On April 16, 1960 a 25-year-old schoolteacher and former beauty queen named Irene Garza attended confession at Sacred Heart Church in McAllen. Five days later, she was found dead in a nearby canal. An investigation revealed she’d been sexually assaulted, beaten, and suffocated.
No one’s ever been convicted of murdering Garza. The crime has loomed over the Rio Grande Valley for nearly sixty years. But now, the priest who heard her final confession has been charged with her murder. John Feit, who’s since left the priesthood, will stand trial this week in a case that’s attracted national attention.
Lorenzo Zazueta-Castro, a reporter for the McAllen Monitor, says the trial stems from a campaign promise made by Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez Jr., who vowed to get justice for Garza’s family.
“The evidence was reexamined, the case was reopened, sent to a grand jury, and in February 2016, we had the DA announcing that the grand jury had come back with a true verdict,” Zazueta-Castro says.
He isn’t surprised that the case is drawing a lot of attention.
“Some argue it’s one of the biggest trials to ever take place down here, especially in Hidalgo County,” he says.
Locals are looking forward to a sense of closure, Zazueta-Castro says, “especially the Garza family, who has been trumpeting that Feit ultimately was the person who they felt committed this act.”
He says there’s evidence linking Feit to the crime.
“There is a viewfinder that was found around the body of Irene when she was discovered in the canal near where she was last seen that Feit purchased in 1959 in Port Isabel,” Zazueta-Castro says. “It did have his name on it. That was found tied around Irene’s body.”
He says there’s also a former monk, Dale Tacheny, who says that Feit confessed to him three years after Irene Garza’s murder.
“It wasn’t until [Tacheny] left the priesthood in the 90s, he went to San Antonio police department to let them know of this confession that he was given any hope that the information he provided could lead to the identification of the woman that Feit spoke of,” Zazueta-Castro says. “Turns out, at the same time, the Texas Rangers were investigating the cold case from here in the Valley and then that’s where the reopening of the case took place.”
He says other witnesses will testify that they saw scratches on Feit’s hands days after Garza went missing.
Written by Jen Rice.