A former Catholic priest has been found guilty in the death of a South Texas beauty queen nearly 60 years ago.
A Hidalgo County jury on Thursday found 85-year-old John Feit guilty of murder with malice aforethought in the 1960 slaying of 25-year-old Irene Garza,
San Antonio Express-News reported.
The jury delivered the verdict after five days of testimony and more than six hours of deliberations.
During the trial, jurors learned Garza’s partially clothed body was found floating in an irrigation canal in McAllen on April 21, 1960.
“At first it looked like a sack floating,” W. Arnold, the man who made the discovery,
told The Associated Press on April 22, 1960. “Then I saw it was the body of a girl.”
Garza had been missing for six days. She was last seen alive the day before Easter 1960, when she went to Sacred Heart Catholic Church for what would be her final confession.
Irene Garza's body was found floating in an irrigation canal on April 21, 1960. (Photo: Bettmann via Getty Images)
Sarasota Journal referred to Garza as a “dark-haired beauty queen.” The newspaper reported she had been a frequent entrant in local beauty contests and had been crowned Miss South Texas in 1958. The young woman had also reportedly been named “band sweetheart” while attending McAllen High School and was named “senior class sweetheart” while at Pan America College. She had been working as a school teacher at the time of her death.
An autopsy determined Garza was likely killed the day of her disappearance. The young woman, the medical examiner told police, had been brutally beaten and raped while in a coma, and suffocated.
Questioned by police, Feit, then a 27-year-old Roman Catholic priest, told authorities he had heard a confession by Garza the night she disappeared. Interest in Feit piqued when detectives later drained a section of the canal where Garza’s body was discovered and found an Eastman Kodaslide viewer that belonged to him,
Texas Monthly reported.
The investigation further narrowed when authorities spoke with a 20-year-old college student who
claimed Feit had attacked her roughly three weeks before Garza was killed. Story continues
When police questioned Feit about the incident, he reportedly denied any involvement. Still, he was
arrested on a charge of assault with intent to commit rape. When the case went to trial the following year, it ended in a hung jury. Feit ultimately pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of aggravated assault, a misdemeanor. He was fined $500 for the offense, The Dallas Morning News reported. A 2016 photo of John Feit. (Photo: Handout . / Reuters)
Feit, who left the priesthood in the 1970s, eventually married and became a father. He worked for several years as an administrator and spokesman for a Catholic charity, the
Rio Grande Valley’s KRGV‑TV reported.
The murder case was all but forgotten when, in 2002, former monk Dale Tacheny told police
Feit had confessed in 1963 to killing Garza. However, when then-Hidalgo County District Attorney Rene Guerra presented the case to a grand jury, they declined to indict Feit.
The case went cold again and remained relatively untouched until 2016, when newly elected District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez presented the case to a second grand jury, who decided to indict Feit.
Jurors this week heard testimony from Tacheny, now 88, who recounted how Feit told him about the killing in 1963.
“He put the young lady in a bathtub,” Tacheny testified. “As he was leaving, the young lady said, ‘I cannot breathe, I cannot breathe.’ Then he left.”
Feit’s attorney, O. Rene Flores, attempted to convince jurors that there was no physical evidence linking his client to the crime. Flores questioned why Tacheny and another witness waited decades to come forward with testimony.
Former priest John Feit in court. (Photo: POOL New / Reuters)
Assistant District Attorney Michael Garza, who has no relation to the victim, presented evidence in court that church officials suspected Feit had killed Irene Garza, but were afraid a case would harm the church’s reputation.
“This is a case about betrayal, murder and a cover-up,” Michael Garza told jurors, according to
Courthouse News. ”[Feit] was a wolf in priest’s clothing.”
reportedly emotionless when he heard the verdict read in court Thursday.
The jury began hearing evidence in the penalty phase Friday morning. Feit faces a sentence of up to life imprisonment.
Send David Lohr an email or follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Love HuffPost? Become a founding member of HuffPost Plus today. Also on HuffPost El Dorado Jane Doe We know who killed her. But we still don’t know her name. That is the enduring mystery that has left investigators stumped for more than two decades. Despite the passge in time, authorities beleive someone, somewhere, can still help solve the identity of the woman known as El Dorado Jane Doe. READ: We Know Who Killed Her. But 24 Years Later, We Still Don’t Know Her Name Storyville Slayer Three decades ago, the melting pot of culture and tradition that makes up New Orleans was overshadowed by a cloud of evil. The historic metropolis that Louis Armstrong once dubbed the “Land of Dreams” had become a nightmare for the families of more than two dozen people who turned up dead in outlying swamps and bayous. READ: Detective Tries To Solve 25-Year-Old Serial Killer Cold Case. One Suspect Is A Cop. Eugene Hicks A woman’s quest to learn about her father’s 1983 murder uncovered mistakes that may have cost a retired Dallas Cowboys player his life. READ: How Police Failures May Have Allowed A Cocaine Cowboy’s Suspected Killer To Strike Again Deborah Lee Shelton And Victoria Lee Specials For 65 days in 1969, Marcia Shelton watched, waited and hoped against all odds that her missing 12-year-old daughter, Deborah Lee Shelton, would turn up safe and sound. Then, in December 2001, there was another tragedy as equally disturbing as the first -- the disappearance of her second daughter, 44-year-old Victoria Lee Specials. Marcia Shelton found herself left with the memories of two daughters, taken under mysterious circumstances three decades apart. Read More: Sisters Deborah Lee Shelton And Victoria Lee Specials Vanish 32 Years Apart Tamala Wells Tamala Wells, of Detroit, disappeared on Aug. 6, 2012. Her mother, Donna Wells-Davis, learned of her daughter's disappearance on Aug. 7, 2012, when she received a phone call from her granddaughter, who was then 6 years old. The little girl said that her mom, then 33, had gone out the previous night and never returned. The mystery deepened when the Pontiac that Wells had supposedly been driving was found abandoned just a few blocks from her home. In an interview with HuffPost, the father of Wells' daughter denied any involvement in Wells' disappearance, but he didn't deny how he feels about the mother of his child -- or about the child herself. "She gives me a headache," Rickey Tennant said. "[Wells] used to give me a headache, but I dealt with it, and I'm looking at it right now as 'one headache is better than two headaches.'" READ: Ex-Boyfriend Calls Missing Woman One Less 'Headache' Joy Hibbs On April 19, 1991, the body of 36-year-old Joy Hibbs was found inside her burned-out home in Bristol Township, Pennsylvania. According to retired Bristol Township Detective Lt. Richard Bilson, the scene inside the bedroom where Hibbs was found was horrific. "She was lying face-up on a mattress that was nothing but springs," Bilson told HuffPost. "Her body was black -- completely burnt beyond recognition. She looked like a mummy and the entire room was charred." Bilson said fire investigators initially thought Joy Hibbs was the tragic victim of a house fire. The following day, a coroner confirmed part of that theory -- her death was tragic, albeit no accident. "The coroner advised us she died before the fire started," Bilson said. "He located five stab wounds, to her neck and chest, and there was a computer cord wrapped around her neck. At that point, it became a homicide investigation." Read More: Pennsylvania Mom's Brutal Murder An Enduring Mystery Terry And Darleen Anderson In October 2005, an unknown intruder brutally murdered Terry and Darleen Anderson. The crime -- LaGrange County, Indiana's first double homicide -- shocked their rural community and left many deep emotional scars. Inside the couple's home, Darleen was found still dressed in her nightclothes, slumped over on the couch. A book was in her lap and a bowl of popcorn was sitting next to her. Someone had viciously attacked the 57-year-old woman while she sat relaxing inside her home. Outside, in a nearby pole barn, lay Darleen's husband of 25 years. Like his wife, the 59-year-old had been brutally bludgeoned to death. With few clues to follow, the case quickly went cold. Many questions still remain. READ: Who Killed Terry And Darleen Anderson? Neal King Neal Forrest King came to California to make his fortune in the burgeoning illegal marijuana trade. In 2013, the 24-year-old former Texan disappeared like a puff of smoke. March 26 was the last time Jeanette Tully, King's girlfriend of six years, saw him. "It's so painful, and I don't think the pain will ever go away," Tully told HuffPost at the time. "I'm 25, and I was ready to spend rest of my life with him. Our love was true, honest and pure." King's mother, Gayle King, described her son's disappearance as inexplicable. "Neal was a kind person and an amazing son," she said. "That's just how he was. He had strong family values. Family for him was everything." Read More: Marijuana Farmer Neal King Disappears Amid Strange Circumstances Brian Barton Punk rock musician Brian Barton was well on his way to success in 2005. The 25-year-old was in love, was a member of As Fate Would Have It -- a band quickly growing in popularity -- and was gearing up for his first music tour. To outsiders looking in, all the stars in Barton's universe appeared to be in alignment. However, appearances can be deceiving. When Barton disappeared prior to the start of the band's breakout music tour, the bizarre circumstances surrounding his disappearance pitted friends and bandmates against each other. Read More: Did Seattle Punk Rocker Brian Barton Stage His Own Disappearance? Judith Geurin Relatives of Judith Geurin last spoke with the 45-year-old mom in January 1991. Geurin's disappearance is rooted in events that transpired in July 1988, when her husband of 18 years, 57-year-old Joseph Geurin, died of a heart attack. According to family members, Joseph's death devastated her and shattered the family. The grief, they said, was so severe that her mom turned to alcohol for solace. By January 1989, Judith Geurin had collected more than $250,000 in life insurance and pension funds granted to her following her husband's death. She sold the family's four-bedroom, colonial-style house and took out a mortgage on a two-family duplex in nearby Troy. Geurin's children, then ages 21, 16, 13 and 11 -- moved into the duplex. However, unbeknownst to them until moving day, their mother had other plans. Instead of following her children, Geurin moved in with 27-year-old Curtis Pucci. In 1990, Geurin and Pucci moved some 200 miles southwest of Albany to Sodus Point. Even though she had all but abandoned her children, Geurin kept in regular contact with her eldest daughter until January 1991, when Geurin vanished without a trace. Read More: Daughter's Search For Mom Goes On, 23 Years After She Disappeared Anita Knutson In 2007, Anita Knutson was an 18-year-old Minot State University student majoring in elementary education. Knutson was, according to her family, exceptionally responsible for her age and juggled three part-time jobs while attending college. Despite a busy life, she kept in regular contact with her family. So, when she went two days without returning phone calls, her father went to her off-campus apartment on June 4, 2007. When repeated knocks to the door of her 4th Street apartment went unanswered, her father had the building manager open the door. When the concerned father stepped inside, his worst fears became a reality when he found his daughter's lifeless body on the floor of her bedroom. Authorities determined the young woman had been stabbed multiple times, more than a day before her body was found. The murder weapon, a bloody knife, was found discarded in a sink. Detectives also determined someone had cut the screen to Knutson's bedroom window, presumable to gain entry into her apartment. Despite an intensive investigation, authorities were unable to identify a suspect or person of interest in her murder and the case went cold. READ: Family Of Murdered MSU Student Demands Answers JonBenet Ramsey On Dec. 26, 1996, 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey was found bludgeoned and strangled to death in the basement of her family's Boulder, Colorado, home. A ransom note from an anonymous group of individuals "that represent a foreign faction" asking for $118,000 in exchange for the safe return of JonBenet was found just hours before, but no call ever came from a kidnapper and it was never linked to a murderer. The entire Ramsey family was cleared of any involvement in the murder of JonBenet back in 2008, thanks to then newly discovered DNA evidence, according to 9News. Beginning in 2010, investigators reopened the case and launched a fresh round of interviews with witnesses that could provide more insight into the murder, according to ABC News, but nothing fruitful came of those interviews. The DNA evidence still points to an "unexplained third party" that serves as a vague lead for authorities still pursuing the case, Time magazine reported. Boulder police have tested more than 150 DNA samples and investigated nearly the same amount of potential suspects in their ongoing investigation, but none have ever been linked to the crime. Read More: JonBenet Ramsey's Killer 'May Be Lost Forever' Kathleen Kolodziej Kathleen Kolodziej was reported missing to police in Duanesburg, New York, on Nov. 2, 1974. The 17-year-old college student was last seen early that morning at a local bar. Kolodziej's whereabouts remained a mystery until Nov. 28, 1974, Thanksgiving morning, when investigators located her partially clothed body. Read More: Kathleen Kolodziej's Murder A 38-Year Mystery John Spira John Spira, a 45-year-old blues-rock musician from Chicago known as "Chicago Johnny," has been missing since Feb. 23, 2007. He was last seen at about 7 p.m. at Universal Cable Construction Inc. in DuPage County. Spira co-owned the company with David Stubben, his business partner of 17 years. Spira had plans to meet a friend for dinner in nearby Oak Brook at 8:30 p.m., but he never arrived. The following evening, John's band, The Rabble Rousers, was scheduled to play in Montgomery. However, "Chicago Johnny," well-respected and normally reliable, was a no-show. Read More: John Spira Still Missing 5 Years Later Bobbi Ann Campbell It has been many years since anyone has seen Utah mom Bobbi Ann Campbell. She was last seen in Salt Lake City in December 1994, when she dropped her 5-year-old daughter off at a friend's house. The young mother said she would return after she picked up her paycheck from work and purchased groceries. She never came back. Campbell, then 24, was there one minute and gone the next. She left no immediate trace and no trail to follow. Read More: Bobbi Ann Campbell Missing: Daughter Seeks Closure In 19-Year-Old Case Colonial Parkway Murders The victims, eight in all, came in pairs. Many were young lovers who apparently met their fates mid-assignation. Each of the homicides occurred along the scenic 23-mile route between Jamestown and Yorktown in Virginia, giving them a ready name: the Colonial Parkway murders. Due to the shared location and other similarities among the deaths, law enforcement officials viewed them as the work of a possible serial killer. Read More: Unsolved Murders Of Young Lovers In Va. Sarah Kinslow Sarah Kinslow was last seen by her parents on May 1, 2001, when her dad dropped her off at Greenville Middle School in her hometown of Greenville, Texas, at approximately 7:20 a.m. It was not until after the school day ended that the Kinslows were notified their daughter had not attended any of her classes. When Louise Kinslow spoke to her daughter's friends, they said her daughter was supposed to skip school with them that day and meet up at nearby East Mount Cemetery. Concerned, Kinslow contacted police and reported the teen missing. Authorities took an article of Sarah Kinslow's clothing from the family home and brought a tracking dog to the school. Investigators were able to pick up her scent where she had exited her father's car. The dog followed the scent around the school and to a location two blocks away, where... Read More: Sarah Kinslow Missing: 11 Years, No Answers Robert Levinson Robert Levinson is a former FBI special agent who retired from the FBI in 1998 after 22 years of service. In March 2007, Levinson traveled to Kish Island, Iran, as a private investigator to reportedly look into a cigarette smuggling investigation. He disappeared on March 9 of that year. In 2010, a video purportedly showing Levinson in captivity was sent to his family by his alleged captors. Read More: Retired FBI Agent Missing Since 2007 This article originally appeared on HuffPost.