DANE, Wis. (ChurchMilitant.com) - On March 4, 1998, at 7 a.m., the body of Fr. Alfred Kunz was discovered in a pool of blood on the floor of St. Michael School in Dane, Wisconsin.
Despite having interviewed nearly 2,000 people and investigated more than 500 tips — the most extensive and expensive investigation undertaken by the Dane County Sheriff — the case remains open. After 19 years, investigators are still looking for the killer, no closer to the culprit than they were in 1998.
The last person known to have seen him alive was his now-deceased friend, Fr. Charles Fiore. On March 3, 1998, they went to Lodi, Wisconsin, to record their radio show "Our Catholic Family." Fiore dropped him off around 10 p.m. Since neither had eaten dinner, Fiore called out to his friend after he exited the car, "Get a piece of cheese or something, Al." Kunz smiled, nodded his head and turned away.
Kunz was discovered at 7 a.m. in the hallway of the school by a teacher. All the doors were locked, and there were no signs of forced entry or any weapon found. It was indicated that Kunz most likely knew his killer and let him into the building. There was bruising on his knuckles, indicating that he'd attempted to fight back.
Kevin Hughes, the investigating officer from Dane County Sheriff's Office, commented:
Investigators believe the killer is someone that Fr. Kunz knew and is familiar with the village and St. Michael's. Fr. Kunz was probably not fearful of the killer. The attack was cowardly, unprovoked and unexpected. The particular motive is unknown but may be related to jealousy, revenge, betrayal or any other issue which was personal to the killer.
Dane is a tiny town of 600 people, about 20 miles north of Madison. People would drive from many miles away, making their daily and weekly pilgrimages to St. Michael Church and its school, where Fr. Kunz was pastor. He was a trusted spiritual director and known for saying Mass in Latin, something almost unheard of at the time in the diocese of Madison.
Kunz had been pastor there for 32 years by the time of his death and was much beloved by his parishioners. He was known for his prowess as a canon lawyer and theologian, inspiring many parishioners to seek his advice in spiritual matters.
There's no shortage of conjecture on how and why he was killed. One of the most colorful theories was promoted by his friend, Malachi Martin, who was a celebrity-priest among Catholics disheartened at the interpretation many priests and bishops imposed on them in the post-Vatican II Church.
Martin asserted Kunz was murdered by satanists and believed his life was in danger weeks before his death.
"We are all convinced beyond anything that he was killed in hatred of the faith as punishment and as an example for the rest of us," Martin commented. He alleged Kunz was killed in a typical "luciferian" way, with throat slashed from "ear to ear," his hands desecrated and stabbed 67 times, once for every year of his life.
A priest's hands are anointed with oil at ordination, because they perform the sacred act of confecting the Holy Eucharist, turning the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Our Lord.
Father Lawrence Bray, now deceased, was a retired priest who lived with Kunz for six months before the murder. He had his own theory on who killed Kunz, alleging that the Church hierarchy hired a hitman to kill him. Kunz had been investigating the homosexual abuse of minors among the Church hierarchy in the diocese of Springfield, Illinois, and was due to release his report on March 7 — something that never took place.
In 1999, Sheriff Gary Hamblin announced that although Kunz's throat had been slashed, he had not been mutilated or stabbed 67 times. Two years later, he announced that he was considering the notion that Kunz may have had "intimate relationships with adult women" — an idea that anybody who knew him found to be absurd. Moreover, in the 17 years since that idea was presented, no proof of it has ever surfaced.
Bray disregarded the idea, asserting to investigators, "I heard him on the phone, day after day, sitting right next to me. And I saw him working in the kitchen during fish fries, in close contact with a lot of women workers. And I saw nothing at all like that.''
In 2009, Steve Gilmore, lieutenant of detectives, noted that they know who the killer is, but they don't have enough evidence to push for a conviction. "We still know where he's at and what he's up to," Gilmore says. "If indeed he had committed this one, he's stayed pretty clean. We certainly don't think there's any threat to the public out there."
In 2010, Elise Schaffer, Dane County Sheriff's Office spokesperson, commented, "We continue to treat the homicide of Fr. Kunz as an active investigation." She continued, "Detectives believe they have viable suspects in the homicide and continue to look for that one piece of evidence and/or information that will bring Fr. Kunz's murderer to justice."
Now, 19 years later, Bray and Fiore have died, and many of the citizens of Dane have moved on.
Tips or any information are appreciated and can be submitted to the Dane County Sheriff's Office at:
115 W Doty Street
Madison, WI 53703
The detective currently in charge of the investigation is Det. Mary Butler.