re saying,” Railey replied.

Wright did not know what to think. Railey failed to absorb his blunt accusation, choosing instead to analyze it with detachment.

“I’m aware that nobody can sit down with all the facts that are supposedly known . . . and just make it all fit. That’s a frustration that everyone has felt, including me,” Railey said.

“Confess,” Wright urged him. “It will haunt you forever, it will drive you crazy.”

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“I don’t know if that’s a word of advice, a backhand comfort or what,” Railey said. “I’m not guilty. I didn’t do it. I don’t feel tormented by the guilt of what I didn’t do.”

On Feb. 2, Billie Jo Nicolai filed a legal bombshell in civil court, accusing Railey of “maliciously” attempting to kill his wife and orchestrating a “clumsy attempt” to cover his actions with a phony alibi.

The lawsuit sought damages for “physical and mental pain, disfigurement, anguish and physical impairment” on behalf of Mrs. Nicolai’s comatose daughter.

Concern over the cost of Peggy Railey’s medical expenses was the overriding reason for the action, but the family’s decision was also emotional, said Billie Jo Nicolai’s attorney, Bill Arnold.

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‘They Are Bitter’

“They are bitter,” he said. “They are angry.”

Ted Nicolai, Peggy’s younger brother, revealed that Railey had visited his wife no more than three times and that after a Christmas visit with his two children, Ryan had suffered severe emotional problems.

Kinne, Dallas’ chief prosecutor, had sent an investigator to question Ryan about the night of April 21, and the youngster talked freely about almost everything. But whenever the investigator asked about the attack, Ryan would tune her out. He would turn his back and try to leave the room.

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Railey moved to California, to a Victorian flat not far from San Francisco Bay. The rent reportedly was $1,600, and both he and Papillon signed the lease.

Initial attempts to serve Railey with legal notice of the Nicolai civil suit were unsuccessful. Eventually, he was spotted at a hotel, and papers were slapped under the windshield wiper of a car driven by Papillon, with Railey apparently slumped down inside.

Precisely one year after the events of April, 1987, a state district judge ruled that Walker Railey “intentionally, knowingly, maliciously and brutally attempted to strangle his wife” and cover up his actions with a “false alibi.”

Judge John Whittington issued a preliminary civil judgment on April 22, 1988, holding Railey financially liable for the injuries to his wife. The extent of damages would be determined later by a jury.

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The ruling, although significant, had no bearing on the criminal investigation.

Whittington’s action came after Railey failed to respond to legal notices of the suit. The judge said Railey, by his technical default, had admitted all the allegations.

Fled Bay Area

Railey could no longer be found. Under siege from the media, he broke the lease on the San Francisco “love nest” he shared with Papillon on her visits from Dallas. It appeared he had fled the Bay Area altogether.

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“The court can issue a subpoena that compels him to come answer my questions,” Arnold said. “But today, I have less of an idea where he is than at any time since this case started.”

In June, doctors reported a slight improvement in Peggy Railey’s condition and she was returned to Dallas and placed in the Baylor Institute for Rehabilitation.

Dr. William Parker, the institute’s medical director, said she could turn her head and hear, but could not process what she heard.

“If we can establish anything that seems to stimulate a response that could be interpreted as functional, then we would continue to try, through repetition, to improve on that,” he said.

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Condition Downgraded

Parker said he didn’t think his team of specialists would be able to determine whether Peggy Railey would ever communicate again.

“I think the odds are probably going to be against it, but time is the only thing that’s going to tell,” he said.

After more than a year in a vegetative state, doctors downgraded her condition to a “persistent vegetative state,” meaning, as a neurosurgeon explained, that her chances for recovery were “nil.”

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After two months in Dallas, she was quietly returned to the nursing home in Tyler where her parents resumed their tender, but apparently hopeless, daily care.

Norm Kinne sat puffing his pipe in the district attorney’s office and reflecting on the Railey case, his opinions no less candid than when he first viewed the terrible pictures of Peggy Railey’s wounds.

“This guy’s a liar,” Kinne said. “He’s trying to cover his tracks. He wasn’t where he was at the time he says he was. Now the question is, if he wasn’t there, where was he?

“The conclusion that everybody’s drawn is that he was home choking out his wife.

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“But that doesn’t necessarily follow. There’s no proof he was at the scene at the time she was strangled. There’s no evidence that he strangled her or that he knew who strangled her or that he arranged or participated in any way.”

No Concrete Evidence

That’s not to say Kinne didn’t think about prosecuting Walker Railey. He visualized presenting all the evidence that showed Railey lied, that he contrived an alibi and that he told no one of visiting his girlfriend that night.

But with a defense move for an instructed verdict of innocent, the judge might ask, “Where is the evidence that he choked his wife?” Kinne said.

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The trial would probably be over before it began.

As 1988 drew to an end, Kinne had not surrendered hope that the case might someday be solved, but any possibility was a long shot. Peggy Railey might miraculously recover and identify her assailant, or even young Ryan Railey might have seen something and be able to talk about it.

Nothing Incriminating

Lucy Papillon might eventually shed light on the case, but Kinne once pointed out that she had said nothing incriminating “since we don’t have adultery laws anymore.”

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For Kinne, Walker Railey remained the ultimate enigma.

“The last thing you’d expect from a guy like him would be to give up his wife and kids and flit off to California. Just say to hell with it and take off. It’s just not what you’d expect from a man of his stature.

“It gives every indication of guilt, whether he is guilty or not.”

Railey Didn’t Show

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On Dec. 5, Judge Whittington heard testimony in a one-day trial to determine if Walker Railey should pay damages to the Nicolai family. Railey didn’t show up.

The family was awarded $16 million--half to cover Peggy’s care, half to punish Railey. It was a ruling more of symbolism than substance, a hollow victory.

Arnold said he didn’t know where Railey was, or how much money he had. He doubted that his wife’s family would ever collect the $16 million.

On videotape, the court watched therapists treating Peggy Railey, who has virtually no body control and a haunting, lifeless look in her eyes.

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Still, her sister-in-law, Linda Nicolai, told of an experience at the hospital one day that suggested the depth of Peggy Railey’s anguish.

As Peggy’s wheelchair went down the hall, she passed a man exercising with a cord similar to what police believe was used to choke Peggy.

Peggy Railey began sweating, hyperventilating and rubbing her arms together.

Linda Nicolai added:

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“She kept looking at me . . . with this wild look on her face and trying to tell me something.”


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