My Book World
A sad but true story. Made sadder by the fact that I attended graduate school with the two principals: Walker Railey and Margaret “Peggy” Nicolai Railey. My young wife (at the time) and I entertained them in our efficiency apartment on the campus of Southern Methodist University. I was both a seminarian where I met Walker, as well as a student of graduate music, where I studied with the same organ professor as Peggy who was enrolled in the master of music program. The couple were about to be married, effervescent and fun to be with. After I left seminary, withdrawing before I graduated, I never saw them again. I only heard of them when their story hit the national news. I had left the church and divorced my wife, leaving the seminary life far behind. They were figures I no longer seemed to know.
I was aware of this book when it came out, but I was not interested in reading it at the time. Somewhat like learning about the Clutter family in the news (I grew up in Kansas), I had grown tired of hearing about whether Walker Railey had strangled his wife of ten years or not. In that she didn’t die as a result of the attempt but remained an invalid for more than twenty-five years, dying at the age of sixty-three, she remained frozen in time for me: a pretty, intelligent and gifted musician. Witty and with a mind of her own.
I read Wedgwood’s book with a wary eye when I noted in her foreword that she was a Dallasite who had grown up in the city’s First Methodist Church located downtown. Even though she’d left the area to pursue a more global career and life, I wondered how objective she might be. She also knew or seemed to know of many of the principals in the story: other Methodist ministers and spouses, Methodist bishops, and the like. But for the most part, I was impressed with her fanaticism for detail, almost too much at times (offering much more than a thumbnail sketch of minor characters, for example). All the dialogue, she claims, is lifted from “sworn testimony, quotations from newspapers and magazines or the recollections of two observers of a scene or one of the participants in a dialogue” (xi). She allows for the mistaken or distorted memories of people when recalling even such a traumatic event as this one.
But one element is missing. Facts. Walker Railey consistently refused to speak with law enforcement, except briefly, all the while claiming he was innocent. And, of course, Peggy Railey could no longer speak for herself—nothing more than a drooling ghoul the strangler had created the night of the attack. One time, early in her time at the Dallas hospital, she “woke” momentarily from her coma, ostensibly upon hearing the voice of her husband standing at the foot of her bed, and seemed startled. The older child, Ryan, five, had suffered some injury, the attacker apparently pushing him away from the scene, but he was too young ever to positively identify the violent intruder. Those events may be as close as the public ever gets to knowing the truth. A strange and lurid case made markedly so because it takes place within the context of one of the country’s largest churches of one Protestantism’s most established denominations. As the title suggests, the demon remains within, within the realm of its own story, perhaps never to be set free.
TUES: A Writer's Wit | Wendy Wasserstein
WEDS: A Writer's Wit | Dan Flores
THURS: A Writer's Wit | John Dewey
FRI: My Book World | J. R. Ackerley's Hindoo Holiday