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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

January 01, 1989|MIKE COCHRAN | Associated Press

DALLAS — 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.

"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:

"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.

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."

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

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."

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.

"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.

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.

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

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