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Did hanged rapist murder Fr. Alfred Kunz?

By Matt Abbott
Catholic Online

Some readers know I’ve been following – and have written about – the unsolved 1998 murder of Father Alfred Kunz, a canon lawyer and priest of the Diocese of Madison, Wis.

I recently received the following (edited) e-mail from John Cavanaugh, a retired Dane County deputy:

“I know a person with a very violent background was in the area on the day of the [Father Kunz] murder. It's one of those 'very, very long stories'. This person is now deceased. His biological father tells me that he'd had contact with Father Kunz, that he'd asked him for money and was refused, so he 'had to rough him up'. This was the same terminology he used when he related another incident to his father: that he'd asked his grandfather for money, was refused and had to 'rough him up'.

“This particular incident took place about eight years prior to Fr. Kunz's demise. The perpetrator was my nephew, the grandfather was my father. He nearly died as a result of his injuries.

“My nephew had a history of violence toward women. He was incarcerated pending trial on charges of assault, kidnapping and more when he committed suicide. Previously he'd served time in state prison for assaulting another woman.

“Last year, I found out the nephew made the Father Kunz-related 'confession' to his dad and, once again, I notified the sheriff's office. This time they at least followed up a bit, contacting the dad. They told me what he'd been told by the nephew couldn't be construed as a confession, or words to that effect. I waited for many weeks to see how it would play out.

“It didn't play out; it petered out. They seem content to ignore it. So I called my ex-brother-in-law (the biological father of the nephew) at which time he related the 'confession’ story to me. I recorded the conversation. I notified the sheriff's office, again, and provided them with a copy of the recording. They told me they'd be in touch.

“That's been almost four months ago. I have contacted the FBI and the Wisconsin Department of Justice and have been told, by both, that the Dane County Sheriff's Office is the agency handling the matter and to refer any information to them. I think they're waiting for me to ‘fade away.’

“That's not going to happen.

“For what it's worth, I'm a retired Dane County deputy. Personality clashes with many who are 'in power' in the sheriff's office today could very well be one reason for their perceived failure to act. You'll just have to trust me on that one. And, I'm convinced they are in no hurry to admit that perhaps they should have followed up on this information years ago.”

John Cavanaugh’s nephew was Joseph Cavanaugh, who had a history of violence and, possibly, mental illness.

From an August 7, 2002 article in the La Crosse Tribune, by Dan Springer:

“A La Crosse man accused of kidnapping, sexually assaulting and robbing his former girlfriend died in a La Crosse hospital Tuesday morning after he was found hanging in his La Crosse County Jail cell.

“La Crosse County Sheriff Mike Weissenberger said Joseph Cavanaugh, 43, was rushed to Gundersen Lutheran Hospital after he was found unresponsive Tuesday morning….”

In a subsequent (edited) e-mail, John Cavanaugh stated the following:

“I'd suspected Joe was responsible for the attack on my father since day one. This incident occurred in 1990. My dad would, when asked, always deny Joe's involvement. I assume that was to protect not Joe, but me. Or perhaps both of us. Dad claimed to have no memory of the attack.

“As further background, he was confined to a wheelchair. Meals on Wheels volunteer found him around noon lying in a pool of blood in the kitchen area of his apartment. He barely made it to the ER, where several deep lacerations were found on the top of his head. Recovery was very long, due mainly to massive blood loss. The EMTs originally thought he'd merely fallen out of his chair.

“After initial exam at the ER, I called the Middleton Police Department to report an assault. Convinced of Joe's complicity, I told relatives in area to be very wary should Joe ever darken their door.

“Fast forward to 1998. A cousin called to tell me (because of the above, earlier 'warning') that Joe had been to her house either that day or the day before, ostensibly to see her Mom, who was on her deathbed. He'd never visited before. This would be in Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin -- a very short hop from Dane. I can't remember if she let him in or not, but he left without incident, either way.

“He also stopped in the same town to see his sister who lived in Prairie du Sac at the time. She describes him as being ‘very anxious – this would have been the morning Fr. Kunz's body was ...

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