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Fox News
Fox News
12 Dec 2023


The stabbing death of Catholic priest Rev. Alfred Kunz in his Nebraska church's rectory has cast renewed attention on the unsolved cold case murder of a clergyman in a Wisconsin Catholic school.

Deputies in Fort Calhoun, 10 miles north of Omaha, arrested a 43-year-old Iowa man, Kierre Williams, at the scene Sunday after they said he broke inside and fatally stabbed 65-year-old Rev. Stephen Gutgsell.

Just five minutes earlier, authorities said the priest called 911 himself to report an attempted break-in. He was still alive, calling for help when the first deputy arrived.

NEBRASKA CATHOLIC PRIEST CRIED OUT FOR HELP AS DEPUTIES ARRIVED TO FIND SUSPECTED KILLER ON TOP OF HIM

Gutgsell Kunz split

Rev. Stephen Gutgsell, left, was stabbed to death in his church rectory in Fort Calhoun, Nebraska, early Sunday. Police arrested a suspect at the scene. Rev. Alfred Kunz, right, was killed in his church in March 1998. His killer has never been found. Authorities do not believe the cases are connected. (Archdiocese of Omaha, Dane County Sheriff's Office)

Williams was lying on top of the priest, according to a probable cause affidavit. Gutgsell was bleeding from stab wounds.

The priest succumbed to stab wounds at a hospital in Omaha. He had been stabbed in the face and back, and he suffered defensive wounds on his arms and hands, Washington County Attorney Scott VanderSchaaf told reporters Thursday.

St. John the Baptist Church serves Fort Calhoun, with a population of about 1,000.

Williams had no ties to the community or to the victim, VanderSchaaf said. He was most recently from Iowa. Public records show him as a longtime Texas resident with a misdemeanor criminal history in states across the East Coast, South and West.

NEBRASKA PRIEST STABBED TO DEATH IN CHURCH RECTORY

St. Michael's Catholic Church exterior in 2000

Hungry Parish members head in to St. Michael's for a Friday night fish fry in the school gym in Dane County, Wisconsin, March 3, 2000. St. Michael's serves over a thousand people during the meal. The fish fry is on the eve of the second anniversary of the murder of Father Alfred Kunz in St. Michael's School. (Joe Koshollek-USA TODAY NETWORK)

He had at least one prior felony conviction and open warrants in multiple states, according to court documents.

On March 4, 1998, Catholic school teacher Brian Jackson found Kunz, 67, dead inside the school attached to St. Michael Catholic Church in Dane, Wisconsin, with a slashed throat. Dane had a population of about 800 at the time, 20 miles north of Madison.

The Dane County Sheriff's Office has shared pictures showing Kunz, a former amateur boxer, who had bruises on the back of his hands, indicating he may have thrown some punches, and he had other stab wounds.

Kunz apartment

Alfred Kunz's apartment door at St. Michael Catholic Church in Dane, Wisconsin. (Dane County Sheriff's Office)

Investigators in Dane County have eyed numerous potential suspects over the years, including the teacher who found Kunz's remains and a thief with a record of stealing church relics, but the case remains unsolved.

The state had seen a rash of burglaries targeting churches – especially Catholic churches – in the weeks leading up to his death, authorities said. Investigators have also speculated that his death may have been in retaliation for his work investigating abusive priests.

The grave of Father Alfred Kunz

The grave of Father Alfred Kunz is shown at St. Mary's Catholic Church Cemetery in Fennimore, Wisconsin. (Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Kunz also had a reputation as a traditional conservative, according to the sheriff's office, putting him at odds with liberals in the church at the time, including his superiors. 

None of those theories went anywhere.

The suspected killer is believed to have slipped into Kunz's apartment through a window. Jackson found his body in the hallway, with the apartment door ajar.

Dane County detectives told Fox News Digital they were aware of Gutgsell's murder in Nebraska but have not seen any evidence of a connection to Kunz's death. They declined to discuss their own cold case investigation.

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Madison Area Crime Stoppers is offering a reward for information regarding the case. Tips can be submitted by calling 608-284-6900.

As for the Nebraska suspect, prosecutors formally charged Williams with murder, burglary and other charges Tuesday. He was arraigned Thursday.

The judge ordered him held without bond. His next hearing was scheduled for Jan. 3.

Michael Ruiz is a reporter for Fox News Digital. Story tips can be sent to michael.ruiz@fox.com and on Twitter: @mikerreports