Matt C. Abbott
Taking secrets to the grave: Father Kunz murder, 26 years unsolved
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By Matt C. Abbott
February 27, 2024

    “This is the hardest type of ‘who-dun-it’ case for law enforcement: a solitary man, with no (or very limited) witnesses to his life. No calendar, no phone, not married, no close family. Someone who had to live his life in privacy while keeping the secrets of others.”

    — Detective Gwen Ruppert

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The following is an updated version of an article published in late February 2023. Also of note: I was interviewed for, and appeared on, an 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 DirecTV, Amazon Prime, Discovery Plus, Sling TV, Apple TV and Vudu.

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March 4, 2024 will be the 26th 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 small 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 had been slashed. He also suffered stab wounds – fewer than 10, according to Detective Gwen Ruppert of the Dane County Sheriff’s Office, who’s currently assigned to the case. Kunz also had defensive wounds on his hands – evidence of a struggle.

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 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 – a full DNA profile was not able to be determined by the minute sample – obtained after forensic evidence was retested in the early 2010s. The Sheriff’s Office is confident the sample belongs to the killer.

Other suspects/persons of interest ruled out by the sample: the teacher who found Kunz’s body (he had been the main suspect for several years), a female acquaintance of Kunz, and seven others. There are technically still 15 additional persons of interest that have yet to be ruled out by the sample, according to Ruppert.

“The truth is, if we don't have that DNA, we have little else to pursue – unless someone comes forward with a confession. It was an extremely bloody scene and very difficult to separate out anything that wasn't Father Kunz's blood. It could be concealing footprints or other blood/DNA,” Ruppert wrote in an email to me.

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The satanic cult theory was espoused by controversial Catholic writer Malachi Martin, a friend of Kunz, who died in 1999.

Hanneman wrote:

    ‘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….

Kunz was also a friend of Father Charles C. Fiore of Lodi, Wisconsin. Hanneman reported that Fiore “occasionally spoke of ‘secret missions’ he and Kunz made to Chicago to combat satanism and priestly pederasty, according to Joseph Ostermeir, a former St. Michael's parishioner.” Fiore died of natural causes in February 2003. Ruppert acknowledged that investigators did talk to people in the Chicago area.

Another friend of Kunz was the late Servant of God Father John Hardon S.J., who reportedly believed the murder was Church-related. Wrote Ruppert: “I knew about Father Hardon. Quite a bit of work was done [regarding] Hardon’s concerns and suggestions.”

One rumor floating around was that the diocese was somehow involved in a cover-up; that diocesan officials removed files from the parish right after the murder. “I don't believe there's any truth to the idea that the diocese came in and made things disappear,” Ruppert wrote. “We're very tight on crime scenes and scene logs. No one comes in without a legit purpose.” Ruppert wrote that the diocese “was very helpful” and that investigators were able to talk to a lot of priests and associates of Kunz.

Regarding a rumor espoused by a Wikipedia vandal that Kunz may have molested one of the children at the parish school, Captain 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 male writer who a couple of years ago alleged in a ridiculous and defamatory online article that Kunz and another man molested him many years ago was deemed not credible by the Sheriff’s Office. Ruppert wrote that the writer-accuser cut off contact with the Sheriff’s Office after some initial communication. He provided no evidence to support his allegations and did not return follow-up calls from investigators.

The writer-accuser also communicated with the diocese but became hostile and uncooperative, despite attempts made by the diocese to investigate his allegations. (I should mention that I, too, had communication with the writer-accuser. He seemed to want people, including me, to take his allegations at face value. When he didn’t like certain questions being asked of him, he became hostile. He shared with me email correspondence between him and a diocesan official, who was taking the allegations seriously. The diocesan official was very respectful in his correspondence, unlike the writer-accuser.)

“Here's what I tell others not familiar with this case – and I'm sure this isn't new to you,” Ruppert wrote. “This is the hardest type of ‘who-dun-it’ case for law enforcement: a solitary man, with no – or very limited – witnesses to his life. No calendar, no phone, not married, no close family. Someone who had to live his life in privacy while keeping the secrets of others.”

Those who might have information on the Kunz murder and – for whatever reason – have not done so already should call the Dane County Sheriff’s Office at 608-284-6900. Even one tip could break the case wide open.

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An eerie coincidence – or perhaps “Godincidence”: My father, Geoffrey J. Abbott, passed away April 15, 2022. He was born March 4, 1945. Kunz’s death is listed as March 4, 1998. He was born April 15, 1930.

© Matt C. Abbott

 

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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, media and theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He also has an Associate in Applied Science degree in business management from Triton College. Abbott has been interviewed on HLN, MSNBC, Bill Martinez Live, WOSU Radio in Ohio, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's 2019 ‘Unsolved’ podcast about the unsolved murder of Father Alfred Kunz, Alex Shuman's 'Smoke Screen: Fake Priest' podcast, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) and WISC-TV (CBS) in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been quoted in The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and other media outlets. He’s mentioned in the 2020 Report on the Holy See's Institutional Knowledge and Decision-Making Related to Former Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick (1930 to 2017), which can be found on the Vatican's website. He can be reached at mattcabbott@gmail.com.

(Note: I welcome and appreciate thoughtful feedback. Insults will be ignored. Only in very select cases will I honor a request to have a telephone conversation about a topic in my column. Email is much preferred. God bless you and please keep me in your prayers!)

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