Arizona Priest Arrested in 1960 Texas Beauty Queen Murder

A former priest suspected of killing a Texas second-grade teacher in 1960 has been arrested in Scottsdale and officially charged with murder. 

The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department's Criminal Apprehension and Surveillance Team, coordinating with two Texas agencies, the Texas Rangers and the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office, detained John Feit outside his apartment Tuesday evening in Scottsdale.

He has been jailed in Arizona pending extradition to Texas, according to an MCSO spokesman.

Feit, now 83, allegedly was the last person to see 25-year-old Irene Garza, a former beauty queen, at Sacred Heart Church in the Rio Grande Valley before police found her body in a canal in April 1960. She had been beaten. Bruises on her inner thighs suggested her attacker had tried to rape her.

Garza had gone to Feit, a visiting priest, for a confession.

Initially, police suspected Garza had run off with a lover but eventually named Feit as the prime suspect after they discovered a slide projector he had purchased a few months before just a few feet from the spot where Garza was dragged to the canal. They told local newspaper reporters at the time that they suspected the murderer had used the clunky machine, which had a long cord, to sink Irene’s body.

Feit also was indicted in the attempted sexual assault of another woman at a nearby Catholic church. He pleaded no contest to the assault charge and was ordered to pay a $500 fine. However, he was not charged in Garza’s murder. 

The priest's supervisors, the Archdiocese of San Antonio and the Order of Mary Immaculate, shipped him off for “rehabilitation” at a series of monasteries in Texas, Iowa, Missouri, and New Mexico — a common practice in the Catholic church when errant priests were discovered.

Feit settled in the Phoenix area in the 1970s, where he has a wife, children, and grandchildren.

Robert Nelson detailed the crime and the subsequent investigation in a New Times cover story in 2005.