Matt C. Abbott
(The following is an updated version of an article published on the websites of The Remnant and Catholic Family News in 2021. Also, I appeared on a recent and pertinent episode of the 2022 HLN original series Real Life Nightmare with Paul Holes. Titled “Secrets in the Catholic Church: Father Kunz Murder,” the episode aired multiple times in December 2022. It can now be viewed on Amazon Prime, Discovery Plus, Sling TV, Apple TV and Vudu.)
March 4, 2023 is the 25th anniversary of the unsolved murder of Father Alfred Kunz, who was a parish priest and canon law expert in the Catholic Diocese of Madison. He was known for celebrating the Traditional Latin Mass at St. Michael Catholic Church (now known as Blessed Trinity Catholic Parish) in the tiny village of Dane, Wisconsin.
The staunchly orthodox and pro-life Kunz was a polarizing figure. Yet a number of Catholics held him in high regard, including Cardinal Raymond Burke and Bishop Joseph Perry. Others were not too fond of Kunz’s promotion of traditional Catholic belief and practice. Or, in certain cases, they just didn’t care for his personality. (A side note: When I, via email, made Father James Martin, S.J., aware of the Kunz murder a few years ago, Martin wrote back, “May he rest in peace.” I appreciated his response.)
On the morning of March 4, 1998, Kunz’s body was found in a large pool of blood in the hallway of the parish school. His throat was slashed and he was left to bleed out. He also suffered blunt force trauma to his head.
There have been various theories put forth as to the killer's motive, some more plausible than others. An interrupted burglary is one theory. Jealousy or betrayal is another. A satanic cult is another. Kunz’s personal investigations into clergy corruption – he was an adviser to Catholic activist Stephen Brady, founder of The Roman Catholic Faithful – is yet another.
In a 2018 social media campaign, the Dane County Sheriff’s Office stated that the principal of St. Michael School at the time of Kunz's murder, Maureen (O'Leary) Schultheis, was uncooperative and even told investigators to close the case and mark it unsolved. In an interview with Catholic journalist Joseph M. Hanneman for Catholic World Report, Schultheis denied being uncooperative, insisting “she spent countless hours meeting with investigators.”
In 2006, I reported that a deceased rape suspect, Joseph Donald Cavanaugh, might have been the killer. A relative of Cavanaugh who believed Cavanaugh was indeed the killer provided me, via email, with detailed information.
But that turned out not to be the case.
Hanneman reported in 2019 that Cavanaugh, who died by suicide in 2002 after being charged with sexual assault and other felonies in an unrelated case, was ruled out as a suspect by a partial DNA sample obtained after forensic evidence was retested in the early 2010s.
Other persons ruled out as suspects by the partial DNA sample: the teacher who found Kunz’s body (he had been the main suspect for several years); a female acquaintance of Kunz; and another male suspect.
The satanic cult theory was perhaps first espoused by controversial Catholic writer Malachi Martin, who died in 1999.
Hanneman wrote in 2018:
‘He was found at 7 o'clock in the morning with his throat cut from ear to ear,’ Martin said on a national radio program in May 1998. ‘In his own blood, face down into it and with various acts of desecration of his body which are normally associated with satanist-inflicted death.’
The author of Hostage to the Devil, The Keys of This Blood, Windswept House, and more than a dozen other books said Kunz consulted with him on exorcisms….
There is one major problem with Martin's theory: one of its base premises was false. Kunz's body did not have injuries that would lead investigators to suspect a ritual or satanic killing, according to [former] Dane County Sheriff David J. Mahoney. Kunz's throat was not cut ‘ear to ear,’ as many stories claimed. The throat slash was more to one side, and it severed the carotid artery. There were no other stab wounds and no desecration or mutilation of the body, according to Mahoney.
Regarding a rumor espoused by a Wikipedia vandal that Kunz may have molested one of the children at the parish school, Kerry Porter of the sheriff's office wrote in a May 2019 email to me that “there is no evidence to support the claim made concerning molestation.”
Similarly, a man who in recent times alleged in a ridiculous and defamatory article that Kunz molested him many years ago was deemed not believable by the sheriff’s office. A detective (not Kerry Porter) confirmed in a Nov. 8, 2022 email to me that “we don’t consider [the accuser’s] assertions credible.”
Is the sheriff’s office any closer to solving the case? From the sounds of it, no. That same detective wrote in a Dec. 7, 2022 email to me that “we don't have anyone in mind, nor are we set on the theory.”
Still, hope springs eternal.
Brent King, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Madison, wrote in a Feb. 27, 2023 email to me that the diocese “will continue to work with the sheriff’s office” to help bring closure to the case.
Those who have information on the Kunz murder should call the Dane County Sheriff’s Office at 608-284-6900.© Matt C. Abbott
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