50 Years after Irene Garza Was Murdered, Her Family Still Hopes for Justice

By Stephen Williams
New York Daily News
June 5, 2013

John Feit, a Roman Catholic priest, was a suspect in the1960 murder of Irene Garza, but was not indicted for the crime. Garza's family continues to seek an answer.

Reverend John Feit calmly smokes a cigarette. He was accused of assaulting Maria America Guerra (left), 20. He pleaded no defense to a charge of aggravated assault and was fined $500.

The victim's cousins -as well as investigators who reopened this cold case -are convinced that Rev. John Fiet, 27 years old and a priest at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen, Texas, at the time of the killing, is the one who raped and then suffocated the beauty

The lifeless body of a beautiful 25-year-old woman was found near a church in McAllen, Texas, more than 50 years ago, but the gruesome homicide and the motive -a Catholic priest was a prime suspect - still confounds the victim's family.

They are obsessed with bringing Irene Garza's killer to justice. And Garza's cousins, as well as investigators who reopened this cold case in 2002, are convinced that Rev. John Fiet, 27 years old and a priest at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen at the time of the killing, is the one who raped and then suffocated Garza.

Today, Feit lives in a quiet neighborhood in Phoenix. He has never been formally charged with the crime, nor was he indicted after a grand jury investigation nine years ago.

In a sworn statement to authorities and during an interview with CNN, Feit denied that he killed Garza. Feit told police Garza left the church rectory on the day before Easter, 1960, after he heard her confession and the last time he saw her, she was standing outside the church.

In the investigation following the crime, police said that near Garza's body they found items that belonged to the church. One item, a metallic Kodak slide photo viewer, belonged to Feit.

According to the CNN investigation, 24 days before the killing, Feit had been arrested for attacking another young woman at a church in a town about 10 miles from McAllen. Feit pleaded no contest to misdemeanor aggravated assault. A judge found him guilty and fined him $500 with no prison time.

"We were accusing a priest that - in those days priests were infallible, " said Lynda De La Vina, Garza's cousin, who was 9 at the time of the murder. Another cousin, Noemi Sigler, who was 10, told the network, "It was impossible for a priest to do such a deed. I mean, if you thought of it, that would be sacrilegious."

After the killing, Fiet was transferred out of state, and Sigler made it her life's mission to unravel the case. She had an ally: in 2002, former Texas Ranger Lt. Rudy Jaramillo began looking into the murder when he served with a Rangers cold case unit.

It was at about that time when two witnesses came forward - each separately claiming that he heard Feit confess. One was a priest named Joseph O'Brien, who had worked with Feit at Sacred Heart.

"We knew he was dangerous, so we shipped him off to a monastery," O'Brien told Sigler during a recorded phone conversation obtained by CNN. "So he told you also, sir, that he had killed her?" asked Sigler. "Yes," O'Brien answered on the recording.

A second man's testimony was even more dramatic.

Dale Tacheny had served as a monk and as Feit's spiritual counselor at a Missouri monastery where Feit had been sent. He told CNN that he told authorities it had taken him 40 years to come forward because the guilt had become too much for him to bear.

In bits and pieces, Tacheny told authorities that Feit told him he had taken the confession of a young woman shortly before Easter. Feit offered to take the woman to the rectory, Tacheny said, where Feit sexually assaulted her, bound and gagged her, fondled her breasts, and put something over her head.

Tacheny said Feit told him he dumped the woman's body near the town canal. He asked Feit why he was living at a monastery and not in prison.

"'The church protected me, the people in the church, my superiors, protected me,'" Tacheny quoted Feit as saying.

"I believe he killed her," Tacheny said. "I had no doubt about it because he said he did."

Eventually, in 2004, a grand jury did hear the case. But Feit wasn't called to testify. Neither were new witnesses Tacheny and O'Brien.

Now, years later, De La Vina still isn't giving up. She said she still believed one day Feit would face murder charges.

But for Sigler, after it was clear the grand jury was not going to indict Feit, she acknowledged, "We started losing belief in the justice system."


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