McALLEN, TX — A former Roman Catholic priest is due to stand trial this week on charges he beat, raped, and strangled to death a Texas beauty queen nearly 60 years ago — right after hearing her last confession.
John Feit, 83, has long been suspected of the April 1960 murder of 25-year-old Irene Garza in McAllen, Texas.
Feit was indicted for murder in February 2016 but his lawyers have denied that he had any involvement in the killings, according to court filings.
Garza, a second-grade schoolteacher and Miss All South Texas Sweetheart 1958, vanished in April 1960 after visiting Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen for confession during Holy Week.
Five days after Garza disappeared, her body surfaced in a canal. An autopsy revealed that Garza had been raped while unconscious, and then beaten and suffocated, according to CBS.
The former Father Felt has been on the authorities’ radar since Garza’s remains turned up, as his personal photo slide viewer was among the debris found after authorities drained the canal.
Fellow priests later told investigators that they noticed scratch marks on Feit’s hands after midnight mass – and said that it was irregular for him to have taken Garza into the church rectory to hear her confession.
Two clergymen, Dale Tacheny and Joseph O’Brien, came forward in 2002 to say that Feit had confessed to them shortly after the murder, but the Hidalgo County district attorney considered the evidence too weak to secure a conviction.
The district attorney brought the case before a grand jury in 2004, but Feit was not indicted.
Investigators reopened Garza’s case in 2015. The following year, Arizona police arrested in 2016 Feit. He was later extradited to Texas.
Shortly after Garza died, church superiors ordered Felt to leave McAllen, the Dallas Morning News reported. He subsequently quit the priesthood and moved to Arizona, where he started a family.
Feit’s trial will be held in Hidalgo County and is likely to take about two weeks, county officials said on Monday.
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Main photo: Irene Garza [Wikimedia Commons]