Ex-priest on trial in slaying of South Texas beauty queen who vanished after confessing her sins to him

By Marc Ramirez
Dallas News
December 02, 2017

John Feit exits the the 92nd State District Court during a break for lunch in his trial for the 1960 murder of Irene Garza on Friday.

Details shared with a South Texas jury Friday portrayed a former priest who was anything but priest-like in the ongoing trial of John Feit, accused of murdering a 25-year-old beauty queen over a half-century ago.

Irene Garza had been raped and bludgeoned to death when she was found in a McAllen canal in 1960, five days after she vanished from church on Easter weekend. A portable photographic slide viewer belonging to Feit was found near the body.

On Friday, as the San Antonio Express-News reported, jurors were told of Feit's questionable behavior involving other women.

Beatrice Garcia, 77, described a 1960 incident in which she said Feit, then a 27-year-old priest at McAllen's Sacred Heart Catholic Church, drove up to her as she walked nearby and said, "I would love to take a picture of you dressed in black by the cemetery."

"I thought he was trying to scare me," Garcia testified.

Another woman, Cleotilde "Tilly" Sanchez, was a cook at the church rectory at the time. Now 80, she told jurors that she had gone into the cellar for supplies when she heard Feit say to other priests, "How about we close the door and make Tilly disappear?"

Sanchez also testified that Feit called her days after an assault on another woman, America Guerra. Feit would eventually plead no contest to that charge and pay a $500 fine.

When Sanchez picked up the phone, she said, Feit said to her: "Tilly, you're next, honey."

After she identified the caller as Feit to police, church officials told her she was mistaken.

Feit, who eventually left the priesthood, married and has two grown children, is now 85. He suffers from poor health and uses a walker, the Express-News said.

He showed no expression as he faced his accusers or watched as evidence was introduced, such as his photographic viewfinder and Garza's bra, blouse and petticoats.

A childhood friend of Garza's, Ana Marie Hollingsworth, told jurors that Garza had shared details of Feit's behavior with her as well. The young cleric had pulled Garza from a rectory confessional booth to hear her sins face to face, Hollingsworth said her friend told her, a practice then uncommon.

Hollingsworth also testified that Garza had gone to Feit for confession the day she was last seen alive.

"She said, 'He thinks he's handsome ... he takes me into the rectory,'" Hollingsworth said of her conversation with Garza. "She was disturbed."

Police records obtained by the Morning News in 2004 indicated that Feit was repeatedly absent from work in the days after Garza's disappearance and returned with injuries to his hands. 

He also failed lie-detector tests in connection with the attacks on Garza and Guerra.




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