Justice

Beauty and the priest: Crime scene evidence

Published 7:09 PM ET, Fri April 26, 2013
Share
irene garza headshotirene garza headshot
1 of 19
On April 16, 1960 -- the day before Easter -- schoolteacher and former beauty queen Irene Garza, age 25, went to confession at her family's church in McAllen, Texas. She never came home. On Easter, her father filed a police report that his daughter was missing. Click through this gallery to see evidence and crime scenes in Garza's still unsolved death. Noemi Ponce-Sigler Family Photo
Garza was crowned Miss South Texas in 1958. Employed as a second-grade teacher at an elementary school, Garza had a way with children, family members recall. She also was blessed with a musical voice and a natural effervescence. Noemi Ponce-Sigler Family Photo
After Garza went missing, family, friends and neighbors formed search parties. That's how many of her belongings were found, including this beige ladies shoe that had been thrown into a field. Rich Brooks/CNN
Searchers also found this patent leather handbag, which belonged to Garza. "It started escalating, knowing that when they found these things, something was definitely wrong," remembered Garza's cousin, Lynda de la Vina, who was 9 at the time. Rich Brooks/CNN
Five days after she disappeared, police found Garza's body face down in this McAllen canal. An autopsy report states that her body showed evidence of "recent trauma, sexual intercourse" and "trauma to the head." According to the report, "evidence of strangulation could not be found, but suffocation could have been carried out by placing a cloth over the mouth and nose." "The subject was dead when placed into the canal," the report said. Rich Brooks/CNN
Police evidence in the investigation included Garza's blouse, seen here. Garza's death certificate states that her cause of death was "trauma to the right side of her head" causing "hemorrhage of the brain" and "suffocation." Rich Brooks/CNN
The death certificate also states that Garza's body "bore evidence of having been raped ... while in a coma." Rich Brooks/CNN
De la Vina remembers how the family reacted when they heard the news that Garza had been found dead. "The one thing I remember is just screams," she recalled. "Screams from my aunt, screams from my mother. Everybody screaming." Rich Brooks/CNN
Next to Garza's body, police found this heavy Kodak metallic slide photo viewer, said former McAllen police officer Sonny Miller, who supervised crime scene investigations in 1960. Miller said investigators eventually learned the viewer belonged to the Rev. John Feit, a 27-year-old priest at Garza's church, Sacred Heart Catholic Church.
Rich Brooks/CNN
Just 24 days before Garza's killing, Feit had been arrested for attacking another young woman at a church in a town about 10 miles from McAllen. Feit pleaded no contest to misdemeanor aggravated assault. A judge found him guilty and fined him $500 with no prison time. At the time of Garza's killing, Feit was assigned to Sacred Heart. Bettmann/Corbis
After her body was found, Garza's car was still parked at Sacred Heart, so that's where police first focused their investigation. Rich Brooks/CNN
Feit acknowledged to police that he heard Garza's confession in the church rectory on the day she went missing. He told police she left. Feit was the last man known to see Garza alive. Although he has never been charged, police officers and law enforcement agencies that have dealt with the case say they believe Feit killed Garza. Rich Brooks/CNN
in 2002, then-Texas Ranger Rudy Jaramillo spoke to two witnesses who offered stunningly similar stories key to Garza's slaying. One was a priest, the other a monk. They both said Feit had admitted to them that he had killed Garza. Rich Brooks/CNN
Feit left the priesthood in the late 1960s. Now in his 80s, Feit lives in a pleasant neighborhood in Phoenix. He's married with a daughter and grandchildren. In 2007, CNN's Gary Tuchman asked Feit: "Did you commit the murder of Irene Garza?" Feit answered, "Interesting question. The answer is no." Rich Brooks/CNN
Rene Guerra, the criminal district attorney for Hidalgo County, Texas, said he couldn't rely on the information from the two new witnesses who had come forward in the case -- the priest and the monk. When a grand jury heard the case in 2004, neither witness testified. The grand jury decided against indicting Feit. Does Guerra think Feit is the killer? "Everything points to him," said Guerra. Does he think there's enough evidence to convict Feit in a trial? "I honestly don't." Rich Brooks/CNN
De la Vina has been fighting for years to get Feit charged. If a new district attorney is elected, "they would come in with new eyes, a new attitude and -- hopefully see the things that we saw and the injustices that we saw years ago." Rich Brooks/CNN
Another of Garza's cousins, Noemi Sigler, was 10 at the time of the killing. For decades she has been researching and cataloging information to push authorities toward charging Feit. When Sigler started her crusade, she said police dismissed her. "Literally I was told, 'That's an old case,' kind of like, 'leave it be.' And I said, 'no, no,' to myself, 'no.'" Rich Brooks/CNN
"I want to give her a voice from the grave. I really do," said Sigler. "And she wants it. She is here. And she wants justice." Rich Brooks/CNN
Jaramillo, now a security company executive, still keeps a framed photo of Garza on a shelf behind his desk. "I honor her because of the type of person she was, you know. She was loved by everybody in the valley." Jaramillo still hopes Feit will be arrested someday for Garza's killing. "I wanted justice for her," he said. "And it didn't happen." Rich Brooks/CNN