RAYMONDVILLE — Texas Rangers have identified a body found in remote Willacy County as that of a retired Roman Catholic priest who went missing on South Padre Island more than three weeks ago.
Yesterday, an autopsy conducted four days earlier confirmed the buried remains are those of William “Bill” Costello, 71, a retired Massachusetts parish priest.
Just hours before that announcement, a judge ordered Juan Carlos Baez Escobedo, 27, held on $2 million bail after charging him with murder in connection with Costello’s death.
On Wednesday, Baez Escobedo was booked into the Willacy County Jail after Texas Rangers arrested him.
The day before, Baez Escobedo had been held in the Cameron County Jail, where he was facing a South Padre Island charge of tampering with physical evidence.
After his arrest, authorities said Baez Escobedo lived in Brownsville.
However, his booking sheet lists a San Benito address, Sheriff Larry Spence said yesterday.
The case remains under investigation, Lt. Johnny Hernandez, spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, stated yesterday.
Earlier this week, Maj. Ernie Garcia of the Willacy County Sheriff’s Department said authorities were investigating “multiple suspects.”
On Aug. 1, Costello was last seen at the Tiki Condominiums on South Padre Island.
Then on Aug. 17, Willacy County sheriff’s deputies were led to Costello’s remains buried in a remote area between two levees about three miles east of Santa Monica.
Costello, who served as a parish priest in Massachusetts, came to Texas more than three years ago, the Catholic Diocese in Fall River, Mass., stated.
“The circumstances of the matter are disturbing,” the diocese stated. “We offer our prayers for the repose of the soul of Father Costello.”
A native of Northampton, Mass., Costello was ordained a priest in 1974.
In 1999, Costello was appointed pastor of St. Anthony Parish in East Falmouth before serving as pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Seekonk.
In 2012, the bishop placed him on administrative leave after the Rhode Island State Police launched an investigation into Costello.
“The investigation did not involve the abuse of minors,” the diocese stated. “No charges were filed against him at any time during the investigation or at its completion.”
“The investigation disclosed instances of poor judgment, which resulted in the (bishop’s) request … that he retire early. Some years later he moved to Texas.”
After he went missing, friends put up posters asking for help in finding Costello, who owned a 2009 Honda Accord and a dog answering to the name Grace.
The Texas Rangers, the Willacy County Sheriff’s Department, South Padre Island police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are investigating the case.