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It's a case that involves allegations of a cover-up, involves secrets hidden for years by people who say they know what happened, and is one that has again become a hot topic in Hildago County, Texas.
The story starts the night before Easter Sunday in 1960 in McAllen, Texas, when Irene Garza, 25, told her family she was going to church for confession. She was seen in the church, but never seen alive again. Five days after she Disappeared she was found dead in a canal. Police say she was physically assaulted, sexually assaulted and was suffocated.
Police initially questioned hundreds of people but locked on one suspect, Father John Feit, who admitted hearing Garza's confession, though steadfastly denied any involvement in her murder. Feit was tied to the case in another way, too. Police found a slide viewer with a long black cord in the canal where Garza's body had been dumped. When the police asked the public for help identifying the owner, Feit wrote them a note saying it was his.
Eventually one of the investigators on the case was told by superiors to step away, according to the investigator's daughter, Noemi Ponce Sigler. She recalls hearing her father discuss the case very early on. "It was the priest," Sigler recalls him saying, referring to Feit. "A lot of people went out of their way to keep the identity of this person secret," says Sigler. Sigler, a distant relative of Garza's, has made it her mission to investigate the murder and get justice for Irene.
"The case just stopped cold for decades," says Pam Colloff, executive editor of Texas Monthly and a 48 Hours consultant. Colloff has written extensively about the case.
Garza's case heated up again in 2002, when the McAllen Police Department asked the Texas Rangers' cold case unit to reexamine the murder. The investigation took a dramatic Turn when a former monk, Dale Tacheny, told police that decades earlier when he was working as a counselor at a monastery, Feit admitted to killing a young woman.
Tacheny tells Schlesinger how Feit described assaulting the young woman and then taking her into the rectory's basement. Tacheny says, Feit said the next day he moved the woman to another location and put her in a bathtub and put a bag over her head. "I don't fully remember," Tacheny says. "But when he was leaving he heard her say I can't breathe, I can't breathe, and with that he shut the door and left."
An assistant pastor at the church in 1960 also told investigators in 2002 that Feit told him he did it.
Despite the new information, Hildago County District Attorney Rene Guerra doesn't believe the case is strong enough to take to court today, calling it "untriable." However, Feit is "a person I would have prosecuted in '62," Guerra tells Schlesinger.
And in an angry confrontation, Feit tells Schlesinger he didn't kill Garza and does not know who did. Feit also says those who say he did are full of it.
"This was an atrocious case and I couldn't understand it," says Sigler. "To this day, I can't understand it."
Members of Garza's family have pinned their hopes for getting justice on Ricardo Rodriguez, a candidate for Hildago County District Attorney, who has said he would look into the case. The primary election is March 4.
48 HOURS: "The Last Confession" is produced by Lourdes Aguiar and Peter Shaw. Jennifer Simpson Ashmawy is the field producer. Michael McHugh is the producer/editor. Judy Tygard is the senior producer. Susan Zirinsky is the senior executive producer.
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