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20 years later: Renewed effort to solve case of murdered priest

(NBC15)
Published: Mar. 1, 2018 at 5:28 PM CST
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It's the most expensive and time-consuming murder investigation in Dane County's history. Sunday, March 4, 2018 marks the 20th anniversary of the brutal murder of Fr. Alfred Kunz in the Village of Dane.

Fr. Kunz was the Catholic priest of St. Michael Church. His body was found on the floor of the attached school. His throat had been slit, and there was evidence of a struggle with the murderer.

Back in 1998, then Sheriff Gary Hamblin said, "Statistically in murder cases, there's usually some contact between the victim and the assailant. And we expect that that contact, if that occurred in this case, would be someone in that community."

FBI profilers determined the suspect knew Kunz, was from the area and knew the layout of the school and church.

Still, the investigation dragged on and led to a number of different theories about what happened. Eventually the case went cold.

"No case, it doesn't matter who you are, if you're the victim of a homicide, your case should not go unanswered," says Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney.

20 years later, Mahoney is now working with his detectives to release never before known facts about the case that he hopes will motivate someone to come forward.

"I do feel that there's one, or even more in the Dane community that know what happened, why it happened, and very well could put an end to this case and help solve it," explains Mahoney.

Fr. Kunz was known to have uncompromisingly conservative views and led masses in both English and Latin. Mahoney says he was also romantically involved with multiple female parishioners.

"Those are facts that we have found in the investigation," says Mahoney, in reference to the allegations, "Whether that could be enough to drive somebody to murder a priest, I don't know. Only that suspect knows that."

"It was very shocking to hear that a priest was murdered, which I think would be shocking for the community in general," says Rev. Msgr. James Bartylla, who is the Vicar General of the Diocese of Madison, "But for the church, it was just very, very shocking."

Bartylla was a seminarian at the time of the murder, and he says it's still a source of pain for parishioners.

"We want to cooperate fully with the Sheriff's Office," says Bartylla, "And if there are rumors or accusations out there, they have to weigh what they ought to do in order to do their best in order to find the perpetrator of this horrific crime."

Sheriff Mahoney also says there was a clear struggle at the scene. They're revisiting that evidence, thanks to improvements in technology over the last 20 years.

The department has never stopped working the case. And while Mahoney remembers victims of unsolved murders by name, this case has personal significance, not just because he was a detective on the case.

"I'm a Catholic in this diocese. I think about why somebody would brutally murder a Catholic priest in their school, the school that they oversee," says Mahoney, "I understand disagreements. I understand arguments. But to brutally murder and cut the throat of a Catholic priest, I don't understand."

Dane County detectives have rolled out a social media campaign using Fr. Kunz's name on Twitter and on the Dane County Sheriff's Office Facebook page with the #whokilledfatherkunz. If you have any information, call the TIPS line at (608) 284-6900 or email tips@danesheriff.com.