It’s been a while since I’ve written one of these and it’s a bummer. I know. Really, I’m way behind in reading too. Everything is crashing down around me now that it’s the end of the year.
The truth is, October (to the end of the year) is a really busy time for me. I have my husband’s birthday, our wedding anniversary, three other family birthdays, then my own; Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas. Shit gets crazy. Plus we had an election in Canada that ended last night (phew!) Suffice to say, my stress levels are through the roof most days. I no time, I spent too much money, our pet’s heads are falling off!
When I’m stressed out from it all, you will find me decompressing by way of isolation. I don’t do too much social media, I burrow myself in my bedroom and watch TV. So there’s no a lot of motivation to write reviews or research murder.
Today, it’s time to break the slump!
I’m feeling good about last night’s election results, as my beloved country rejected the right-wing politics that are taking over most other places on the globe – even if AB and SK are being fucking whiny bitches about it. Die mad if you think that’ll get you anywhere, Prairies.
Some stress has been alleviated from my brain mush, I’ve been watching an ass-load of horror movies for the #31daysofhorror challenge, and I’m feeling in the Halloween spirit.
My favourite holiday hit me late this year for a lot of reasons, but I’m in it now!
So my first #TTC post of the season is going to be something special for the spooky season. And what better way to keep the spooky spirit flowing through you, then with a nun killer?
Poor taste? Too on the nose?
Either way, this is the story of Sister Tadea Benz.
In the morning of October 31st, 1981 in Amarillo, Texas, Sister Angela Martinez went to check on Sister Tadea Benz. Sister Angela was concerned that Sister Tadea had missed morning chapel. It was completely unlike her, because unlike me when I was growing up, Sister Tadea actually wanted to go to worship.
I had more fake sore throats on Sundays than I can shake a crucifix at.
It was also completely unlike Sister Tadea to shut her bedroom door. Sister Angela told the court in her testimony, “Sister Tadea was hard of hearing and always left her door ajar to hear the morning buzzer. I knew it was not Sister Tadea’s doing, but I could not think further. It was too much for me. I was in shock.”
Sister Angela was in shock because upon opening Sister Tadea’s door, she found the 76-year-old nun nude, on the floor with her arms outstretched by her side.
Sister Angela called for the other nuns. They wrapped Sister Tadea’s body in a sheet and cleaned up spots of blood on the floor. The assumed Sister Tadea had died after falling to the ground.
Later in the day, another nun, Sister Florantine, discovered a broken window in the convent’s community room and realized that there had been a break-in.
The nuns called the police to investigate and began to discuss whether they should tell the police about Sister Tadea. Sister Florantine told the court during the trial, “In my mind, I thought of it. But I took it for granted, as did the others, that she died a natural death.”
While they hesitated to reveal the dead nun wrapped in a sheet in the next room, the police overheard the murmuring and took action.
In Sister Tadea’s room, police collected a knife from under the bed, the bed linens; fingerprints from the knife’s blade, the bed’s headboard and from the broken window with the cut screen. An additional knife was discovered in the driveway outside.
Sister Tadea’s body was then autopsied. The examination revealed stab wounds, contusions to her head, abrasive injuries to the neck; signs of external bleeding and internal trauma indicated the nun had been raped. Manual strangulation was ruled as the manner of death.
In the early stages of the investigation, police spoke to a witness who claimed to have seen 17-year-old Johnny Frank Garrett running from the direction of the convent. Garrett lived across the street from St. Francis.
Now, it needs to be said, that during my research I did find out that this witness may have been a self-proclaimed clairvoyant named “Bubbles” who didn’t actually see Garrett leaving the scene, but had a “vision” of it. She described a teenage boy who wore his hair in an “afro-style wig” during the attack and stood about five-eleven, running from the scene in this vision. Bubbles said the killer lived on the same street as the convent.
Police questioned Garrett and searched his home, finding a kitchen knife that matched the one found in the driveway of the convent. They also had his fingerprints in the convent, but it was a place he visited regularly. Garrett’s prints were not on the actual murder weapon, the knife found under the bed.
Police printed up a confession for Garrett, saying it was his own words, but he refused to sign the confession and swore he never made it.
On November 9th, Garrett – who, by some reports, qualified as developmentally disabled – was arrested and charged with the murder of Sister Tadea Benz.
At trial, the prosecution presented their case that Johnny Frank Garrett took knives from his home, ran across the street in the early hours of Halloween and broke into the convent looking for a nun to rape and kill. After he was done, he ran back home and this is when the witness saw him.
Garrett and his family maintained his innocence, but he was found guilty and sentenced to death. He was taken to Ellis Unit to be held on death row.
His original execution date was set for January 6, 1992, but after intense pressure from a coalition of Texas Bishops against the death penalty, Pope John II issued a request of clemency to the Governor of Texas Ann Richards.
Richards approved the request, granting a stay. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles held a hearing to debate Garrett receiving a commutation to life in prison as was being requested by the Catholic officials in Texas.
A vote of 17 to nothing upheld the death penalty.
On February 11, 1992, Johnny Frank Garrett was executed by lethal injection at Huntsville Unit. He was 28-years-old.
His final meal request was ice cream. The official records state Garrett declined to make a final statement, however, last words were recorded by journalists at the execution and they have been quoted and attributed to Garrett regularly.
As reported by APBnews, Johnny Frank Garrett’s last words were, “I’d like to thank my family for loving me and taking care of me. The rest of the world can kiss my ever-loving ass because I’m innocent.”
And honestly, that’s a big mood.
Particularly considering that over a decade later, DNA evidence in Sister Tadea’s murder was tested and linked to Leoncio Perez Rueda.
Around the same time as Sister Tadea’s murder, there was another rape-murder of an elderly Amarillo woman, Narnie Bryson. She was 81-years-old at the time of her death.
The police publicly described the case as “too similar” to Sister Tadea’s murder for the two cases to not be related. However, that case went unsolved until years after Garrett’s execution.
In 2004, DNA from Sister Tadea’s case was run through CODIS. It came back as a match to a career criminal, a Cuban immigrant, Leoncio Perez Rueda. He was among the “criminal and undesirables” who were expelled by Castro to the U.S. during the Mariel boatlift.
And just how did Rueda’s DNA end up on the CODIS system? It was taken off of the sheet that was underneath Narnie Bryson at the time of her murder.
Rueda, at this time, was serving out a 45-year prison sentence for Bryson’s murder, to which he had confessed. When questioned by police about the DNA match to Sister Tadea’s murder, Rueda allegedly confessed to “killing and raping a nun” in his past but didn’t commit to being Sister Tadea’s killer.
To this day, Rueda has never been charged with Sister Tadea’s murder and Texas seems less than willing to admit they put an innocent man to death, so Johnny Frank Garrett has still not been posthumously exonerated.
It’s stories like this that leave me no choice but to not support the death penalty. When even one innocent person dies, the margin of error is too high.
It is undeniable that there are people on this planet who are wastes of oxygen, but until the standard of evidence for the death penalty is so high that not a single innocent person could squeak by, I say, just let the truly evil ones rot.
There is a documentary on Garrett’s case, The Last Word. As well as a semi-fictional horror film called Johnny Frank Garrett’s Last Word. You can watch the trailer here.
You can read real letters, written by Johnny Frank Garrett before his execution, here.
What do you guys think of this case? WHAT DO YOU THINK OF BUBBLES?
Do you support the death penalty?
These are things we need to talk about, especially Bubbles.
Until next time, Booknerds…