This is a murder which was totally covered up becuase the accused was a well liked priest. This is a really spectacular case of the DA's engaging in the cover up.
In Arizona, John Feit's an angel of mercy. In south Texas, many believe the ex-priest's a rapist and murderer
By Robert Nelson
Published: July 7, 2005
It is 1988 in McAllen, Texas. Irene Garza's portrait hangs in the living room of her aunt's home. The fair-skinned girl is hauntingly beautiful.
The Catholic church may be satisfied, but in the criminal justice system, a murder remains unsolved.
Irene Garza went to Sacred Heart Church before she was killed.Another family member stops by the house for a visit. Noemi Ponce-Sigler happens upon the portrait and looks into the eyes of the girl. She gets the feeling Irene's looking back.
And a question comes into Noemi's mind that has been troubling her since:
"Who killed you, Irene?"
It is the Friday following Good Friday, April 1960, in McAllen. Police come to the door of Josephina and Nick Garza's home. They are there to tell the couple that their daughter, Irene, has been found dead in a nearby canal. She had been beaten. It appeared from bruises inside her thighs that her attacker had tried to rape her.
Josephina's body spasms. She collapses to her knees.
And out of her mouth comes a sound so mournful that it has become the stuff of legend in this border town.
"They said it was this long, awful moan from deep inside her body -- almost like the howl of a wolf," a niece of Josephina's describes. "They said it was like nothing they had ever heard or ever heard again."
The family's parish priest, Joseph O'Brien, comforted Josephina by telling her that Irene died in a state of grace. After all, she was last seen alive on her way to confession.
The fact was, though, O'Brien had no idea if the cleric Irene saw, Father John Feit -- a visiting priest at O'Brien's parish -- ever gave her confession.
O'Brien held back another important fact from the Garzas that day:
He was confident he knew who had killed their daughter.
Police had the McAllen canal, in which Irene's body was found, drained a few days later.
They found a nearly new slide projector just feet from the spot where the young woman's body had been dragged into the canal. Police told local newspaper reporters they believed this was the clue that would break the case. Clearly, the murderer had used the heavy chunk of equipment, complete with a long cord, to sink Irene's body to the muddy floor of the canal.
After a headline story in the McAllen paper about the projector, area newspapers never mentioned this clue again.
Police sought the owner of the projector. Eight days after Irene's body was found, they received this note:
"This viewer belongs to Fr. John Feit (Order of Mary Immaculate), of San Juan, Texas.
"It was purchased in Port Isabel, Texas, in July, 1959, at Freddies Professional Pharmacy.
"Terms -- cash.
"Price -- I don't remember.
"April 29, 1960."
Police already knew the young priest was the last person to see Irene Garza alive.
John B. Feit later became the prime suspect in the Garza murder, as well as in an attempted sexual assault of a young woman in a nearby Catholic church three weeks earlier.
Feit wound up pleading no contest to assault charges in the earlier case. He was fined $500.
But Feit was never charged in the murder of Irene Garza.
Instead, according to one of his supervisors, the Archdiocese of San Antonio and the Order of Mary Immaculate "shipped him away" for "rehabilitation" at a series of monasteries in Texas, Iowa, Missouri and, finally, New Mexico.
Feit left the priesthood 10 years later to marry a young AT&T worker he met at a church in Albuquerque. In the late 1970s, Feit, his wife and three children moved to the Arcadia district of Phoenix, where the family became active in the nearby St. Theresa church.
As a layman in Phoenix, John B. Feit has, by all appearances, become a model citizen. For much of that time, he has been a lead organizer of charitable programs for the Phoenix chapter of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, where longtime co-workers describe him as a tireless advocate for the poor.
Phoenix Police Department investigators tell New Times there are no cold-case files in the Valley that match the modus operandi in the Irene Garza murder or the 1960 aggravated assault in which Feit pleaded no contest.
Even in retirement, Feit spends much of his days counseling and helping the infirm or disadvantaged. At his local parish, Feit is one of the organizers of the JustFaith program, an intensive educational program designed to help Catholics put their belief into action on social justice issues.
But this angel in Phoenix remains a devil in McAllen, Texas.
There -- with renewed interest in the murder of Irene Garza, along with new evidence in the case -- citizens are clamoring for an indictment of John Feit.
The old evidence, much of which has been reviewed by New Times, makes a strong case that their quest for justice is warranted.
The new evidence -- which includes testimony from two of Feit's closest associates, who say the ex-priest confessed to them that he killed Irene Garza -- seems to make a case against him a slam dunk.
Yet the district attorney in south Texas, in whose jurisdiction the murder occurred, seems content to let things die.
Feit also wants the case to die. He has said, "I did not kill Irene Garza."
In that sentence begins an even deeper mystery, one that may only be solved by understanding a brilliant man's own concepts of faith, contrition, justice and personality.
When asked by a reporter at his Arcadia home if he should be considered a danger to the community, he yelled: "Look at my record for the last 45 years!"
Irene Garza's body was thrown in a McAllen canal on Easter Sunday, 1960 -- 45 years and two months ago.
The week before Easter, 1960, had been unusually hot along the Texas-Mexico border. With highs already touching the 90s, residents of the valley surrounding McAllen were predicting a long, dismal summer.
Throughout the week, young adults raised in the area were streaming back to McAllen from college or new jobs. The Easter vacation was a time to see old friends, maybe even to rekindle or start a love affair.
The scuttlebutt among some returning young men was that Irene Garza was no longer seeing Sonny Martinez.
This was big news. Irene, as one unrequited suitor wrote, "was the closest thing to an angel" he'd ever met.
So bright, so beautiful, such a sweetheart, such a good heart.
Irene was the first in her family to go to college. After graduation, she returned to do what she had set out to do: teach disadvantaged children in McAllen.
She taught second grade at a school south of the railroad tracks, the line between the haves and the have-nots, the Anglos and the Hispanics, the longtime Mexican-Americans and the new immigrants.
She spent her first paycheck on books and clothing for her students. She spent early mornings, late evenings and weekends giving her students extra learning and fun. She worked with the local PTA.