Matt C. Abbott
Wisconsin Catholic priest’s brutal murder remains unsolved
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By Matt C. Abbott
February 26, 2021

March 4, 2021 will be the 23rd anniversary of the still-unsolved homicide of Father Alfred Kunz, a priest and canon law expert of the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin.

Kunz was known for celebrating Mass in the Extraordinary Form (Latin) as well as in the Ordinary Form (vernacular) as the longtime pastor of St. Michael Catholic Church, located in the small rural village of Dane. He had a good reputation among many – but certainly not all – Catholics and was known to be staunchly pro-life. He was also involved in exorcisms from time to time, albeit not in an official capacity.

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 and he was left to bleed out.

There have been various theories put forth as to the killer's motive, some more plausible than others. 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.

For several years, at least one detective, Kevin Hughes, now retired, believed the school teacher who discovered Kunz's body, Brian J. Jackson, committed the murder. Jackson, then in his mid-20s, reportedly had a strained relationship with Kunz in the weeks leading up to the murder and was interviewed by the Dane County Sheriff’s Office on multiple occasions (see here, here and here). However, according to an email sent by the sheriff’s office to this writer in 2018, “Brian Jackson is no longer the primary target of the investigation.”

When approached at his home by a reporter from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel — whose investigative journalist, Gina Barton, did a series of podcasts and articles on the case in 2019 that included an interview with this writer — Jackson professed his innocence but politely declined to be interviewed in detail by the media outlet.

Jackson did have a seemingly close friendship with another Wisconsin-based priest, Father Charles Fiore, who was a good friend of Kunz and Catholic author Malachi Martin, who died in 1999. Fiore, the last known person to see Kunz alive, died in 2003 of natural causes. (Jackson was remembered in Fiore’s will and was left $10,000.)

The sheriff's office has also 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 a 2018 interview with Catholic writer Joseph M. Hanneman for Catholic World Report, Schultheis denied being uncooperative, insisting “she spent countless hours meeting with investigators.”

In 2006, this writer reported that a deceased rape suspect, Joseph Donald Cavanaugh, might have been the killer. Hanneman reported in 2019 that Cavanaugh has been ruled out as a suspect.

The satanic cult theory was espoused by Malachi Martin.

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. The country priest was ‘picked off’ by someone who wanted to permanently silence him, Martin said. He referred to the murder as the ‘assassination of Christ's hero.’….

    There is one major problem with the Father 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 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.

    It's unclear where Martin and other friends, like Father John A. Hardon, SJ, got information that led them to conclude the killer's motivation was Kunz's work as an exorcist, or his efforts to expose pederasty in the priesthood. But convinced they were. In remarks to his students just one week after Kunz's murder, Hardon said: ‘I don't know if they will ever reveal...why he was murdered, but I think I can safely say he was not just murdered, he was martyred. Oh, how much I could say. That's the kind of priest we need today, who shed their blood for what they believe and not be afraid, not be afraid of human beings, and least of all be afraid of dying, out of love for and loyalty to Jesus Christ.’

The theory recently espoused by a Wikipedia vandal that Kunz may have molested one of the children at the parish school was refuted by Kerry Porter of the Dane County Sheriff's Office in 2019, who wrote in an email to this writer that “there is no evidence to support the claim made concerning molestation.”

And Brent M. King, director of communications for the diocese, wrote in a Feb. 25, 2021 email to this writer:

    The Diocese of Madison has not received any credible allegation of sexual misconduct with regard to Father Alfred Kunz. We've worked closely with the Dane County sheriff in hope of helping solve his murder and have learned of much of the gossip and rumor, as well as sometimes-wild theories, through those interactions or through the media over the years.

    In 2019, the diocese requested the assistance of veteran agents of the FBI to help scrutinize our clergy files (living and deceased) regarding these matters. Following that review we did add one name to our list of those with credible accusations against them.

Click here to read some fairly recent comments on the Kunz case by Cardinal Joseph Tobin, Archbishop Bernard Hebda, Bishops Donald Hying, Joseph Perry, Robert Barron, Richard Stika, and Father James Martin.

Click here to read an edifying Kunz-related reflection by Father Richard Heilman of the Diocese of Madison.

© Matt C. Abbott

 

The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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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 MSNBC, Bill Martinez Live, WOSU Radio in Ohio, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's 2019 "Unsolved" podcast about the unsolved murder of Father Alfred Kunz, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) and WISC-TV (CBS) in Madison, Wis., and has been quoted in The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and other media outlets. He is 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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