A Tale of Two  Murders, courtesy of the John Feit trial

A Tale of Two Murders, courtesy of the John Feit trial

A few days ago I got an email from Josh Gaynor, a producer for the CBS show 48 Hours. He had run across my short story “The Angler” about the 2007 murder of Father Richard Junius in Mexico City. Father Richard was the pastor of Saint Patrick’s Church when I was president of the parish council, although I’d left Mexico by the time of his death.

Gaynor and I ended up having a phone conversation surprising to both of us, although in different ways. Gaynor was following the Texas trial of John Feit, accused of murdering a woman in 1960. At the time, Feit and Father Richard were young priests assigned to Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen, Texas. The woman, Irene Garza, reportedly went to the church intending to speak with Father Richard but ended up speaking to Feit. More about the trial from the San Antonio Express-News: http://www.expressnews.com/news/local/article/Feit-s-conflicting-1960-statements-reviewed-12404560.php

Gaynor was trying to get a clear picture of who was who in 1960, but as I met Father Richard some 40 years later, I wasn’t much help. But I clearly surprised Gaynor when I pointed out that Irene Garza and Father Richard had died in similar fashion: tortured and strangled. Irene was raped while Father Richard’s 79-year-old naked and bound body was found with porn magazines.

Related post: How Father Richard Inspired the fictional church of Santa Clara

Father Richard’s death was first pronounced murder—which is what the head of his religious order and his family were immediately told—and then changed to death by sexual misadventure a few days later. The final verdict was greeted with massive street protests from his many faithful parishioners, protests from his Oblate missionary order, and complete disbelief from those who knew him like myself.

I told Gaynor about Father Richard’s missionary work in Mexico, his prison advocacy, and his popular radio show as well as his naiveté in dealing with criminals. While pastor at Saint Patrick’s he was defrauded by workmen as well as beaten and robbed of the collection money several times. His death in the rectory of Our Lady of Guadalupe church in Mexico City, which suffered an arson attack the same night, came only days after he publicly called out the owners of a local bar for serving alcohol to minors.

Gaynor seemed shocked at the suggestion that the scene of Father Richard’s death was staged and potentially connected to the disagreement with the bar owners. “Why would anyone want to cover up a bar serving to minors?” he asked.

I tried to explain the complexities of Mexico’s drug war. Who owned the bar? Did they pay protection money and to whom? What business were they running out of the back room? Who else frequented that bar, i.e. influential gang members or minor government officials who got a kickback from the drug trade? Were the minors halcones, indispensable lookouts for drug gang transactions? The reasons not to have activity at the bar looked into were more than I could enumerate in a rushed phone call.

The next day, Gaynor emailed another question: Had I seen the police report on Father Richard’s death? I almost laughed.

The term “police report” is a much looser concept in Mexico than in the US. Not only are formal police reports a rarity—family members often have to pay for private detectives to investigate and compile reports—such reports are hardly available to the general public in a country without open trials or trials by jury. Victim advocacy is a relatively new concept.

Mexico’s drug war has seen as many as 90,000 dead or disappeared in less than a decade. Each death like Father Richard’s is a small but never-ending battle for truth and accountability.

Related: The real story behind 43 MISSING

You may also like

CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

Detective Emilia Cruz series

Find the Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series on Amazon

What is Happening to Priests in Mexico?

What is Happening to Priests in Mexico?

 

Priests in Mexico appear to be wearing targets as well as their vestments.

Father Richard was the first

My pastor in Mexico City was an Oblate missionary, Father Ricard Junius, who was murdered in 2007. I wrote about his death in this blog post and his unsolved murder was the impetus for the Detective Emilia Cruz shot story, “The Angler,” which is part of the #free Detective Emilia Cruz Starter Library.

Not to rehash Father Richard’s passing again, but the events surrounding his death were very suspicious and the reporting of it contradictory. Some called it death by misadventure–he was tied up and porn magazines found in his room in the rectory–but as far as I know, his death was murder.

The Daily Beast reported in October 2016 on the killings of three priests. I was struck by a certain sentence in the report that applies to Father Richard as well: “As happens often in Mexico, local authorities sowed confusion about the circumstances of the murder.” 80 percent of crimes against the clergy are never solved, according to InSightCrime.org.

Ten Years Later

Earlier this month, Father Luis Lopez Villa, aged 71, was killed in his church in the municipality of Reyes La Paz on the outskirts of Mexico City. Like Father Richard, he was tied up in his own room in the rectory. He was stabbed to death.

Last year was the most deadly year on record for the Catholic Church in Mexico, probably since the Cristero War of the 1920’s. In fact, in 2016, Mexico was cited as the most dangerous country in the world for the clergy for the 8th time in a row!

Related: The Mexican martyr who inspired a mystery

Mexico’s Centro Catolico Multimedia documented crimes against clergy over the past 4 years:

  • 520 robberies
  • 17 murders
  • 25 survived attacks
  • 2 disappearances
  • 2 kidnappings

Sympton of Rising Crime or Something Else?

I’m not sure what percentage of the Mexican population is Catholic clergy, but it stands to reason that as violent crime rises in Mexico, it increasingtly affects all segments of the population. But priests are also in a uniquely tight spot, as I saw in the case of Father Richard.

Priests hold visible and respected positions in their communities. They may espouse unpopular stances to defend their parishoners and promote human rights. In Father Richard’s case, he spoke out against underage drinking at a specific neighborhood bar right before he was murdered and parisoners widely believed the timing was not a coincidence.

There’s another troubling issue: narco alms, or narcolimosnas. This is basically cartel drug money funneled to build churches, schools, clinics and other assets for Mexican communities. These projects allow drug kingpins to build support where civil infrastructure is shaky. Remember, the poor never turned Robin Hood over to the Sheriff of Nottingham.

If priests don’t cooperate or speak out against drug-related murders or help victims’ famiies find justice, retribution can be fierce and deadly.

It’s a no-win situation for Mexican priests. Either take the community asset built with the blood of cartel victims, or refuse and be marked for death.

Detective Emilia Cruz Investigates

In the Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series, Padre Ricardo (a tribute to Father Richard Junius) is Emilia’s sounding board. In PACIFIC REAPER, she takes refuge in the church after a series of events destroy her entire personal history.

But if anything should ever happen to him, like the robbery and murder of the priest in THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY, another true event taken from my experiences in Mexico City, Emilia will be on hand to investigate.

You may also like

CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

Detective Emilia Cruz series

Find the Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series on Amazon

The Great Madonna Mistake

The Great Madonna Mistake

It took me five years to realize the mistake. The Madonna mistake.

In THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY, Luz de Maria is a maid in Mexico City who returns home to the small town of Soledad de Doblado after losing her job. There she sees a news report that leads her to believe the upper class man with whom she had a brief—but emotionally charged encounter—is dead. Blind with anger over the loss, she destroys the family’s shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe. To make amends she paints a Madonna and Child for her family; an unintended self-portrait that becomes a small but pivotal plot element. (Sorry, no spoilers)

Related: The Hidden Light of Mexico City dreamcast and Chapters 1-2

Here’s the description of what she painted:

“Luz had sketched the third Madonna furiously one night after having the dream about Eddo again. The colors were cool grays and blues. El Greco colors, she thought and closed her eyes tiredly. That one was easy to name. La Virgen de las Lágrimas. Madonna of the Tears . . .

“In the painting, Mary wore a sheer rebozo shawl over straight dark hair. Her head was tilted to one side. Under the rebozo, Luz’s face gazed at the child in her arms, looking as if there was no happiness left in the world.”

As I wrote, in my mind’s eye I could see the painting.

The woman. The child. Her expression. Her cloak.

Everything except Mary’s halo.

When I realized that I’d never described the halo of Luz’s painting, I started looking at Madonna pictures. Mary’s halo is variously depicted as a circle of stars, a bright light shining behind Her head, a gold crown, a simple gold circlet, etc, etc.

Madonna and Child

Madonna and Child portrait hanging in vestibule of Our Lady of Good Counsel, Vienna, VA

Virgin of Guadalupe

The famous Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico, always shows Mary with a full body halo that resembles a gold shell.

My favorite Madonna hangs in my dining room. She is dressed as medieval Spanish royalty and wears a hat. Tiny gold flecks on it suggest a halo. The painting is from Peru but I bought it in Mexico.

Carmen Amato's Virgin from Peru

My Madonna from Peru, in Spanish dress

Although omitting mention of a halo might have been oversight, I’d like to think that in THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY, there is a reason why Luz’s Madonna does not have a halo.

It is a self-portrait of a woman who is simply very human.

Like all of us.

 

You may also like

CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

Detective Emilia Cruz series

Find the Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series on Amazon

Padre Ricardo and the Sacristy of Santa Clara

Padre Ricardo and the Sacristy of Santa Clara

The Hidden Light of Mexico City contains a number of references from my own experiences in Mexico City.  I’ve already written about the  class struggle of simply standing in a line but also wanted to share a sadder, more compelling event that helped shape the book’s narrative through the character of Father Santiago.

Related: Read HIDDEN LIGHT’S First 2 Chapters

Father Richard

Father Richard Junius–or Padre Ricardo–was the pastor at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Mexico City when I lived there.  He was an Oblate Missionary who had been in Mexico for years, ministering mostly to the rural poor.  St. Patrick’s was a sizeable urban parish  in a fairly tough neighborhood. It was the only designated English-speaking church in the city.

Fr Richard Junius

Years ago the church had sold off the school building next door. Funds from the sale  were held in escrow by the diocese for maintenance of the church and attached rectory.  The previous pastor had been removed due to a number of misconducts; when Father Richard arrived we were all cautiously hopeful that the new priest would set things right.

St. Patrick’s sacristy was a place I came to know well; the ladies of the parish cleaned it up for the incoming priest, removing layers of grime and polishing the few silver items the church possessed. My son was an altar server and I remade and cleaned all of the altar server vestments, hanging them in the room’s small closet.  The description of the sacristy of the church of Santa Clara in The Hidden Light of Mexico City is based on St. Patrick’s.

 

Father Richard was old and patient and tireless in his efforts to reach out to the local community and deal with their family issues. He made his new English-speaking congregation aware of prison irregularities in Mexico and didn’t flinch when an armed drug addict, stoned out of his mind, walked through the church and accosted him on the altar during midnight Mass.  He spent nothing on his clothing, wearing threadbare corduroy pants and sweaters that became the fictional Father Santiago’s wardrobe. 

Controversy

Father Richard had spent most of his time in Mexico in rural areas. Now in Mexico City, he seemed naive in the midst of Mexico’s spiraling crime and drug war. 

Twice he was assaulted and robbed while alone in the church counting  the Sunday collection. When parishioners insisted that the funds be handled differently, he disagreed, adamant that church funds were solely his responsibility and that he would not close the church at any time. 

He lent a substantial amount from the maintenance funds to an unscrupulous businessman man who never repaid the loan. Father Richard contracted for the bathroom repair without consulting with the parish council. Again, funds disappeared. The job was left half done and toilets didn’t flush.

Never afraid of controversy, he petitioned the bishop to change the church’s status from English-speaking to multi-lingual. The move angered some of the original congregation, but was welcomed by local families.

Much of the English-speaking congregation moved on, angered by his financial floundering. Several years later I was to learn that he’d been murdered.

A violent death

In August 2007, Father Richard was found stripped, tortured, bound and strangled to death in his bedroom in the rectory of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Mexico City.  His body was found the morning after a fire had broken out in the basement of the church late at night.  Initial Mexican news reports speculated that the death was a result of “sexual misconduct,” and downplayed the fire as well as the theft of several items from the church.  The charges were heatedly denied by Catholic Church officials in Mexico, thousands of faithful, and the  Oblates, according to the Catholic News Agency.

Other reports of his death noted that he’d been in conflict with the owner of  a bar near the church whom Father Richard had publicly called out for serving alcohol to minors. The Oblate website reported that “many believe that the brutal crime was in retaliation for Fr. Ricardo’s efforts to impede the drug traffic and the sale of alcohol to minors in the neighborhood. He had reported to the police that such activities were taking place in a building near the corner of the parish church.”

From the family

Fr. Richard’s cousin got in touch with me in April 2016 as a result of this blog post. In an exchange of emails, she related how she was informed by the Oblate Provincial in Belleville, Illinois that Fr. Richard was murdered:

“After I explained my connection, the Provincial began hesitantly stating, “I don’t even know how to say this.” When I asked what he needed to say, he responded that Father Richard had been murdered between the Saturday night Mass of Anticipation and the early Sunday morning Mass. I later heard that his sister expected his body to be returned to Eagle Pass for burial near the grave of his cousin, my uncle Father Bernard C. Junius, OMI. Sadly, the Mexican authorities buried the body quickly in Mexico City.
 
Prior to his death, Father Richard had written a lengthy letter to my uncle Paul explaining all of the activities he was involved in – a thrift store, a radio show, marrying Spanish and Anglo couples. His passion for service and love of those he served threaded through the letter. His death seemed like the waste of a true servant of the people.”
 

Catching his killer

Father Richard was 79 at the time of his death and only a month away from celebrating his 50th anniversary as a priest.  To my knowledge, his murderer has never been brought to justice and the official record remains death by misadventure.
 
Not content with that, I wrote “The Angler,” a novella based on the murder of Father Richard. In “The Angler,” Detective Emilia Cruz, the first female police detective in Acapulco, faces a similar crime. This time, the murder is solved.
 

The Angler by Carmen Amato

 

You may also like

CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

Detective Emilia Cruz series

Find the Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series on Amazon

Mystery ahead

Get the Mystery Ahead newsletter for insider secrets, including exclusive excerpts and what to read/watch now.

 

 

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest