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Posted: Wednesday, March 23, 2005 12:00 am

Former monk, priest say they know who killed Irene Garza

BY EMMA PEREZ-TREVIO

The Brownsville Herald

March 23, 2005 More than 40 years since the disappearance and death of McAllens Irene Garza, a former monk is confessing to knowledge that could help solve the case.

Dale Tachney met John B. Feit in Missouri in 1963. It was another life for both men Tachney a former Trappist monk once known as Fr. Emmanuel was charged with counseling Feit, a troubled Catholic priest sent to a Missouri monastery after spending time in the Rio Grande Valley.

Three years before, police questioned Feit about Garzas murder. According to police documents, Feit was the last person to see the elementary school teacher alive after hearing her confession at McAllens Sacred Heart Church the day before Easter.

He was not charged with her murder and to date, nearing the 45th anniversary of her death, police have yet to name another suspect.

If you are asking me if I am the man that killed Irene Garza, I am not that man. I did not kill her, Feit, now 72, told The Brownsville Herald in 2002, during the course of several interviews for a three-year newspaper investigation into her death.

But Tachney says Feit told him a different story in 1963.

Now 75, Tachney left the monastery in July 1967.

In a telephone interview, he told The Herald last week that in 1963 Feit confessed to murdering a woman in Texas. It wasnt until 2002 that Tachney learned about Garzas murder and Feits connection to the case, after inquiring with the San Antonio police.

Now living in Oklahoma, Tachney is a long way from the Assumption Abbey monastery in Missouri where the Oblate fathers took Feit in 1963. Tachney said he was asked to determine if Feit had a vocation for the monastery.

He kept silence, got up early in the morning and did everything that the monks did and he seemed to progress, but as time was going on, he was begging to make it known that he did not want to spend his life there, Tachney recalled and described Feit as a man uneasy around women.

He was bothered by women with high heels who walked on hard floors. Click, click, click. That click caused him anxiety, Tachney said.

He learned that Feit had a propensity for attacking women from behind when he knelt behind them in church.

Its an eerie disclosure.

It was on this date in 1960 that Maria America Guerra was assaulted as she prayed at the Sacred Heart Church in Edinburg.

Investigators believe the attack on the 20-year-old Fronton woman might have been the prelude to the Garza murder that took place less than a month later.

The two womens stories have different endings, but police records reflect striking similarities.

In 1962, Feit pleaded no contest and was convicted in Hidalgo County of aggravated assault stemming from Guerras attempted rape and fined $500. He maintains his innocence in the case.

Tachney said that he counseled Feit on the urge to molest women kneeling in prayer. He sent Feit on unsupervised visits to churches in Chicago and Missouri, telling him to kneel behind women praying in churches to see if he felt the urge.

Feit returned from the trips, telling Tachney that he felt no urges and was not questioned further.

It was our position that he could now leave the monastery and that it would be safe, Tachney said.

The question was that we could not keep (Feit) in the monastery and the Oblates did not want him to leave, Tachney said, adding that Trappist monks did not have the authority to make him stay and felt he was cured of his urges.

That same year Feit was taken to a monastery in Jemez Springs, N.M., operated by the Servants of the Paraclete, a religious congregation that treated troubled priests.

The Herald found in 2002 that Feit became superior of the monastery in the late 1960s and into the early 1970s where he supervised a congregation that included former priest James Porter, who has been accused of molesting more than 100 boys.

Tachney did not see Feit again but last year visited with Fr. Joseph OBrien who worked with Feit while he was in the Valley.

The men spoke about Tachneys suspicions, he said, but could not agree on one version of events, though both say Feit confessed to the killing more than 40 years ago.

The first thing that Father OBrien said to me was: Why are you telling all of this? I told him, Because it is time that we undo the coverup, Tachney said.

Feit should have gone to prison. I should have gone to prison. Father OBrien should have gone to prison, Tachney said.

No one has spent a day in jail for Garzas death and likely never will, according to Hidalgo County District Attorney Rene Guerra.

Guerra was unavailable for comment Tuesday but in 2002 said he was hesitant about presenting the case to a grand jury and told The Herald in an interview: Her killer got away.

Where are you going to find the evidence? I reviewed the file some years back; there was nothing there. Can it be solved? Well, I guess if you believe that pigs can fly, anything is possible. Why would anyone be haunted by her death? Guerra said. She died, her killer got away.

A Hidalgo County grand jury refused to bring charges against Feit in June 2004. He has been the only suspect named by investigators in this case.

We did try to talk to him (Feit in the course of the new investigation), but we were not successful, McAllen Police Chief Victor Rodriguez said.

Tachney said: The problem was the church was covering it up. Obviously, there was a pact between major (church) superiors, and he (Feit) let me know that these people were involved.

OBrien, speaking to The Herald on Tuesday from San Antonio, said there was no cover-up because there was no evidence.

OBrien acknowledged that he suspects Feit of Garzas murder and always has.

Ive always said that to the police, since the very start, the 72-year-old priest said.

An extensive review of police records do not reflect that OBrien made this statement to investigators.

I told you outright and I told the police outright, he insisted.

OBrien added that he did not take part in any coverup and that Feit had belonged in a monastery.

What were they going to do? Leave him in the community or lock him up (in a monastery)? OBrien said, indicating he believed the latter would keep him from doing harm.

Feit lives in Phoenix, Ariz., with his family. He left the priesthood in 1971.

Tachney and OBrien went on record with the McAllen Police Department and Texas Rangers Unsolved Crimes Investigation Team.

The case was reopened in 2002 but neither Tachney nor OBrien was called to testify before the grand jury last year.

I have faith that maybe one day we can close it, Rodriguez said last week.

Tachney and OBrien were important to the investigation, he said.

Absolutely, without question, he said. The testimony and evidence that we were able to uncover from witnesses (in this investigation) was information that was not known (before).

Fr. Thomas P. Doyle, who counsels and advocates for victims of clergy abuse, said he has more questions than answers about the events concerning Feit.

If what you are saying is true and if in fact the investigation proves it is all factual, it is certainly a horrendous story. It is a nightmarish account, Doyle said Tuesday in a telephone interview from Maryland.

Doyle, who co-authored The Problem of Sexual Molestation by Roman Catholic Clergy in 1986, alerting bishops of sexual abuse by clergy, characterized the events surrounding Garzas death and the investigation into her murder as really bizarre.

Whats going to happen now? Doyle asked. What is going to be the next step?

eperez-trevino@brownsvilleherald.com

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