By M.P. Pellicer | Stranger Than Fiction Stories
An ex-priest accused of killing a South Texas beauty queen in 1960 was found guilty of her murder.
At the end of 2017, John Feit, 85, was found guilty of murder. A jury deliberated for about six hours.
No emotions ran across his face as he was convicted of the murder of Irene Garza, a 25-year-old school teacher.
She was last seen leaving her home for church at 6:45 p.m. April 14, 1960. Her car was found three days later in the parking lot of the church, however a neighbor said that it had not been there at 9 p.m. the previous day.
On the 19th, a shoe, hat and purse were found scattered along Mc Coll Road, which intensified the search for her. Inside the purse was Garza's driver's license.
On April 21, 1960 her body was found floating in the Second Street canal near the Sears Roebuck store. Her face showed signs of a a severe beating. A partial autopsy indicated she was dead when thrown into the canal. There was a blow to the right side of her head, however decomposition could not allow them to verify if there was any mutilation of the body. She'd been raped after being unconscious, and died from being suffocated.
Feit, 27, was serving as an interim priest at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church. He was also Irene Garza's confessor. It would turn out that he murdered her on Holy Saturday.
Garza was a second-grade teacher who had been Miss All South Texas Sweetheart in 1958 and a former prom and homecoming queen at what then was Pan American College.
Supposedly Feit came under suspicion early on, telling police he heard Garza's confession in the church rectory, not the confessional. He denied killing her, even though his photographic slide viewer was found near Garza's body, and he failed a polygraph test. Two fellow priests told authorities that he had confessed to them, and one saw scratches on Feit soon after Garza disappeared.
On March 23, 1960, Maria America Guerra, 20, was attacked by a man while she was praying in a church in Edinburg. She screamed and bit his finger, causing him flee. Later she identified the man as Father Feit. A witness described where he was seen running from the church after the screams.
In a nearby town, weeks before Irene Garza disappeared he had been accused of attacking another young lady in a church. He pleaded no contest and was fined $500.
Hortencia Gonzalez a teenager on that fateful day in April 1960, told the Dallas Morning News, "We always had a warm relationship with other priests, I don't remember him as being a warm person." She went that Saturday at 5 PM to the church. Father Feit heard her confession, and she said "He told me, 'I need to talk to you after confession, so wait for me. I left the confessional room, went through the side door and ran home."
A little over an hour later, Irene Garza arrived at the church.
On August 6, 1960, police try to arrest Feit on a charge of assault with intent to rape Maria America Guerra but find he has left Texas. After being declared a fugitive he surrenders to authorities a week later, stating he had been recuperating in a hospital in order to overcome the stress of the interrogations.
In 1961, the trial for the assault charge ends in a mistrial, with jurors favoring conviction 9-3. A year later Feit pled no contest to aggravated assault which was a reduced charge and fined $500. According to his attorney he was returning to the unnamed out-of-state hospital.
In 1964, he joined the Servants of the Paraclete religious order in New Mexico. Once a patient there he goes on to become a supervisor and help child molesters return to ministry.
Why Feit was not prosecuted in 1960 for Garza's murder remains a mystery.
There were rumors of a deal being made between church leaders and the district attorney to stifle the investigation and avoid a scandal.
The written report of examiner George Lindberg, the polygraph examiner, who asked him about both the Garza and Guerra crimes, stated that:
* Mr. Lindberg asked Father Feit "why the lie detector charts showed that he was not telling the truth when he denied committing either of the crimes." The priest said that, contrary to his previous sworn statement to police, he had heard Ms. Garza's confession in the rectory.
Michael Garza, Assistant District Attorney who prosecuted the case said, “(Feit) was a wolf in priest’s clothing.” The young women of McAllen would have trusted him implicitly, none suspecting what his true nature was.
The defense attorney criticized the lack of physical evidence, and questioned why some witnesses had waited years to provide testimony of what they knew.
One of these was Father Joseph O'Brien (1928-2005), an assistant pastor who in 2004, told a Dallas Morning News reporter that Feit had confessed to the crime.
D.A. Garza pointed out that O'Brien had helped to dispose of items belonging to Garza that were found in the rectory.
The case went cold until Dale Tacheny (1929-2020), a former monk at the Assumption Abbey, a Trappist monastery in southwestern Missouri where Feit lived in 1963, contacted San Antonio police in 2002. He told them that years before Feit had confessed to putting Garza in a bathtub at the pastoral house.
Tacheny described in a letter to police, "He assaulted her, bound her and gagged her. Later, I do not remember if it was hours or days, he moved her to another location, and after some time he placed her in a cellophane bag and put her into a bathtub. As he left, he could hear her saying, 'I can't breathe, I can't breathe.'"
He said that Feit felt no remorse, but that he was haunted by the sound of Garza's heels. He said it wasn't until years later that he realized Feit had described Irene Garza. He was interviewed by prosecutors from Hidalgo County.
This was before O'Brien spoke to the reporter.
In 2004, a grand jury probe concluded there was insufficient evidence to charge Feit, according to then Hidalgo County District Attorney Rene Guerra.
In 1972, Feit left the priesthood, married and had children. In the 1990s he worked for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul as an administrator and spokesman sometimes testifying before the Arizona Legislature about homelessness.
In February 2016, John Bernard Feit was arrested at his home in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Feit died February, 2020.
Source - My San Antonio
Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer