Justice for Irene: Former Priest on Trial for 1960 Beauty Queen Murder
By Delaine Mathieu
April 29, 2016
It was one of the oldest cold cases in Texas: the murder of Irene Garza in McAllen in 1960. Now, as a former priest awaits trial for the crime, there are concerns by some who question if Irene will get justice.
She was a beauty queen from McAllen who melted hearts all over the Rio Grande Valley.
"That's the way I remember her," said Carlos Cantu, a family friend. "She was just very very special because of her beauty and she had a very soft voice when she spoke, you know."
She was only 25 when she died. Her brutal murder on Easter Weekend in 1960 sent fear through the streets of this South Texas town.
It would take 56 years before the only suspect in the case, ex-priest John Feit, would be charged for the crime. The 83-year-old was extradited from Arizona in March after newly-elected Hidalgo County District Attorney, Ricardo Rodriguez, took on the case.
But there is some concern Irene may not get a fair trial.
On an unofficial Facebook tribute page for Irene, someone posted that Feit's court-appointed attorney, Ricardo Flores, is Judge Luis Singleterry's cousin.
The post reads, "we've waited 56 years for justice for Irene Garza and this just seems wrong!"
The judge did share offices with Flores -- but neither Judge Singleterry nor Flores returned our repeated calls for confirmation. However, Irene's family told News 4 -- off camera -- they know the judge and attorney are not blood relatives and they are very confident Irene will still get a fair trial.
Back in 1960 -- Feit was a 27-year-old priest when he moved to McAllen to work at Irene's church. On the night of April 16th, 1960, Irene left her mother's house for Sacred Heart Catholic Church to attend church then go to confession. Police say the last person to see her alive was John Feit. Detectives say he later admitted to the church that he had tied her up, put her in a bathtub, placed a bag over her head, raped her and dumped her body in a canal.
"Unfortunately, the day they found her in the canal, I was there," said Cantu.
Cantu knew Irene when he was very young. His mother made all her pageant gowns.
"It was a shock," he said. "It was kind of a loss of innocence for us."
Feit was questioned many times over the years and even failed a polygraph test, but it wasn't until another retired priest came forward and told two San Antonio detectives, Texas Ranger, Rudy Jaramillo, and now Bexar County Deputy Chief, George Saidler, that Feit had confessed to the church that he killed Irene.
"The only motive in this case," said Hidalgo County District Attorney, Ricardo Rodriguez. "Is to finally bring justice and closure to this cold case."
Now, prosecutors feel they have enough to put him away. Despite how frail, fragile and old Feit may be now -- they hope the jury will see the monster they say he once was and Irene can finally rest in peace.