Evidence photos in the Irene Garza murder case

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Lynda de la Viña

Inside the haunting Irene Garza case and the trial of the former priest accused of her murder

Irene Garza Disappears

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Evidence photo

On Saturday April 16, 1960, Irene Garza, 25, went missing after going to confession at Sacred Heart Church in McAllen, Texas.  

A Texas Beauty

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Noemi Ponce Sigler

Irene Garza,  center, was a beloved second-grade teacher and had been a local beauty queen

Irene Garza’s Belongings Found

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Nathan Lambrecht/The Monitor/Pool

Irene Garza’s high-heeled shoe was later found near an empty road. 

Irene Garza’s Belongings Found

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Nathan Lambrecht/The Monitor/Pool

Irene Garza’s patent leather purse was also found in the middle of a field. 

Irene Garza’s Body Found

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Police file

Five days after she disappeared, Irene Garza’s body was found floating in an irrigation canal. 

Irene Garza’s Clothing

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CBS News

Garza was found fully dressed, except for her shoes and underwear. Her lavender blouse had been unbuttoned

A Brutal Death

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Lynda de la Viña

The autopsy revealed that Irene Garza had been beaten with a hard object, sexually assaulted and suffocated

Father John Feit

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Corbis

Father John Feit became a suspect early in the investigation. Feit, 27, admitted he had heard Irene’s confession in the rectory the night she disappeared

Sacred Heart Rectory

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Evidence photo

Sacred Heart Rectory where Father Feit said he had heard Irene’s confession. At the time, giving a face-to-face confession was considered highly unusual.

A Curious Clue

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Nathan Lambrecht/The Monitor/Poo

When police drained the canal at the end of April 1960, they found a green slide viewer near where they believe Irene Garza’s killer had dumped her body.

The Investigation

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Police file

Investigators at the bank of the canal where they believe the killer had dumped Irene Garza’s body.  

Police Appeal for Answers

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The Monitor

The police appealed to the public for help in finding the slide viewer’s owner.

Father Feit Contacts Police

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Austin History Center

Father John Feit sent police a note saying that the photo slide viewer was his. 

Maria America Guerra Attacked

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Corbis

Investigators” interest in Father John Feit deepened when they learned of an attack on another woman three weeks before Irene Garza’s murder.

Maria America Guerra, pictured here, fought off an attack from a man she thought looked like a priest inside a church in Edinburg, Texas.

Father Feit ID’d

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Police file

After Irene Garza was murdered, Maria America Guerra picked out John Feit from a police lineup as the man who had attacked her. 

Father Feit ID’d

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Police file

Father Feit had visible scratches on the backs of his hands when he was photographed by police. Father O’Brien had noticed them as well and Feit had explained that he had been locked out of his residence and had scratched them while trying to climb in through a second story window.

Feit Tried in Guerra Assault

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Evidence photo

In 1961, Father Feit stood trial in Austin charged with assault with intent to rape Maria America Guerra, but the jury deadlocked. Rather than face another trial, he later pleaded no contest to a lesser charge of aggravated assault and was fined $500. 

An Upsetting Case

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CBS News

Noemi Ponce Sigler recalls finding her father — one of the original investigators in the Irene Garza case — very upset one day. She says he had been told to step away from the case and that his superiors would take over. 

A Dedicated Investigator

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Noemi Ponce Sigler

The Irene Garza case eventually grew cold. Noemi Ponce Sigler says her father, Milo Ponce, pictured, never got over the case.  Ponce Sigler fought for justice for more than 30 years in honor of her father. 

Garza Case Goes Cold

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Corbis

Father Feit, right, ended up at various monasteries. The Irene Garza case faded from the headlines. 

Garza Investigation Reopened

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CBS News

In 2002, McAllen Police Chief Victor Rodriguez decided to reopen the investigation into Irene Garza’s 1960 murder.

Ranger Rudy Jaramillo

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CBS News

Chief Rodriguez brought in the newly-formed Cold Case Unit of the Texas Rangers. Ranger Rudy Jaramillo was leading the investigation.

Former Monk Comes Forward

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CBS News

In 2002, Dale Tacheny came forward telling police that John Feit had told him he had killed a woman in the 1960s around Easter.  

WATCH: Former monk’s letter to police: “I can’t breathe”

Dale Tacheny

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Dale Tacheny

Dale Tacheny, pictured, when he was a monk at the Assumption Abbey in Ava, Missouri.

Father Joseph O’Brien

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Evidence photo

Father Joseph O’Brien, who had been the assistant pastor of the Sacred Heart Church in McAllen, came forward saying that Feit had made an admission of guilt to him as well. 

D.A. Rene Guerra

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CBS News

Despite the new witnesses, Rene Guerra, the Hidalgo County District Attorney at the time, did not think they were credible.

Courtroom Confrontation

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Nathan Lambrecht/The Monitor/Pool

Irene Garza’s cousin, Lynda de la Viña, recalls Rene Guerra confronting her in the courthouse and telling her that she would never get an indictment in the case. 

Feit Denies Allegations

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CBS News

In early 2014, “48 Hours” correspondent Richard Schlesinger confronted John Feit outside his home in Arizona about the allegations surrounding him. Feit denied killing Irene Garza. Feit had left the priesthood decades earlier, had married, and raised three children. 

Campaign Promise

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CBS News

In 2014, Ricardo Rodriguez defeated Rene Guerra in the election for district attorney. Rodriguez had promised to look into the Irene Garza case. 

Former Priest Arrested

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Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office

In February 2016, John Feit was arrested in the murder of Irene Garza.

Feit’s Murder Trial Begins

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Nathan Lambrecht/The Monitor/Pool

In late 2017, 57 years after the murder of Irene Garza, John Feit stood trial for her murder. 

The Prosecuior

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Nathan Lambrecht/The Monitor/Pool

Assistant District Attorney Mike Garza points to John Feit in court. Garza says Feit killed Irene Garza with “malice of forethought.”  

The Defense Attorney

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Nathan Lambrecht/The Monitor/Pool

Defense Attorney Rene O. Flores says John Feit is innocent and that there wasn’t any “forensic evidence whatsoever collected then and now that affirmatively relate John Feit to this crime in any way.”

Garza’s Friends Testify

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CBS News

Sylvia Acevedo Stern grew up next door to Irene Garza. Irene’s parents were her godparents. 

Garza’s Friends Testify

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Evidence photo

Sylvia Acevedo Stern, who was eight years Irene’s junior, looked up to her and emulated her. Sylvia is pictured here at Irene’s house.

Irene Garza’s Clothing

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Nathan Lambrecht/The Monitor/Pool

Irene Garza’s petticoat, purse, and skirt as shown in court. 

Garza’s Friends Testify

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Nathan Lambrecht/The Monitor/Pool

Beatrice Garcia testified that in 1960 Father John Feit stopped her as she was walking and asked if he could take pictures of her dressed in black by the cemetery. 

Beatrice Garcia

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Evidence photo

Beatrice Garcia in the 1960s. She says in the weeks before Irene Garza was murdered, she had a bizarre encounter with Father Feit. 

Garza’s Friends Testify

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Nathan Lambrecht/The Monitor/Pool

Ana Maria Hollingsworth testified that Irene Garza had told her that Father Feit had previously pulled Irene out of the church confessional and had insisted she give her confession in the rectory.

An Off-the-Record Meeting

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Nathan Lambrecht/The Monitor/Pool

Darrell Davis, seated, a former reporter, testified about an off-the-record meeting between reporters and the D.A. in 1962. According to Davis, the D.A..said that they knew Feit had murdered Irene Garza and that he would be sent to a monastery.

Smoking Gun?

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Nathan Lambrecht/The Monitor/Pool

Father Thomas Doyle, an expert witness on clergy abuse, testified about a letter between clergy members that the State says is a smoking gun in its theory about a conspiracy between the Church and authorities.

Former Monk Testifies

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Nathan Lambrecht/The Monitor/Pool

Dale Tacheny, 88, testified in court against John Feit.

A Lack of Evidence

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Nathan Lambrecht/The Monitor/Pool

Defense attorney Rene Flores appeals to jurors and asks them to consider the lack of evidence in the case against John Feit. 

Feit Found Guilty

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Nathan Lambrecht/The Monitor/Pool

On Dec. 7, 2017, John Bernard Feit, 85, was found guilty of the murder of Irene Garza. 

Feit Found Guilty

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Nathan Lambrecht/The Monitor/Pool

Noemi Ponce Sigler hugs Assistant D.A. Mike Garza after the verdict. 

Feit Found Guilty

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Nathan Lambrecht/The Monitor/Pool

Lynda de la Viña hugs McAllen Police Chief Victor Rodriguez after hearing the guilty verdict.

The Sentencing

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Nathan Lambrecht/The Monitor/Pool

Assistant D.A. Mike Garza holds up a photo of Irene Garza as he urges the jury to consider sentencing John Feit to 57 years in prison. 

Ex-Priest Sentenced

John Feit murder trial
Nathan Lambrecht/The Monitor/Pool

The following day, the jury sentenced John Feit to life.

Remembering Irene Garza

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Lynda de la Viña

Investigators and Irene’s family believe Irene Garza is finally resting in peace. 

WATCH: Sins of the Father