The 1960 Murder Of A Texas Beauty Queen That Went To Trial Nearly 60 Years Later

Former priest John Feit died in 2020 at the age of 87 in his Texas prison cell. His cause of death was cardiac arrest, as CBS News reports. In 2017, Feit was convicted and received a life sentence for the 1960 murder of then-25-year-old Irene Garza in McAllen Texas. Time elapsed between Garza's killing and Feit's conviction due to alleged collusion between the Catholic Church in the area and Texas law enforcement authorities. 

Shortly After Garza died, Feit was also convicted of another assault that took place prior to Garza's death. So many year years later, Feit only saw justice for Garza's killing thanks to testimony from a number of priests who knew him. In 2002, those men finally came forward with the truth. 

A young school teacher and beauty queen, Garza disappeared after she met with Feit for confession at the Sacred Heart Church in McAllen. A few of Garza's belongings were found, and her body later turned up in an irrigation ditch. She had been beaten with a hard object, sexually assaulted, and suffocated, as CBS News elsewhere notes. Early on, Feit was a suspect in the case based on an unusual object found near where Garza's remains were recovered. At that time, Feit came forward to tell investigators it belonged to him.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

A slide viewer was discovered

The object found near Garza's body after the irrigation ditch was drained was a green slide viewer, as CBS News goes on to explain. Law enforcement published pictures of the slide viewer in local media, and though he denied he killed Garza, Feit admitted it was his.  As CBS News also reports, the priest also denied he saw Garza's final confession but then changed his story. 

Also around that same time, police were investigating a reported assault of another young woman named Maria America Guerra, this time in Edinburg, Texas, a short distance away from McAllen. Guerra's attack took place inside a church and according to her own account her attacker wore priest's clothing. Feit was picked from a lineup by Guerra. He was later convicted on a lesser charge of aggravated assault and fined $500 for the attack. Feit pleaded no contest when he had initially been charged with assault with intent to rape.

Also notable, in police photographs of Feit from that time, scratches on the back of his hands are visible. Garza would have been dead at the point those photos were taken. When questioned, Feit said those abrasions happened as he tried to climb in the second story window after he locked himself outside his residence.

Garza's case went cold

At the conclusion of the Guerra trial, investigators were mysteriously told to refocus their attention on other matters, as CBS News reports. Simultaneously, Feit joined a monastery. Once reopened, prosecutors theorized this might have been due to an agreement between the church and law enforcement officials to save face for the Catholic religion, based on 2017 Associated Press (AP) reporting.  

Speaking with CBS News program "48 Hours” in 2020, one-time monk Dale Tacheny, who knew Feit, told the police, "I was told that [Feit] had killed a woman and then asked if we could see if he would fit in" and possibly become a monk. Feit did spend time as a monk in a number of monasteries before he finally left the church. He then married and raised a family in Arizona. 

In 2002, the Garza case was reopened under the recently formed Cold Case Unit of the Texas Rangers. Several monks then came forward to tell the authorities that Feit admitted to them he killed a woman in 1960 that fit Garza's description. In his time with the church, Feit also worked at a treatment center for priests suspected of committing crimes, as USA Today explains. Among them was James Porter, a priest later convicted of molesting more than 100 children. in his work Feit helped Porter stay in the ministry. To the end, Feit maintained his innocence in Garza's killing.