UPDATED Sunday, March 4, 2012 --- 5:30 p.m.
Detectives hope new DNA analysis can help solve the 14-year-old murder of Father Alfred Kunz.
On March 4, 1998, a killer cut Kunz's throat in the hallway of St. Michael Church in the Town of Dane near Lodi. Although detectives have a series of leads and several suspects, they have never had enough information to make an arrest.
Now evidence from the case is being reprocessed at the state crime lab in Madison. DNA analysts sampled some evidence back in 1998, but now they can go a step further.
"We can in theory go down to as little as 5 cells and get a DNA profile," said Lab Manager Amy Beatty. "Anything that had a visible blood stain or a visible stain on it in the late 90's they were able to do that sort of analysis, the difference is we don't need a visible stain anymore."
Analysts can now process touch DNA. Anything the killer may have contacted could hold an identifiable sample. Detectives say their may have been a struggle between Kunz and the killer, increasing their optimism that there was a DNA transfer.
The new tests are expected to be completed in the next couple of months.
"If we're able to have the crime lab develop something where the killer touched something and now it will link that person to the crime it will be so huge for us," said Dane County Sheriff's Office Det. Linda Pederson-Honer, who worked the case its first year.
Officials credit new automation technology and more staff with the ability to take a closer look at older cases. A few years ago the DNA lab had a case backlog more than a year long, now cases are usually processed in about 60 days despite more than five times the caseload.
"We're processing right now some 450 cases per month," said Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, who acknowledges even with a DNA breakthrough an old case could be tough to try.
"We have some people we may not be able to locate anymore who may be witnesses, people may be deceased already, of course peoples' memories fade," he said.
Packed and stored in ideal conditions, DNA evidence can last longer than 20 years.
If new DNA profiles are discovered, detectives plan to try and match them against samples they collected 14 years ago or a national database. They also hope people of interest are willing to submit samples to rule themselves out.
Detectives urge anyone with information to call (608) 284-6900.
"We believe there are people out there that know what happened to Father Kunz," said Det. Mary Butler.
***Previous coverage from 2010***
Posted Thursday, March 4, 2010 --- 11:43 a.m.
Release from the Dane Co. Sheriff's Office:
Madison, WI. March 4, 2010 – Twelve years ago today, Father Alfred J. Kunz was found murdered in the hallway of St. Michael School in the village of Dane. A teacher discovered his body near his living quarters, as he arrived for work at approximately 7:00 am
The Dane County Sheriff’s Office continues to treat the homicide of Father Kunz as an active investigation. Twelve years later, detectives continue to work on the case and respond to tips. The Dane County Sheriff’s Office does not consider this a “cold” case. 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 Father Kunz’s murderer to justice.
If anyone has information on this case, which they have not already shared with the Dane County Sheriff’s Office, please call the Dane County tip line at (608) 284-6900.
Posted Wednesday, March 3, 2010 ---- 12:45 p.m.
Madison: Ten years ago Tuesday Father Alfred Kunz was found brutally murdered inside his church in Dane.
At its peak nearly every detective at the Sheriff's Department was working on this case. Now there is only one. But they are still treating this as an open and active investigation.
"It's not considered one of those cold cases yet," says Lt. Steve Gilmore. He says every time they reach another anniversary in the murder of Father Kunz they get a few more tips. He's not expecting the 10th anniversary will crack the case, but he says, "A confession would be nice."
The body of Father Alfred Kunz was found inside St. Michael Catholic Church the morning of March 4th, 1998.
He was stabbed and his throat was slit some time in the early morning hours.
He was discovered by a teacher.
"This one was particularly heinous and a bloody crime scene," says Lt. Gilmore.
The night he was murdered Father Kunz drove to Monroe to tape a radio program. His words foreshadowed his death and the grief of his parishioners. "Very frequently people in a time of suffering or a time of crisis will say, why does this have to happen? Why does God permit this?" Kunz said on his program.
What made the murder even more sensational were the conspiracies that popped up.
Father Kunz was a traditionalist who still performed Latin Mass. He was an expert in Canon Law and on exorcisms. When a calf was mutilated on a nearby farm the same night as the murder, it led some to believe Father Kunz was killed by Satanists.
Kunz was also involved in exposing some of the clergy-child abuse cases, and there were rumors of a church conspiracy.
Of course there was the random crazed stranger theory. One local man who didn't want to go on camera believes his nephew killed Father Kunz. The nephew was a violent convicted rapist known to carry a knife and had asked Father Kunz for money.
That nephew has since hung himself in jail. Lt. Gilmore says they've heard the story. "That allegation has been investigated and is still plausible."
But the most likely motives are the most common; jealously, control, power. Two years after the murder the Sheriff said Father Kunz was known to have had 'intimate' relationships with several women in the church. "We certainly believe those relationships, or the perception of those relationships could be a factor in Father Kunz's death."
Ten years later Lt. Gilmore says they've narrowed their list of suspects to just a few people, "You can count them on one hand." They are all still alive, but they've all moved out of state.
Even with 100's of interviews, volumes of reports and more than 1,000 pieces of evidence they still can't arrest anyone. "Do we have reasonable suspicion?" asks Lt. Gilmore. "Do we have probable cause? And hopefully we're going to get there someday."