A church janitor has been arrested in the murder of a New Jersey Catholic priest whose body was found in the church rectory. The arrest caused shock and disbelief among parishioners.
On Friday Fr. Edward Hinds’ body was discovered in the church rectory at St. Patrick’s Church in Chatham, New Jersey. He had been stabbed 32 times with a kitchen knife.
Authorities say the murder occurred about 5 p.m. Thursday after an argument between the priest and church janitor Jose Feliciano.
Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi told CNN that the two men argued over Feliciano’s continued employment. Fr. Hinds called 911 from his cell phone and reported he was being attacked and needed help. The call was cut off.
When the dispatch operator called back, Feliciano allegedly answered and said “everything’s fine.”
The operator was not able to trace the location of the cell phone and so was unable to send authorities.
Bianchi reported that investigators found the priest’s cell phone, bloody clothing and bloody towels at Feliciano’s home in Easton, Pennsylvania.
Parishioner Dan Langborgh, 47, said the crime was “just not believable.”
“Jose is a very nice guy who has been around for many years. He's the last person I would have suspected," Langborgh commented.
According to the Associated Press, Feliciano had worked at the church for 17 years and his family is part of the parish. His son is a graduate of the church’s K-8 school and his daughter is a student there.
Fr. Hinds, who was born in nearby Morristown, had been pastor at St. Patrick’s since 2003. He regularly walked Copper, his cocker spaniel, in the neighborhood.
Chatham, a well-off bedroom community of about 10,000 residents, saw its last violent death in 1990. Authorities and residents initially suspected that Fr. Hinds had been murdered by a needy outsider.
Parishioners learned of Feliciano’s arrest on Saturday near the end of the 5 p.m. Mass.
Parishioner Juliette Peros told the Star Ledger of Newark that several people cried when the announcement was made and a woman seated behind her yelled, "Jose! No, Jose!"
The Diocese of Paterson issued a statement after Fr. Hinds’ death which read:
“We are grieved at the loss of Father Edward Hinds, beloved pastor of St. Patrick Church in Chatham, whose life has been tragically cut short. We join together with the parishioners, families and friends of Father Hinds in prayers for the repose of his soul.
“May God grant him eternal rest.”