In April 1960, Texas beauty queen and teacher Irene Garza was found dead in an irrigation canal. For decades, justice eluded her grieving family. Now, in spite of the passage of time, an 85-year-old former priest has been convicted of her murder.
Irene Garza was a former Miss All South Texas Sweetheart and a teacher. She worked with disadvantaged youth and as a devoted Catholic, she went to church on a regular basis.
On April 16, 1960, Garza, 25, headed to Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen, Texas for confession. She was never seen alive again. Her body was found days later, floating in a canal. She had been beaten, suffocated, and raped while unconscious.
Police launched an investigation into her death and interviewed hundreds of people, including the last person to see her alive, Reverend John Feit. The then 27-year-old priest had taken Garza’s last confession, but he denied being involved in her murder.
There was circumstantial evidence pointing to Feit as the murderer. His portable photo-slide viewer was found near Garza’s body. Another reverend noticed that Feit’s hands were scratched after midnight mass.
Most tellingly, Feit had been accused of attacking another woman in a church in a nearby town just weeks before Garza was killed. CBS reported that the woman had been worshiping when a man matching Feit’s description grabbed her and tried to put a rag over her mouth. He eventually pleaded no contest and was fined $500.
Despite all this, prosecutors declined to charge John Feit in the Irene Garza case. The Catholic church later shipped Feit to Missouri and the case went cold.
— The Vancouver Sun (@VancouverSun) December 9, 2017
The Law Catches up to John Feit
So what changed? While in a Trappist monastery in Missouri in 1963, Feit confessed to another priest, Dale Tacheny, that he had murdered a woman in a parish on Easter weekend. Tachney eventually came forward with the confession to authorities in 2002.
It took another 14 years, but eventually Feit was arrested in Phoenix, Arizona, where he had settled with his family after leaving the priesthood in 1972.
The prosecution argued that the only reason Feit had gotten away with this crime for so long was because of interference from church and elected officials. They claimed that the district attorney and church leaders cut a deal to stop the investigation and protect the church’s reputation.
After five days of witness testimony and numerous hours of deliberation by the jury, John Feit, 85, was found guilty of the murder of Irene Garza on December 7, 2017. He could be sentenced to up to 99 years or life imprisonment.