THOU SHALT NOT KILL: THE UNHOLY MURDER OF SISTER TADEA BENZ
❖Amarillo, TX – In the morning hours of October 31st, 1981 the naked body of Sr. Tadea Benz was found inside her room on the 2nd floor of the St. Francis Convent, located on 4301 N.E. 18th Ave.
❖Sr. Angela Martinez was concerned after Sr. Tadea Benz did not attend the 6:30am mass that she religiously attended every day.
❖As Sr. Martinez approached the room she thought it strange the door was closed, as Sr. Benz regularly kept it open to hear the morning bells, as she was hard of hearing, and they would serve as an alarm clock of sorts.
❖She ran to get a few of the other Sisters to help her. When they got there, despite seeing blood on Sr. Benz’s face, they thought the death was accidental, likely from a fall, and started cleaning up the blood in the room.
❖Later in the day, an open, yet broken window was discovered in the community room on the first floor of the convent, with the screen in the window having been cut.
❖Due to the suspected break-in, the police were called to the convent to investigate. While they were there, a detective overheard the nuns talking about finding the body of Sr. Tadea Benz earlier that morning, and if they should mention it to them.
❖With this new information, they went to the 2nd floor bedroom, and saw some blood on the walls and decided to investigate further.
❖Only problem was that the body of Sr. Tadea Benz had already been sent to the funeral home. And, by the time the Amarillo police were able to request the body be sent to the medical examiner’s office, it had already been arterially embalmed and partially cleaned.
❖The autopsy did reveal, this was no accident, it was definitely murder!
❖The autopsy found contusions to the head, stab wounds to the chest, abrasions to the front & back of the neck. Cause of death was determined to be manual strangulation.
❖The medical examiner, Dr. Erdmann, also found signs of forcible rape. This consisted of internal trauma and external bleeding to the vaginal area.
❖Sperm & prostate secretions were also found, but were never tested to determine the blood type of the suspect in her rape & murder. It was alleged that the sample size was too small and ultimately Dr. Erdmann disposed of this evidence as he said no one indicated to him that it should be kept.
❖Hair & fingerprints were also found at the scene. I will come back to this evidence in just a bit.
❖Initially the Amarillo police thought Sr. Tadea Benz’s rape & murder was related to another that had happened in July, just a few months prior, as the M.O. was very similar.
❖On July 9th, 2013 Narnie Cox Bryson was raped, murdered, and strangled with a telephone cord inside her home on North Houston St. in Amarillo, TX. She was 77 and the evidence found at her scene would be eerily similar to that found at Sister Tadea Benz’s months later, including semen and hair.
❖After Narnie Cox Bryson’s murder the police went to the media and reportedly told them that they were looking for someone of Cuban descent, based on the dark, black, curly hairs found at the scene. Now keep this in mind as we discuss the details of Sister Tadea Benz’s murder.
❖In addition to the hairs, fingerprints, and DNA found at the scene. There was other evidence that was discovered as well. Under Sr. Benz’s bed, there was a bent butter knife found.
❖Additionally in the room, there was a plain white t-shirt, like an undershirt, that was likely left behind by her killer. In the driveway of the convent, a wooden handled steak knife was discovered.
❖You would figure with all of this evidence it should be easy for the Amarillo PD to pinpoint who committed the murder of Sister Tadea Benz, and maybe even Narnie Cox Bryson.
❖It wasn’t that clear cut. First, there was an eyewitness that claimed to have seen a man with dark skin and curly black hair leaving the convent the night of the murder, running down the same driveway where the knife was found. As we have discussed before, eyewitness testimony is not always accurate. But was it in this case. Only time will tell.
❖Next, there was a local clairvoyant who went by the nickname “Bubbles”, who decided to take it upon herself, to help with the investigation. Now, she had helped the police in the past, with mixed results, but the Amarillo PD had not asked for her assistance this time.
❖What Bubbles told The Amarillo Daily News, instead of the police, is that she saw the murderer leaving the scene, not in real life, but in a vision. She said it was a teen boy, with olive skin, who wore an “afro-type” wig, stood about 5’10”, and had an “Abe Lincoln” face. She, along with another local clairvoyant friend of hers, Allen, said the murderer lived down the road from the convent, in a white, A-framed house, with dirty hardwood floors and she saw the name “Clyde” in her vision.
❖So, what do “Bubbles”, aka Inez, and Allen do? They decide to go for a walk to see if she can figure out the house and who the murderer is. Again, by themselves, without the assistance from police. And, lo and behold, what do they find? They find a match to a house in her description, located at 4000 NE 19th St, remember the convent was on 4301 NE 18th St, so it’s not the same street, but about a block over.
❖Now it just so happens, in the backyard of that house, is a doghouse with the name “Clyde” written on it. Quite the coincidence don’t you think? (I say sarcastically)
❖Problem is, that this house was home to a white teenager by the name of Johnny Frank Garrett. And, the police had already arrested someone else for the murder of Sr. Tadea Benz, Fernando Flores.
❖According to the witness who had seen the murderer flee the scene, Fernando Flores was the killer. That individual had even picked him from a photo lineup. I mean, he fit the bill, he had dark skin, curly black hair, and he was Cuban. That’s who police were looking for after all.
❖But shortly after announcing the arrest, the DA had to turn around and “eat crow” because Fernando wasn’t their guy. The DNA evidence found at the scene, that was sent to the FBI for comparison, did not match him, so they had to release him, and then apologize for their “optimism” in solving the case.
❖Coming off of this embarrassing situation, and “Bubbles” having done the interview with the local paper, police & the DA needed an arrest to be made, and quickly. So they decided to believe Bubbles, and went to the house she had found.
❖The house, for the Amarillo PD, was a treasure trove & police believed they had their man.
Arrest & Supposed Confession:
❖According to police, a patrol officer recalled seeing Garrett hitting some bushes with a stick on the night of the murder. When Garrett saw the officer, he ran into his house. That behavior was so suspicious, the police decided to check his prints against those found at the scene. Of the many unidentified prints at the crime scene, Garrett’s prints matched two of them.
❖A couple of days later, the Amarillo PD arrested Johnny Frank Garrett for the rape and murder of Sister Tadea Benz. He had an Abe Lincoln face, a slender build, and brown hair, not black, keep that in mind. He was 17 years old, but more significantly, his fingerprint had been found on a bent butter knife under the bed and on Sr. Tadea Benz’s headboard.
❖Pubic hairs found at the scene had the same characteristics as Garrett’s. A steak knife found in the driveway to the convent matched steak knives found in Garrett’s house. (Neither the steak knife or the bent butter knife had been used to kill Sr. Benz.) Also, that type of steak knife was a very common, inexpensive type found in many homes.
❖Johnny Garrett supposedly confessed, at least according to the police, without being recorded, after asking for an attorney, but then refused to sign the confession they had typed up, and later denied making the confession.
❖After his arrest, a jailhouse snitch claimed Garrett told him that he had committed the murders. But, snitches never lie, right?
❖If I seem somewhat cynical about the investigation, it’s because the investigation, and evidence being used against Garrett seemed rushed, incomplete, and it was as if the Amarillo PD & DA, were curtailing to a clairvoyant, pressure from the public, and forcing the evidence to fit the suspect, rather than letting it speak for itself.
❖Basically the theory the police had was that Garrett broke in to commit burglary, and while he was attempting to steal items from Sister Benz’s room, she woke up, caught him, and he strangled her to prevent her from identifying him or yelling.
Trial & Appeals:
❖During the trial, Garrett testified on his own behalf. He claimed he had snuck into the convent, at about noon, several days earlier to steal necklaces and jewelry. He claimed he used the butter knife to pry open a locked cabinet, and that’s why it was bent. And, that he must have left his fingerprint on the headboard when he reached across the bed to grab a cross hanging on the wall.
❖As a rebuttal witness to what Garrett testified to, a nun within the same convent testified that no one could have sneaked in at that time without being seen, that there were no cabinets that were kept locked, Sr. Benz never kept a cross above her bed, and that no items were missing from the convent. Have you ever heard of a nun not having a cross above the bed? (Describe contradictory picture)
❖It didn’t take long for the jury to convict & then sentence Johnny Frank Garrett to death by lethal injection for the 1st degree murder of Sister Tadea Benz.
❖While on death row, several more issues began to arise, and come to light regarding what the jury did & didn’t hear during the trial. One of the most damning things, perhaps, is the background of Johnny Frank Garrett.
❖Garrett had suffered severe psychological, physical, and sexual trauma as a child. His father disowned him early on, and Garrett was left in the custody of his mother. This wouldn’t normally be an issue, except over the course of his childhood years, Johnny had five “step-fathers”, and each one was worse than the last.
❖With one of his “step-fathers”, Garrett was forced to perform sexual acts, on him and his step-father’s friends. He was also made to do these things on camera, as they were making child pornography videos, starring him, and other children his age. Allegedly, in at least one of the videos, an animal was involved. I’ll just leave it at that.
❖Garrett also had a lower than average IQ and at the time of the murder he was still a minor.
❖Now, I’m not saying because Garrett had a terrible childhood, he is not a murderer. I’m just offering all the information that we know regarding his background, as none of it was allowed at trial. Some at the request of Garrett, as he truly feared the videos of him getting out. Other information was excluded by the Judge, after the DA requested it be.
❖After conviction, Garrett was examined by forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Dorothy Lewis who was doing a study on juveniles that had been sentenced to death. And based on the information she learned from and about him, stated she believed Garrett suffered from dissociative identity disorder, aka multiple personality disorder. Dr. Lewis said she believed initially that Garrett was schizophrenic, had brain damage and was deeply sick and psychotic. However, when she saw him doing a television interview speaking about how his dead aunt Barbara spoke with him in his prison cell, her view of him changed. She now believed that he had multiple personalities. After the interview, Dr. Lewis flew down to Texas to formally analyze Garrett to potentially spare him from the “needle”.
Guilt, Insanity, or Innocence:
❖Dr. Lewis, during the course of her interviews with Garrett, determined that he had an alternate personality by the name of “Aaron Shockman”, who emerged after Garrett was ridiculed and bullied in the 5th grade, and suffered the repeated sexual abuse by one of his step-father’s. In addition, he was regularly physically beaten and abused, including an incident where he was forced to sit on a hot burner after he had been crying. Basically, if you’re gonna cry, I’m going to give you something to cry about. Severe burns and scarring to his buttocks prove this actually took place.
❖Garrett also informed Dr. Lewis that he was not worried about his impending execution, because his other alt personality, his Aunt Barbara, who was deceased, would protect him from the execution, and he wouldn’t succumb to the effects of the lethal injection. So, therefore he wouldn’t die. Seems logical right?
❖Garrett’s family also introduced him to alcohol and drugs, starting at the age of 10. That led to lessons on how to use other substances like paint-thinner and amphetamines to get high, which led Garrett to have permanent brain-damage.
❖And, it wasn’t just Dr. Lewis that examined Garrett. Three different mental health experts examined him & came to the same conclusion, that Johnny Frank Garrett was brain-damaged, chronically psychotic, and extremely mentally impaired. And that this likely was a result of the abuse he had suffered, and the substances he had done.
❖Keep in mind, none of this was ever introduced at his trial.
❖And, even the Catholic Church was pleading with the State of Texas to spare Garrett’s life.
❖Roman Catholic bishops in Texas, the members of the St. Francis Convent, and even Pope John Paul II himself, tried to put a stop to the execution. In learning of Dr. Lewis’ assessment of Garrett they wrote:
“In the case of Johnny Frank Garrett, we believe that the courts should take into consideration not only the fact that he was a juvenile at the time of the crime but also that there is evidence, not admitted in the previous court proceedings, that he had suffered brain damage, was abused as a child and was addicted to drugs…He is now diagnosed as chronically psychotic.”
❖And, it seemed to carry some weight, as the then Governor of Texas, Ann Richards, ordered a stay in Johnny Frank Garrett’s execution. But this was short lived, as the Texas Board of Pardons decided to meet to decide if Garrett’s sentence should be commuted to life.
❖Except they instead voted 17-0, with 1 member not voting, to proceed with the execution. And, on February 11th, 1992, at the age of 28, Johnny Lee Garrett was executed by the State of Texas for the murder of Sister Tadea Benz. His last meal was ice cream, since I know there are some, including my daughter, that are interested in those details.
❖His last words are not as clear. According to the State of Texas’ Dept. of Corrections website, Garrett said nothing. But allegedly, this is not true. According to journalists at the execution, Garrett’s last words were actually, ““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.”
Did he or Didn’t he?:
❖If you think Johnny Frank Garrett was guilty, then your story is done, and your ideal sentence has been carried out. But, what if he wasn’t guilty, or you don’t think he’s guilty? Well, then the story continues…
❖Clearly, you can’t un-execute someone, so why dig deeper? I think to be able to formulate someone’s guilt or innocence, you have to know the facts. And, as a juror, you don’t always get all the facts, for a variety of different reasons. So, I want to take the time to illustrate some of the evidence that doesn’t necessarily fit with Johnny Frank Garrett’s guilt.
➢Numerous foreign prints not belonging to Garrett were found at the scene
➢Numerous foreign curly, black hairs not belonging to Garrett were found at the scene
➢A foreign, bloody V-neck T-shirt not belonging to Garrett was found at the scene
➢A foreign, athletic sock not belonging to Garrett was found at the scene
➢Shoe prints found outside the convent did not match Garrett’s
➢Blood on an exit door was not tested by by the police
➢A 14-year-old boy testified, outside the presence of the jury, that he had gone with Garrett into the convent 2 days before the murder to steal necklaces, just as Garrett claimed.
❖The murder of Sister Tadea Benz was just the most recent in a long string of vicious assaults on elderly women living in the northeast section of Amarillo. Approximately 10 elderly women were beaten & raped, including Sr. Tadea Benz and Narnie Cox Bryson.
❖Speaking of Narnie Bryson, despite the similarities between hers and Sr. Benz’s, Garrett was never charged in her murder.
If not Garrett, then who?
❖After Garrett’s execution, more specifically, in 1994 the pathologist, Dr. Erdmann who had completed the autopsies on Sister Tadea Benz and Narnie Cox Bryson was charged with corruption. He was found to have falsified 100’s of reports and botched numerous autopsies. He would end up pleading no contest to six felonies.
❖Nearly 13 years after the execution of Johnny Frank Garrett for the murder of Sister Tadea Benz, the police reinterviewed a person of interest in the Narnie Cox Bryson murder, that they had initially interviewed in 1981. That person was Leoncio Perez Rueda, a Cuban refugee that was in Amarillo at the time of the murders. Rueda had been responsible for peeping, break-ins and rapes across the city. Only police did not know that yet.
❖It wasn’t until 2005, that Rueda was arrested and charged with the murder of Narnie Cox Bryson after police ran the old DNA from the case and got a hit. He wasn’t charged with capital murder, and received a sentence of 45 years for the rape & murder.
❖Jesse Quackenbush, an attorney on Garrett’s family’s behalf, in trying to prove his innocence, created a documentary called The Last Word. It was then adapted into a semi-fictional horror film, entitled, Johnny Frank Garrett’s Last Word.
❖Some say it was self-serving, others believe he did want to help clear Garrett’s name for him & his family. I tend to believe it was a little bit of both.
The Proof is in the Pudding:
❖Five months after he was arrested, Rueda gave a jailhouse interview to Jesse Quackenbush. In that interview, Rueda admitted to sexually assaulting Narnie Cox Bryson and “a nun” on what he believed was Halloween. He claimed that he was forced to rape the women by none other than Fernando Flores, his long time friend and occasional room mate. But swears that Flores killed them both. Remember him?
❖Rueda also admitted that the nun had previously given him a white, V-neck T-shirt, similar to, if not “the” T-shirt found near her body.
❖Despite Rueda’s confession and evidence to the contrary, the State of Texas, or its Governor refuse to revisit the case against Johnny Frank Garrett.
❖This is likely because if Rueda is charged with the crime that Johnny Frank Garrett paid for with his life, it likely opens the state to lawsuits, and having to admit they were wrong. And this is not something they are willing to do. Which is why they also will not retest any of the evidence that still remains.
❖The one positive to walk away from any of this is that if Rueda is, in fact Sr. Tadea Benz’s killer, he is already behind bars, and given his age, he is unlikely to be set free again.
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SOURCES: All Accessed October 2022
What Was Johnny Frank Garrett More Afraid Of Than Being Executed For Nun’s Rape And Murder? ttps://www.oxygen.com/true-crime-buzz/what-drove-johnny-frank-garrett-to-rape-murder-nun-in-1981
A Convent Nun Murdered on Halloween — True Crime https://medium.com/true-crime-addiction/a-convent-nun-murdered-on-halloween-true-crime-938b61d3afbf
Was Johnny Frank Garrett A Sadistic Nun-Killer Or An Innocent Man Put To Death?https://allthatsinteresting.com/johnny-frank-garrett
Johnny Frank Garrett, Petitioner-appellant, v. James A. Lynaugh, Director, Texas Department of Corrections,respondent- Appellee, 842 F.2d 113 (5th Cir. 1988)https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/appellate-courts/F2/842/113/295588/
Nuns who found Sister Tadea Benz dead in her…https://www.upi.com/Archives/1982/08/26/Nuns-who-found-Sister-Tadea-Benz-dead-in-her/3024399182400/
Bloodshed Books Corporation Presents http://www.bloodshedbooks.com/index.php
Johnny Frank GARRETT http://www.murderpedia.org/male.G/g1/garret-johnny-frank.htm
Man pleads guilty, sentenced to 45 years for 1981 slaying https://www.myplainview.com/news/article/Man-pleads-guilty-sentenced-to-45-years-for-1981-8547291.php
Halloween murder resurrected 30 years later https://www.newschannel10.com/story/15894338/halloween-murder-reserected-30-years-later/
True Crime Tuesday: The Nun Killer https://heresthefuckingtwist.com/2019/10/22/true-crime-tuesday-the-nun-killer/
One-on-one with Johnny Frank Garrett’s family https://www.newschannel10.com/story/34931688/one-on-one-with-johnny-frank-garretts-family/
Was The Right Man Executed For Sister M. Tadea’s Death? Or Was Johnny Frank Garrett Innocent?http://darkmatter69.blogspot.com/2018/10/was-right-man-executed-for-sister-m.html
Mariel boatlift https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mariel_boatlift
TEXAS EXECUTES KILLER OF A NUN https://www.nytimes.com/1992/02/12/us/texas-executes-killer-of-a-nun.html
Did Texas execute an innocent man? https://vocal.media/criminal/did-texas-execute-an-innocent-man
Statement by Bishops of Texas on the Death Penalty, January 1992 https://www.usccb.org/resources/statement-bishops-texas-death-penalty-january-1992
Johnny Frank Garrett https://scarymatter.com/2021/10/28/johnny-frank-garret/