48 Hours on CBS - Saturday, April 16, 2016
April 14, 2016
More than five decades after the brutal murder of a church-going young woman, police in Texas have arrested a former priest suspected of killing her. DID HE DO IT? Richard Schlesinger and 48 HOURS report on the case against Father John Feit, the last man believed to have seen Irene Garza alive, in an updated edition of "The Last Confession" to be broadcast April 16, 2016 (10:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
The broadcast will air 56 years from the day that Garza disappeared.
"He thought he got away with it. He thought he got away with murder," Garza's distant relative, Noemi Ponce Sigler, tells 48 HOURS of Feit, who was arrested on Feb. 9, 2016, in Scottsdale, Arizona and charged with murder.
It's a case that 48 HOURS has been covering for years and involves allegations of a cover-up, secrets hidden for years by people who say they know what happened, and is one that has again become a hot topic far beyond Hidalgo County.
The story starts in 1960 in McAllen, Texas, when Garza, 25, told her family she was going to church for confession. But Irene never came home. Five days after she disappeared she was found dead in a canal. Police say she was beaten, sexually assaulted and was suffocated. Police questioned hundreds of people but locked on one suspect, Father Feit, who admitted hearing Garza's confession. Feit steadfastly denied any involvement in her murder. But Sigler, whose father was one of the original investigators, recalls her father saying early on, "It was the priest." Eventually, Sigler says, her father was told by his superiors to hand in his records and step away from the case, that they would take care of it.
"The case just stopped cold for decades," said Pam Colloff, executive editor of Texas Monthly and a 48 HOURS consultant. Colloff has written extensively about the case.
Interest in the Irene Garza case picked up again in 2002, when the McAllen Police Department asked the Texas Rangers' cold case unit to reexamine the murder. The investigation took a turn when a former monk, Dale Tacheny, told police that decades earlier, when he was working as a counselor at a monastery, Feit admitted to killing a young woman. Previously confronted by 48 HOURS about the allegations, Feit told Schlesinger he didn't kill Garza and does not know who did.
But in January, a grand jury indicted him for Irene Garza's death. Feit, 83, was extradited to Texas last month where he's expected to stand trial for killing Garza.
For Tacheny it's the next step in a long process to justice. "If either Feit or I die, the case is dead. They no longer have a living witness, someone who actually interviewed him and talked to him," Tacheny tells 48 HOURS, adding he's ready to testify. "I got a job to do now and I can do most any job that has to be done."
Sigler, too, is looking forward to a trial. "I want him [Feit] to look into my eyes and see Irene's spirit there...all the people that loved her," Sigler says.
"I just feel like my spirit has been lifted and I'm not carrying a heavy load anymore," Sigler adds. "And if feels so good. I did it for her."
Stephen Zabilski, executive director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, in Phoenix, where Feit worked for decades, said the two men had discussed the allegations a decade ago. "I almost thought this simply can't be true," Zabilski says. "I remember asking John if there was anything to all of this and his answer was absolutely not."
But do investigators now have enough to present a convincing case decades after the 1960 murder?
Schlesinger and 48 HOURS report the latest developments in the Garza case through new interviews with Sigler, Tacheny, Zabilski and others. 48 HOURS: "The Last Confession" is produced by Lourdes Aguiar and Peter Shaw. Jennifer Simpson is the field producer. Alicia Tejada is the field producer. Michael McHugh is the producer/editor. Judy Tygard is the senior producer. Susan Zirinsky is the senior executive producer.