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Monday, May 11, 1998

Walker Railey returns to lavish lifestyle

Associated Press

DALLAS - Walker Railey sure doesn't look like someone who declared less than two months ago he could barely afford $337 a month to help support the near-comatose woman soon to be his ex-wife.

The former Dallas minister and his new bride share a spacious apartment in a luxurious high-rise on Los Angeles' west side, where rents reach $3,000 a month.

Railey and Donna Turner, his second wife, married last month before 300 people to whom they had sent embossed invitations.

The ceremony took place nine days before the divorce was final from his first wife, who lies in a vegetative state in a Tyler nursing home. Railey avoided a possible bigamy charge by asking the judge to backdate the divorce decree to the day before his wedding.

But just weeks before the nuptials, Railey said he could barely afford the $337 monthly alimony payment.

It may be fitting the 50-year-old Railey chose a Hollywood-area address: The latest sequel in his story is as intriguing as anything the studios can dream up. The tale includes his sudden and mysterious reversal of fortunes, a divorce decree with a movie-deal clause, broken families, lost jobs and a tragedy-haunted woman who buried two husbands in their 30s.

And this is 11 years after Railey's life first began to mimic pulp fiction - when his wife, Margaret "Peggy" Railey, was choked into a near-comatose state at their Lake Highlands home.

A civil court held the former senior minister at Dallas' First United Methodist Church liable for the attack after he failed to contest a lawsuit filed on her behalf. He was acquitted of attempted murder in criminal court; some jurors said they thought he was guilty - but not beyond a reasonable doubt.

Railey and his new wife had little to say recently when reporters from The Dallas Morning News knocked on the door of their apartment, which features oaken floors and carved moldings. As piano music tinkled from inside, the balding, white-haired Railey answered the door in a T-shirt and honeymoon-quality tan.

"Hi," he said with an icy stare, before slamming the door and summoning a building manager, who called police.

Neighbors and even some allies of the Raileys said they didn't know how the newlyweds were making a living these days. Nothing suggests great wealth in the background of Mrs. Railey, a high school graduate and executive secretary.

Mrs. Railey's first husband, her high school sweetheart from St. Louis with whom she had moved to San Diego, died in 1988 at age 36. He suffered a seizure at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, records show, while on his way to St. Louis for alcohol rehabilitation.

Within a few months, the future Mrs. Railey married again, this time to a member of Walker Railey's new Los Angeles congregation. Her second husband died in 1995 - also at age 36 - of a bleeding disorder after surgery. Railey presided at the funeral.

A year later in June 1996, Donna Railey's father died of lung cancer in St. Louis. Neighbors recalled the powerful funeral conducted by "Donna's boyfriend," whom they later recognized as Walker Railey after a television news magazine profiled him.

When Railey married Donna Turner, he did not invite his son, daughter, mother or brother, or even tell them about it.

One of the children's guardians said they learned of their father's marriage through news accounts. The children considered the wedding irrelevant to their lives, she said, since they now use their guardians' last name and consider them their parents.

The guardian said the children broke off contact with their father in 1993, although each child did get a Christmas card with a $5 bill in it last year.

In the past few years, Railey has had brief stints selling phone books, as a telemarketer and as a security guard. He has made sporadic appearances at the pulpit, but a friend and Methodist pastor says they probably won't lead to a comeback.

"That's a dead issue," said the Rev. Kenneth Heaton of the Norwalk United Methodist Church. "These events will never get away from him - what happened 11 years ago in Dallas.

"It's tragic."

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