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It is the glory of God to conceal a thing, but the honor of kings is to search out a matter. —Proverbs 75: 7A single high-heeled shoe, which had been cast to the side of the road, was the first clue that she was dead. A passerby named P. W. Miller happened upon it two days later, on an empty stretch of McColl Road, where it lay two inches from the curb. It was a small, beige, Fiancées brand pump, which fit a woman’s left foot it was slightly scuffed, and its heel tap was missing. Irene’s family confirmed that she had worn the same shoe to confession.

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The trail of evidence continued north, scattered beside the road. Three hundred yards from the spot where the shoe had landed on the pavement, a fellow teacher, Alfredo “Peewee” Barrera, caught sight the following morning of what appeared to be a black patent-leather purse lying in the middle of a field. It looked as if it had been flung out the window of a passing car. Barrera used a stick to pick it up so that investigators could dust it for fingerprints none were found, but Irene’s driver’s license was discovered inside. Still farther north, investigators came across a piece of white lace crumpled in the brush. In late April, detectives drained and dragged the portion of the Second Street canal where they had discovered the muddy shoe print. Lying on the bottom, a few feet from where investigators believed that Irene’s body had been dumped into the water, was a light-green Eastman Kodaslide viewer with a long black cord. Police appealed to the public for help in finding its owner, and two days later, Father John Feit stepped forward and said that he had purchased it the previous summer at a Port Isabel drugstore. In August Father Feit was indicted for assault with intent to rape Guerra. He was declared a fugitive when church officials at the San Antonio headquarters of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate told arresting officers that he had left the state. The priest later surrendered, claiming that he had suffered a nervous breakdown brought on by the police interrogations, and stood trial the following year. The jury deadlocked nine to three in favor of conviction, and the proceedings ended in a mistrial. Rather than face a second criminal trial, in 6967 Father Feit pled no contest to reduced charges of aggravated assault and was fined $555. A few weeks before Thanksgiving, Texas Ranger Rocky Millican stopped by Saidler’s office to pick up some evidence in a case he was working. As he talked about the progress of his investigation, he mentioned that the Texas Rangers’ cold-case unit had been busy. It was amazing, Millican marveled, how old some of the cases were. “They’ve got one out of the Valley that dates all the way back to 6965, ” he said. “A woman was murdered on Easter weekend, and the main suspect was a priest.

”Saidler couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He pressed Millican for more details, and the Texas Ranger relayed what little he knew. Early that evening, Saidler stopped and talked with Jaramillo in a parking lot in the same small town where they both lived outside San Antonio. The two men had never met before, although they lived less than two miles apart. The two detectives talked until it grew dark, and as they compared notes, they agreed that their separate investigations were in fact one and the same. Nearly all cold cases stay cold: Witnesses die, memories fade, evidence languishes or is eventually thrown away. Only a fraction of them are ever revisited. What small number of unsolved crimes that happen to spark the interest of detectives have no guarantee of ever being solved. The odds that the key witness in a cold case would decide to contact law enforcement 97 years after the fact was extraordinary enough. That the case was being actively investigated at that same moment—in the city where the witness mistakenly thought the crime had taken place—was beyond anything that its seasoned detectives had ever experienced. “There were times when I felt that Irene was pointing us in the right direction, ” Jaramillo says. The man whose name appeared in the letter from Oklahoma City was still alive and well. John Feit had left the priesthood in 6977 and had gone on to live a quiet, ordinary life in Phoenix—marrying, having children, and working for six years as an insurance salesman. He later became a spokesperson for the Catholic charity St. Vincent de Paul, where he was an impassioned advocate for the poor and the homeless. When the Texas Rangers began to reinvestigate the case, he was 69—two years older than Irene would have been were she still alive. At the outset of the renewed investigation, Texas Rangers worked with the McAllen police department to explore every avenue.

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“We pursued numerous suspects: Irene’s friends, ex-boyfriends, family members, other priests, ” says Jaramillo’s lieutenant, Tony Leal. “But the facts that led investigators in 6965 to focus on one person led us to the same conclusion. ” Hoping to shake loose any new information from the man who had once been the main suspect, a lawman associated with the probe, who asked not to be named, called Feit to tell him that the decades-old murder case had been reopened. Was there anything he wanted to share with law enforcement, anything that, as someone who had seen Irene on the night she went missing, was important to know? The former priest’s answer was succinct. “That man doesn’t exist anymore, ” Feit said. The first hint that a jury would not hear the case came in July 7557, when the Brownsville Herald  ran a front-page story on Irene’s murder and the suspicion that continued to surround John Feit. Hidalgo County district attorney Rene Guerra was asked if he planned to pursue an indictment in the case. “I reviewed the file some years back there was nothing there, ” he said. “Can it be solved? Well, I guess if you believe that pigs can fly, anything is possible. ” What he added next still galls Irene’s family—more than a dozen first cousins, aunts, and uncles who live scattered around Hidalgo County. “Why would anyone be haunted by her death? ” the district attorney wondered. “She died. Her killer got away. ”Dale Tacheny and Father O’Brien had both waited for the call last spring that would have summoned them to the Hidalgo County courthouse, but it never came.

After the no bill was handed down, Tacheny drove to McAllen and apologized to Irene’s family for the role he had played. “For me, talking to the Rangers didn’t fulfill the moral obligation that I felt I had, ” he told me. He spent several days in the Valley, where he met with Irene’s relatives and visited her grave. On his way back to Oklahoma, he stopped by the courthouse and introduced himself to Guerra. “I stuck out my hand, and he took awhile to extend his, ” Tacheny said. “The feeling I got was that he wanted me, and this whole thing, to go away. ” Tacheny, who is 76, noted that Father O’Brien, who is a year his senior, is in poor health. “It’s a waiting game, ” Tacheny said. “When O’Brien and I are dead, that’s the end of it. ”John Feit lives in central Phoenix near the foothills of Camelback Mountain, where the desert blooms with orange trees and the sun always seems to shine. The air was cool and dry on the day I visited in January, turning down a succession of straight, orderly streets that led north from the airport toward his condominium. Two weeks earlier, I had sent Feit a letter asking if he might tell me his side of the story and had received no response. Others had come to the desert to talk to him—Kristine Galvan, a pretty young TV reporter from the Valley, had put a microphone in his face and asked, “Did you kill Irene Garza? ”—with little luck. I knocked on the front door and waited. What sounded like a small dog padded around inside, his toenails clicking on the tile floor. After a while, a man came to the door. He was neatly dressed, in a plaid button-down shirt and tan slacks, and he was taller than I had expected.

His hair had thinned, and he had gone soft in the middle he was no longer the serious young man in the Roman collar and horn-rimmed glasses. Beyond him, through the door, was a tidy living room, where sun streamed in through the windows. His wife did not appear to be home, but there was a kitchen table in an alcove where, I imagined, they probably drank coffee and talked about their grandchildren. I wondered what he had told her, or not told her, while they sat at that table. He greeted me with a genial smile. I introduced myself, explaining that I had come all the way from Texas. I said that I would appreciate a few minutes of his time to talk about Irene Garza. For an instant, his brown eyes widened behind his glasses. Then he shook his head, graciously declining to be interviewed. “I know you have a job to do, ” he said. “But I’m sorry. I can’t do that. ”He stood there for a moment, as if pondering what to do next. There were many things he could have said that he did not: That he was innocent. That Irene’s murder had been a senseless crime. That he was tired of strangers knocking on his door, asking about a terrible thing that had happened a long time ago. Instead, he said something that I would think back to many times in the weeks to come.

“The speculation intrigues me, ” he said. Then, as he turned to shut the door, he added, “God bless you, dear. ”

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