Nearly 60 years after Irene Garza disappeared after going to confession in her Texas hometown, the last person who saw her — who was a priest at the time — has been convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
John Feit, an 85-year-old former priest has been sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Garza on Holy Saturday, April 16, 1960.
Irene Garza was a 25-year-old schoolteacher, former beauty queen, and figure in the McAllen Tex. Catholic and Mexican-American communities. Friends and neighbors remember her as a young woman of faith.
“Remember the last time we talked, I told you I was afraid of death?” Garza wrote to her friend mere days before her death. The letter was later published by Texas Monthly. “Well I think I’m cured. You see, I’ve been going to communion and Mass daily and you can’t imagine the courage and faith and happiness it has given me.”
Six days later, Garza went to go to confession at Sacred Heart Catholic Church before Easter services. She never returned. Her body was discovered days later in a ditch.
Later, police determined that she had been raped, physically restrained, and beaten for several days before suffocating to death.
Feit, who was a 27-years-old visiting priest at the time, was a main suspect early on in the case: he was the priest who heard Garza’s confession, and his portable slide viewer was found alongside Garza’s body.
Suspicion grew after Feit was charged and pled “no contest” to assaulting and the attempted rape another young woman, Maria Guerra. Guerra was attacked while she was praying at another church in a nearby Texas town only three weeks before Garza’s death.
However, Feit was not charged with Garza’s murder until over five decades later.
Feit left the priesthood in 1972, and afterwards married and worked for the St. Vincent de Paul charity in Phoenix.
After Feit left the priesthood, two priests told the authorities of their suspicions that Feit murdered Garza, with one claiming the priest had scratches on his face after Garza’s disappearance, and another saying that Feit told the priest that he had murdered a young woman, and offered details on how he committed the crime. At the time, however, the then-priest (who himself also left the priesthood) did not know the crime Feit described was Garza’s murder.
After the priests’ statements to authorities in the 2000s, the case was re-opened in 2015. Feit was arrested and charged in 2016, and the trial began Nov. 28, 2017 after several setbacks. He was sentenced Dec. 8.