Who Killed Father Ryan?
June 22, 2005 8:59 AM   Subscribe

"In those days, there wasn't a lot of talk about gay priests. People didn't want to believe it." On Dec. 4, 1982, a deeply suntanned man, about 40 years old, walked into the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Boise, Idaho, and readied himself for confession. As he waited, the man swallowed a cyanide capsule. A few minutes later, he was dead. He had no identification, and a note in his pocket said only that the $1,900 he carried should be used for his burial, with any remainder donated to the church. The note was signed with what turned out to be a false name. To this day, no one has been able to identify the man, nor to determine why he had come to the church to absolve himself of his sins. On the answers to that mystery may hang the fate of a small, quiet, meticulous man who now lives in South Austin, and who spent 20 years in a Texas prison for a murder he says he did not commit, but which investigators believe may be connected to the dead man at the Boise Sacred Heart Catholic Church. More inside.
posted by matteo (25 comments total)
From the Free The West Memphis Three site:
The cases in this study reveal many reasons why someone could not have committed the crime to which he confessed. In 1973, Connecticut State Police elicited a confession from Peter Reilly to killing and mutilating his mother. [FN143] After a jury trial, conviction, and then reversal by an appellate court, the prosecutor *451 handling the second trial discovered that the former prosecutor's files contained documents showing that Reilly arrived at the scene of the murder only minutes before the police and thus could not have committed the crime. [FN144]

In 1982, James Harry Reyos confessed in New Mexico that he had killed a Catholic priest a year earlier. [FN145] The victim died between 7 p.m. and midnight in Odessa, Texas, [FN146] but gas receipts and an eyewitness established that Reyos was in Roswell, New Mexico (200 miles away) at 8 p.m. that evening, [FN147] and a speeding ticket proved that he was also in Roswell shortly after midnight. [FN148] To have committed the murder, Reyos would have had to drive 200 miles to the murder site, kill the priest in no more than one minute and speed 215 miles back to where he received the speeding ticket--in four hours (averaging well over 100 miles an hour on narrow, country roads). Eventually the state's attorney handling Reyos' appeal conceded that Reyos could not have committed the crime. [FN149]
posted by matteo at 9:01 AM on June 22, 2005

Thanks, matteo. That was an interesting article with all the makings of a first-class murder mystery novel. In the fictionalized version, all events would revolve around unlocking the mystery of "The Deeply Suntanned Man," with poor James Harry Reyos caught in the crossfire.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 9:26 AM on June 22, 2005

Yes, fascinating articles. It really bothers me that all the physical evidence was later destroyed. And then the fact that there is yet another connection to the Catholic Church and it's mishandling of predatory priests...
posted by crapulent at 9:43 AM on June 22, 2005

This is why MetaFilter is so great. Thanks, matteo.
posted by goatdog at 10:11 AM on June 22, 2005

Stunning. Gracias.
posted by kjh at 11:08 AM on June 22, 2005

Physical evidence proving the accused was elsewhere + no physical evidence indicating he was at the scene of the crime (though, evidently, plenty of evidence showing that someone else was) + drunken confession almost immediately retracted + zero investigation of the victim's background.

Plus, all the evidence is destroyed. Nice!

This is really staggering, but moreso because the injustice just keeps dragging on.

I am, though, a little bewildered with the tanned-man connection, which I don't see at all, unless there are futher clues that they aren't revealing. His pseudonym had a church connection, and his fingerprints weren't on file, so he must have killed Ryan and another priest? Quite a stretch, there. Or have I overlooked something?
posted by taz at 11:46 AM on June 22, 2005

Great post, cheers.
posted by jack_mo at 11:48 AM on June 22, 2005


Although he didn't have any hard evidence to support his instinct, Richardson suspected that there was a connection between Ryan's death and an 11-year-old cold case that still nagged at him.

The note was signed with a pseudonym, "Wm. L. Toomey," which Richardson said he later discovered was the name of a company that manufactured priest and nun garb. There was no doubt in Richardson's mind that his Boise John Doe was intimately connected to the Catholic Church; for that reason, the story of the Ryan murder aroused his suspicions.
Specifically, Richardson was intrigued by the man's suntan – hard to come by in December in Idaho – and by the unique bolo tie and belt buckle that he wore. "We traced the belt back to one gift shop in Phoenix," Richardson recalled recently. Yet Richardson and the BPD were unable to find a positive ID for their John Doe. They ran his fingerprints through several databases without results. Swindle and Wyatt also tried and failed. "We got a cop to run them in certain places, and this was kind of off-the-books," Wyatt recalls. "He didn't find much." The absence of a match meant that the researchers could rule out several possibilities: John Doe was never charged with a crime, he never served in the military, and he was not a member of a licensed profession. That left few possibilities, and the one that nagged at the men was that John Doe was a priest. "Catholic priests move in circles and travel gratis and can literally pop up in places," says Wyatt. "For example, Father Ryan never had a driver's license, [and] we never found any [other] documentary evidence."

posted by matteo at 12:08 PM on June 22, 2005

Fascinating article and case.

Is it just me, or do you also see Philip Seymour Hoffman playing a prominent role in the film adaptation?
posted by pmbuko at 12:15 PM on June 22, 2005

Yes, did read that, matteo, but I find it exceedingly odd. My fingerprints aren't on file either, I've never been charged with a crime, never served in the military, and am not a member of a licensed profession, yet I'm not a Catholic priest. But even if the Boise John Doe was a priest, it's still an incredibly huge leap to believing that he probably murdered Ryan.

And the belt buckle is from Arizona, while the murder happened in Texas... so it just seems weird to get any connection from any of that: just that the guy was probably involved with the church, in some way. The "hunch" part, though, of course I understand - sometimes all you have to go on is a feeling.
posted by taz at 12:33 PM on June 22, 2005

yet I'm not a Catholic priest

says who?

The "hunch" part, though, of course I understand

most detectives do rely heavily on hunches. sadly, they're often wrong. rush to judgement, etc. but the good ones are very often right. who knows. I just wanted to share a great murder mystery, anyway
posted by matteo at 12:43 PM on June 22, 2005

What a sad, strange, amazing story. Thanks.
posted by blendor at 12:50 PM on June 22, 2005

Matteo always has amazing posts. Way to go.
posted by absalom at 1:24 PM on June 22, 2005

That was an excellent post, Matteo. It's stuff like this that keeps me coming back to MeFi.
posted by Addlepated at 2:00 PM on June 22, 2005

Good ol' Texas justice.
posted by Nelson at 2:16 PM on June 22, 2005

Wow, what a story. I agree that the suntanned-man part is pretty dubious, but this poor guy spending 20 years in prison for being a "drunk Jicarilla"... Awful. Thanks for posting this.

taz, why are you trying to deny your priesthood?
posted by languagehat at 2:44 PM on June 22, 2005

Can we get Errol Morris to make a documentary about this?
posted by billysumday at 3:41 PM on June 22, 2005

you know, as soon as I read the first two paragraphs I had thought about The Thin Blue Line, too. what a movie. it's coming out on dvd finally at the end of july, by the way

L-Hat: taz for Pope. now!
posted by matteo at 3:56 PM on June 22, 2005

Another really interesting part of the article is the brief discussion of Jemez Springs in New Mexico, "the infamous, and now bankrupt, Catholic facility for alcoholic and pedophile priests."

Couldn't really find any more information using my Google-fu. Wikipedia has an entry for the town but not the Catholic facility.

Anyway, thanks for the links, matteo.
posted by billysumday at 4:14 PM on June 22, 2005

Thanks to LexisNexis:

Paul Logan. "For Lease: Infamous Jemez Center". Albuquerque Journal May 28, 2004, pg A1.

"The Servants of the Paraclete's Jemez Springs compound, made infamous in the 1990s for treating pedophile priests, is now for lease...."

-----. "Sex Suit Names Retired Priest". Albuquerque Journal Feb 10, 2004, pg D2.

"A retired Catholic priest who lives at a Jemez Springs retreat house has been named in a court document involving suspected sexual abuse of a Dallas minor."

And about forty-four other stories that match "Jemez Springs" and "Catholic", dating back to 1995.

Not everything's free on the web, eh.
posted by djfiander at 5:12 PM on June 22, 2005

billy, the Boston Globe won a Pulitzer two years ago for its paedophile priests stories, at least one of them -- a big story -- was about the secret Paraclete centers
posted by matteo at 5:25 PM on June 22, 2005

Taz you never had your prints taken? No Passport? How about in grade school?
posted by crack at 5:35 PM on June 22, 2005

I don't mean to impugn Texans as a whole, but there seem to be an awful lot of false convictions in Texas, and even more executions. The mass arrests in Tula come to mind. I can't help but suspect the jury just wanted to get this drunken Indian off the streets.

Very touching post.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 7:27 PM on June 22, 2005

Here's some information about Jemez Springs, on a page about serial predator Father James Porter, who was "treated" there.

Here's a little more, in a page about repeat offender Father McCauley.

More can be found in a google search for "jemez father."
posted by donkeymon at 12:58 AM on June 23, 2005

Taz: I'm not a priest either - wink wink, nudge nudge.
posted by spazzm at 4:24 AM on June 23, 2005

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