The search for Father Kunz’s killer

Investigators still seek answers 20 years later

The unsolved murder of a Dane County priest reached its 20th anniversary Sunday, but investigators still haven’t given up hope that a killer will be found.

Father Alfred Kunz, was found with his throat cut in the school hallway at St. Michael Parish in the village of Dane on March 4, 1998. Though various theories have long surfaced as to a possible motive, no arrest has ever been made in what has become one of the costliest and most extensive investigations in Dane County history.

The 67-year-old Dodgeville native grew up in Fennimore, but served more than 31 years as the pastor at St. Michael’s Church before his murder.

“His throat was slit and there was definitely evidence of a fight that occurred there where some blows were exchanged,” says Lt. Kerry Porter, who heads up Dane County’s Investigative Services Bureau. “We’re not ruling anybody out, we don’t have enough information to charge anybody with anything but somebody out there may know something and here it is 20 years later, maybe they’re willing to talk to us now.”

The county has initiated a new social media campaign hoping that it leads to some answers.

Admittedly, 20 years is a long time. Leadership in the diocese has changed, various lead detectives on the case have long since retired, and Porter even admits that some of those once considered possible suspects, are dead.

One person who has covered the case for much of the 20 years, is journalist and Catholic commentator Matt Abbott.

“I don’t know how close or how far they are, but if they’re still trying to generate tips, through various means, I think that’s a good thing.”

Abbott continues to write annually about the case, and has followed up on the numerous rumored motives through the years.

“It was in all likelihood someone he knew to some degree, and probably there’s someone out there who knows something,” says Abbott, “I’m not optimistic but I still hold out hope that the case can be solved.”

The search for Father Kunz’s killer

Still, hope remains both in the village of Dane, and in the diocese, that investigators are able to find some answers and close the case with an arrest.

A request by News 3 to speak to the principal of the St. Michael’s school for an interview, was declined, as the parish continues to mark the anniversary as a quiet, somber remembrance of their fallen leader.

“We want the mystery to be solved. For closure for so many people,” says Monsignor James Bartylla, the vicar general of the Madison Diocese. “Things are good (at St. Michael’s), but I know nothing could replace finding out what happened and solving this.”

The diocese marked his passing over the weekend with a requiem Mass at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Pine Bluff, a few miles away. The service was given in Latin, something that Father Kunz was known for during his time as pastor.

“The purpose of the Mass is to pray for the repose of his soul, it’s very fitting that it’s done in a Mass that he very much celebrated and loved,” Bartylla said.

Dane County Sheriff’s Office detectives have released some new details on the case this week through their social media campaign. One bit of information released on Friday was that large money transfers had taken place between different church accounts in the months before his death.

The social media post also indicated that Father Kunz had changed the executor of his will just before his death, and said that an “anguished Father Kunz” had asked a friend to “please pray for me.” Within a week before his murder, detectives say money vanished from the sacristy.

The rumors of a motive have run the gamut over the years. There were rumors of a Satanic cult at work nearby in the weeks before his death. In 2000, then-Dane County Sheriff Gary Hamblin told reporters that Father Kunz had “intimate” relationships with female parishioners that may have angered someone. There have also been suggestions that Father Kunz was silenced before he could go public with evidence of sexual abuse by clergy.

The more recent financial information released by Dane County investigators, certainly suggests a more common motive, but they appear to be no closer to solving the mystery than they were in 1998.

“The thing I find most fascinating about this case, is all those theories,” Lt. Porter said, “no matter how different they are, seems to be there could be a plausible motive in there somewhere.”

Until someone is able to contact authorities and provide more information, the case may never be solved. There is what investigators describe as partial DNA evidence but current technology hasn’t allowed investigators to link it to anyone in particular. Porter tells News 3 it was gathered at the scene of the crime, and it does not belong to Father Kunz.

To follow along with the latest developments in the case, Dane County investigators have started a Twitter account @fralfredkunz20 and is also providing information that they hope will lead to new leads in the case on the Dane County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page.

A page dedicated to Father Kunz was taken down on Monday, March 5 for unknown reasons. Investigators included the hashtag #whokilledfatherkunz. They welcome tips via their telephone Tips line at 608-284-6900 or tips@danesheriff.com.

The search for Father Kunz’s killer