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Altar Ego: The Ex-Priest and the Death of a Beauty Queen

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Documents in the case seem to support the assumption.

Indeed, it is clear that the church promised to ship Feit away from the valley and lock him up in the monastery system.

Irene's aunt, Herlinda de la Vina, remembers Father Joseph O'Brien telling her as much.

"He told us that the church's punishment was greater than any sentence handed down by the courts, and we believed him."

Father O'Brien told the family that Feit would be sent to a monastery and kept there so he would be unable to hurt anyone else.

And that's what happened. For the next decade, Father O'Brien essentially served as John Feit's probation officer, as well as the liaison between civil and church authorities in the matter.

O'Brien was even named a "special investigator" by the city manager of McAllen.

O'Brien's role in the case ended with a short letter sent to McAllen police in December 1971:

"Dear Chief:

"I have just received notice that John Feit has left Denham Springs, New Mexico, and is now living in the Chicago area. He is seeking employment as a layman and will no longer function as a priest. This was his own decision and was not due to a problem.

"If any further information is needed please feel free to call upon me.

"Father Joseph O'Brien, OMI."


Noemi Ponce-Sigler was 10 years old when Irene Garza was murdered.

The cousins, part of a close-knit extended Mexican-American family, were often at the same homes, the same family parties, the same town events.

To a 10-year-old girl, Irene Garza seemed to be everything a woman should be.

"She was beautiful, so graceful, so loving," Ponce-Sigler says.

In 1988, Ponce-Sigler was visiting the house of her aunt, also one of Irene's aunts, when she suddenly felt as if someone were watching her. Nobody was in the room. But on the wall was a large portrait photo of Irene.

"I don't know, I'm sure it was the light or something, but it seemed like she was staring at me," Ponce-Sigler says. "I stared at her photo, and just began asking myself questions about what happened to her. From that visit on, I've just continued to knock on doors asking questions."

She contacted Sonny Miller, then a detective with the McAllen police force. Miller was still interested in the case. He pulled the old files on Irene's murder and began digging again.

He found more new evidence. Still, the local district attorney had no interest in filing charges.

"Everything said this guy Feit was as guilty as sin," Miller, who is now retired, tells New Times.

Besides loads of evidence, Miller says he discovered something else. In the year following Irene's murder, it seemed like everyone lost interest, or was told to lose interest.

Police even later found candlesticks near where Irene's body was thrown into the canal that had come from Sacred Heart Church. But, Miller says, investigators never tried to match them to the wounds on her head.

Miller talked to several of the investigators from the time of the murder, as well as to the daughter of then-police chief Clint Mussey. It became clear that from the turmoil caused just by Feit's sexual-assault trial, the powers that be at the time didn't want to see a priest tried for murder in the valley.

"It frustrated the hell out of the people who knew [that] Feit was the guy," Miller says. "Justice was not done."

In 2002, the Texas Rangers reopened the case.

By 2004, the Rangers and the Garza family believed that justice might finally be had.

And by last year, Noemi Ponce-Sigler believed she finally knew what actually happened to Irene Garza.

"Once I was able to talk to Dale Tacheny and Father O'Brien, it was all pretty clear," she says. "The only thing left is justice for the killer."


Dale Tacheny was a guilt-ridden young man. When he left the U.S. Army in the late 1940s, he decided to become a monk to save his eternal soul.

"It was a very selfish decision," says Tacheny from his home in Oklahoma City. "I wanted to save myself. I wasn't thinking about others."

Forty years later, it was guilt, Tacheny says, that finally led him to speak publicly about his involvement with John B. Feit.

Tacheny began his religious training in 1949 at age 20.

By 27, he was already something of a golden boy in the Trappist order.

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Robert Nelson