I heard the answering machine pick up a call in my office. Normally they are hangups or some robo-call, but I sensed this was different. I strained to hear what the woman was saying. It was clear it was something I needed to attend to, so I played back the message.
The caller was the owner of Suburban Studio in Sun Prairie, a portrait photography business that has been around for a long time. She had noticed my Mom’s obituary recently and realized she had a large, framed portrait of my late father from when he was mayor of Sun Prairie. The portrait hung in the studio for years as a sample of their work. She was calling to see if I would like it.
I contacted her right away and made arrangements to pick up the portrait. She did not charge for the 16×20 inch print (although I did buy the frame it was in). When I stopped at the studio the next day to pick it up, I was really taken aback. Not just by the size of the portrait, but the look of it. This was similar to the photo we used in Dad’s obituary in April 2007, but it was different. I stared at the image. Dad seemed so close and alive; almost as if he was about to speak. The studio owner agreed, saying the image had something about it. You almost sense the person is there in the room.
I kept racking my brain trying to think where I’d seen this photo before. Then it struck me. Dad used this photo in his literature when he ran for re-election in 2005. I vaguely recalled seeing his brochure back then and thinking this photo had a different quality.
I rarely believe in coincidences, so I chalk up this whole encounter to Divine Providence. It reminded me of the time I was sitting at my desk in my home office in Mount Pleasant in the early evening. I dozed off and was in and out in one of those semi-conscious sleep states. I was jolted awake though, by the sound of my father’s voice.
Hello? Are you there? Yes, it’s me. I’m still alive!
I sat upright and looked around the room. Where was his voice coming from? Dad kept talking and I recognized it as part of an oral history interview I did with him in November 2006. While we were recording in Dad’s room at St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison, he received a call on the cell phone from his brother, Donn (1926-2014). I have no idea how this recording started playing on my computer while I was half-asleep. My tears flowed freely though, as it seemed Dad was really speaking to me from Heaven. I will never forget that moment.
Listen to a portion of the oral history interview I did with Dad while he was being treated for lung cancer:
Now I have this beautiful portrait, a gift from Louise Floyd at Suburban Studio. I look at Dad’s expression and it, too, speaks to me. Funny, it seems to say just about the same thing as the recording from my computer. “I’m still here, son. I am alive!”
UPDATE!!This will be a little hard to explain, but it brought more tears to my eyes. Yesterday I was at St. Mary of Pine Bluff Catholic Church shooting photographs. The main thing I photographed was the gold monstrance that holds the Blessed Sacrament for exposition and adoration. See my photo below. That holds the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus under the appearance of bread. When I was doing closeups, I kept noticing reflected colors in the glass of the monstrance. So I lined up my camera and shot a bunch of images. Later I sent one to Father Richard Heilman and told him to look at the reflection. I thought it looked like a veiled woman in blue.
When Fr. Heilman looked at that photo earlier today, not long before I published the first version of this article, he saw the reflection of a man in a suit and tie with glasses. When Father later read my post and saw Dad’s portrait, he said, “THAT’S THE MAN I SAW!” I saw the Blessed Virgin and he saw this very photo of my father. Let that sink in. What a blessed day this has been!
This homily was delivered on Jan. 5, 2019, during the Mass of Christian Burial for Mary K. Hanneman. Below the homily is a video of Msgr. Moellenberndt and the Rite of Committal at Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Catholic Cemetery. Msgr. Duane also gave a wonderful homily at the funeral Mass for David D. Hanneman in April 2007.
By Monsignor Duane Moellenberndt
A sick man turned to his doctor as he was preparing to leave the examination room and said, “Doctor, I am afraid to die.Tell me what lies on the other side.”Very quietly, the doctor said, “I don’t know…”“You don’t know?You are a Christian man and don’t know what’s on the other side?” the man said to the doctor.The doctor was holding the handle of the door; on the other side came a sound of scratching and whining and so the doctor opened the door.A dog sprang into the room and leaped on the doctor with an eager show of gladness.Turning to the patient, the doctor said, “Did you notice my dog?He didn’t know what was on the other side of the door.He knew nothing except that his master was here.And when the door opened, he sprang in without fear.I know little of what is on the other side of death.However, I do know one thing…I know my Master is there and that is enough.”
I think Mary who certainly loved dogs most especially her companion of 10 years Chewy would relate to this story.In the nursing home Mary even had treats in her room for dogs that would be brought to visit patients. As a woman of faith, I believe that when the door opened to eternity for Mary on December 26th that Mary believed with all her heart that her Master Jesus Christ would be on the other side.Our faith promises this to be true.How happy Mary must now be to live in the Presence of the Lord reunited with Dave and all those who preceded her into eternity.The Gospel I just proclaimed was Mary’s favorite.In fact, she called it her “Confirmation of Faith.”The Gospel began, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God…All things came to be through him.”It is this Eternal Word, this eternal God whom Mary met face to face on the 26th of December.What an awesome encounter. Joe wrote that Mary in her final earthly hour opened her eyes.She lifted her head, looked at something.Mary tried to speak.Mary had a sense of awe on her face.Mary we did believe at that point glimpse heaven—she was entering eternity.Certainly after the last difficult years it was time for Mary to find peace, health and eternal happiness.Thus we believe has happened for Mary.As the Book of Ecclesiastes our first reading said, “There is an appointed time for everything…a time to be born, and a time to die.”
Mary loved to sit in the driveway on a lawn chair or sit on her front porch just talking to people as they went by the family home that Mary so loved.She loved the visits of the mailman who stopped to see Chewy each day.It gave Mary an opportunity to talk with the mailman.Yes, Mary loved people and interacting with people.We can only imagine her joy in all the new people she is encountering in eternity.The Book of Ecclesiastes said, “There is an appointed time for everything and a time for every affair under the heavens….A time to be silent, and a time to speak.”Mary knew the importance of speaking and being with people.People gravitated to Mary because they knew she genuinely had an interest in them and their lives.That is why every visitor was always welcomed to her home with a bit of tea and bread or some other treat.Mary made people feel welcome.
Caring for the family was a joy of Mary’s life.She showed her love for family in so many ways be that the great birthday meals or special Christmas mornings.Isn’t it interesting it was on the day after Christmas that Mary died? When the nurse told Mary that it was almost Christmas, Mary simply smiled and said, “I love Christmas.”She was here in this life for Christmas but then entered eternity.In this Christmas season we believe Mary is with the Lord. In this Christmas Season we celebrate Mary’s Mass of Christian Burial.The Gospel said, “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”Mary believed Jesus Christ the Word of God always dwelt with her in this life and now Mary dwells with the Lord in eternity. How joyous must be Christmas in heaven.
Mary had a fun side.She even one year with a couple of family members toilet-papered a neighbor’s yard on Christmas Eve.She so loved colorful tennis shoes.Perhaps that is why she enjoyed the Silver Sneakers exercise group so much.Her trip to Ireland with her three sisters was a joy for all of them.Yes, Mary enjoyed life and now we believe that joy is multiplied many times over in eternity.How happy Mary must be. As Ecclesiastes said, “There is an appointed time for everything….A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”
Mary enjoyed cooking and baking.She always had a sit down dinner.She enjoyed having people at her home to play cards.Mary didn’t play cards much but it gave her an opportunity to prepare dinner.Mary was a gardener.One of her special treats was her homemade jam that was always present to be enjoyed.St. Paul wrote to the Romans in our second reading, “Hope does not disappoint.”Mary was a woman of hope—hope in the promises of the Lord, hope in other people.It was that hope that led Mary to always think of others before herself.Mary was all about doing for family and friends to bring them happiness.I am sure from eternity Mary will continue to pray for us.Pray for Mary that she pass quickly from Purgatory to the fullness of life with God in heaven.
Mary was first and foremost an educator. Reading was a passion of hers.Mary was a full-time reading specialist here at Sacred Hearts School.Her career in our school lasted for almost three decades.As Joe wrote, “She opened the world of books to many hundreds of children.”After retirement Mary continued to tutor students several days a week.Mary set high standards for her own children and the children she taught.However, she didn’t ask anyone else to do something she herself wouldn’t do.However, now this wonderful Irish grandmother has completed her journey.May she receive the reward of her well-lived life.As St. Paul wrote to the Romans, “The love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
On behalf of the Catholic Community of Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, we offer to you our sympathy and prayers.We have remembered you in our Masses and prayers these last days and so we will in the days ahead.There is a little reflection that goes as follows, “A builder built a temple.He wrought it with grace and skill; pillars and arches all fashioned to work his will.Men said, as they saw its beauty, ‘It shall never know decay.Great is thy skill, O builder:Thy fame shall endure forever.’ A teacher built a temple with loving and infinite care, planning each arch with patience, laying each stone with prayer.None praised her unceasing efforts, none knew of her wondrous plan; for the temple the teacher built was unseen by the eyes of man.Gone is the builder’s temple, crumbled into dust; low lies each stately pillar, food for consuming rust.But the temple the teacher built will last while the ages roll.For that beautiful unseen temple is a child’s immortal soul.”Touching hundreds of “immortal souls” is what Mary did with her life as a teacher.May she rest in peace.In the words of our Holy Gospel, “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.”
Video can convey meaning in a story unlike just about anything. Which is why I created a memorial video dedicated to my late mother for use at the visitation back on Jan. 5, 2019. I’ve done three of these previously and found them to be very cathartic.
One of the opening images of this video, showing Mom as a toddler in a snowsuit, was a gift from Mom. We found the photograph in her nightstand about an hour after she died. It is the first image I’ve seen of her younger than 16.
“Memories are time that you borrow, to spend when you get to tomorrow.”
“…The time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the Faith. From now on the Crown of Righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the Just Judge, will award to me on that day…”— 2 Timothy 4: 6-8
Suddenly, the world will never, ever be the same.
Mary K. Hanneman stepped gently into eternity Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2018, after a long struggle with vascular dementia and congestive heart failure. Our Blessed Lord summoned his precious daughter, my mother, at 11:50 p.m. from her home at Brookdale Senior Living. She was 86 years 2 months and 5 days young. Mary was a loving wife, mother, grandmother and longtime Catholic school teacher in Sun Prairie, where she has lived since 1965.
Mary Katherine Mulqueen was born in Cudahy, Wisconsin, on Oct. 21, 1932 — the seventh of 11 children of Earl J. Mulqueen Sr. and the former Margaret Madonna Dailey. On Aug. 9, 1958, she married David Dion Hanneman at St. Veronica Catholic Church in Milwaukee, beginning a more than 49-year marriage. He preceded her in death on April 14, 2007. He was 74.
For Mary, every day was a good day to teach. She had the heart of an educator, the discipline and courage of a gunnery sergeant and, under it all, the strong yet soft heart of an Irish grandmother. Above the entrance to her kitchen hung a sign that read Failte, — an Irish welcome. Over the years, countless relatives, friends and strangers were welcomed within those walls to incredible cooking, good cheer and, very likely, a game or two of sheepshead, Kings in the Corner or cribbage.
“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”
― William Arthur Ward.
Like most things in the Hanneman family, good teaching started at home. Mary’s kitchen table was just as likely to serve up arithmetic flash cards and sentence diagrams as it did Thanksgiving turkeys or chocolate chip cookies. She imparted many life lessons in her kitchen, from the academic (long division and phonics) to the culinary (corned beef with cabbage, lasagna and state-fair-quality bread and cinnamon rolls). Through the chaos and bustle of the annual Thanksgiving dinner, we came to appreciate the gift of family — warts and all.
Mary’s academic career began at St. Frederick’s Catholic School in Cudahy and St. Mary’s Academy in St. Francis, from which she graduated high school in 1950. After a brief postsecondary discernment at the suburban Franciscan convent, she took courses at Cardinal Stritch College and Marquette University. She studied reading literacy for elementary students for two years in Madison. Mary began practice teaching in the Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. She eventually became a full-time teacher in the newly built 17-room St. Veronica Catholic School on East Norwich Avenue in Milwaukee.
After their marriage in 1958, Mary and Dave moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he held a job with E.R. Squibb & Co. She paused her teaching career to start and raise a family that came to include two boys and two girls. As a doctorate-level domestic engineer, she honed her skills wrangling hungry toddlers through the bedlam of birthday parties, sewing costumes, darning socks and hosting couples’ bridge. She set high standards for her children and expected them to reach even higher. Especially at school. She modeled her own saintly mother’s family virtuosity with things like bunny-shaped birthday cakes topped with coconut flakes and jellybeans. Or trips to Devil’s Lake and Storybook Gardens with four children in tow.
Mary learned her lessons well from “Ma,” Margaret M. Mulqueen. Her mother went out of her way to make family events special for her husband Earl, who lost both of his parents young and was denied most of childhood’s delectations. “Every year, we always celebrated Christmas. My mother made Christmas really special,” Mary said in an oral-history interview with granddaughter Ruby in 2009. “But especially his birthday. He never had a birthday cake growing up. Isn’t that sad? And yet grew up to be such a nice man.”
In 1965 Mary and Dave built their dream home in Sun Prairie’s then-new Royal Oaks neighborhood. Seventeen stately oak trees towered over the property. Much love went into building and maintaining the family homestead that stayed in the Hanneman family for 53 years. She spent those years caring for her family with special birthday meals, wonderful Christmas mornings and a thrifty way with money that allowed her and Dave to put four children through Madison Edgewood High School.
In 1980, Mary resumed her teaching career at Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Catholic School. She started as a substitute, but before long was a full-time reading specialist. She helped along the students who otherwise would fall behind. It was her passion to teach reading, and she opened the world of books to many hundreds of children. Students came to Mrs. Hanneman for extra help in reading, math and other subjects. She sent them back with the skills and desire to learn. Her career at Sacred Hearts stretched nearly three decades. Even after retirement, Mary tutored students several days a week for many years.
When her husband was dying of cancer in 2006 and 2007, he helped make his last wish come true. The couple donated four sections of beautiful stained-glass windows back to St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison, where they were incorporated into the design of a new wing of the hospital that opened in 2007.
Her penultimate lessons were largely delivered in the silence of advancing dementia, which eventually crippled her ability to thinkclearly and communicate verbally. Yet she showed patience in this frustrating infirmity. If she could not form the words to say what was on her mind, she sighed deeply and simply said, “Oh, dear.” As illness struck its blows through a heart attack and repeated cardiac events, she rallied time and again to regain strength and show a smile. When hospice nurse Heidi leaned close and told Mary it was almost Christmas, she smiled and said, “I love Christmas.”
Mary’s final and lasting lesson was delivered over days of speechless suffering. Her body conspired to drain her energy. Yet she trusted. She lay still. She prayed. During her final hour, she opened her eyes, lifted her head and looked intently — at something. She tried to speak, but words were not needed. The look of awe on her face explained it all: she had a glimpse of Heaven. All things would soon be new. That realization was reflected on her face. It was her final gift. She spoke in deeds what words could not say:
My work here is complete. My struggles were never in vain. Even in my brokenness, my trials fit in His design and served His redemptive plans. Watch! Hold fast to your Catholic faith — and you will one day follow me.
Mary is survived by her children: David (Lisa) Hanneman of Naperville, Ill., Joe Hanneman of Sun Prairie, Margret Mary of DeForest, Amy Bozza of Woodstock, Ill.; and special niece, Laura (Doug) Curzon of New Berlin, Wis. She is further survived by nine grandchildren: Abby, Maggie and Charlie Hanneman; Stevie, Samantha and Ruby Hanneman; and Justin, Kyle and Claire Bozza. She leaves two sisters, Ruth (Tom) McShane and Joan (Dick) Haske, both of Cudahy. She was preceded in death by her husband, her parents and eight brothers and sisters.
A visitation will be held from 10:00 a.m. until 11:45 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019 at Tuschen-Newcomer Funeral Home, 302 Columbus St., Sun Prairie. The Mass of Christian Burial will be held at noon Saturday, Jan. 5 at Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Catholic Church, 227 Columbus St., Sun Prairie. Monsignor Duane Moellenberndt will preside. Burial will be at Sacred Hearts Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, memorials are suggested to the Sacred Hearts School Endowment Fund, 221 Columbus St., Sun Prairie, WI 53590.
Jane Hanneman’s 3rd Birthday October 1958
David D. and Mary K. Hanneman, wedding day 1958
Mary K. Hanneman feeds son David Carl Hanneman in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Mary K. Hanneman with daughter Margret Mary, 1967.
Mary with daughter Amy Jo, 1969.
Hanneman Family portrait for the St. Albert’s parish directory.
Family trip to Ormond Beach, Fla.
The 1975 Mulqueen family reunion in Cudahy.
Mary and Dave with son Joe, Dec. 1, 1990.
David D., David C. and Mary Hanneman at Amy Hanneman Bozza’s wedding.
Grandma Mary holding new granddaughter Ruby, 1999. Samantha Hanneman is at left; Abby Hanneman is at right.
David D. and Mary K. Hanneman at their Sun Prairie home.
A great photo! Mary’s birthday in 2014.
Mary with her little buddy, Chewie.
Mary’s birthday 2017.
Mary’s birthday 2017.
Looking over a recently discovered photo from her 1958 engagement party.
Son Joe hold’s Mary’s hand on the day she was born to eternal life.
The September 1960 Chicago plane crash that killed all six members of the Richard Rickman family was caused by a faulty engine valve and an intense oil fire, according to a federal investigation report obtained through the National Archives.
Richard E. Rickman, 34, was flying his wife and four children from Wisconsin Rapids to Detroit on Labor Day 1960 when his Beechcraft C35 Bonanza (tail number N-5816C) plunged into Lake Michigan with flames trailing from the engine. Rickman, his wife Helen and children Richard, Robert, Catherine and Patricia were killed in the crash. The plane and its passengers sunk into the dark waters of Lake Michigan off Chicago’s Oak Street Beach. [See related:Entire Rickman Family Killed in 1960 Plane Crash]
It was a horrific, haunting tragedy. The Rickmans, native to central Wisconsin, were returning home to the Detroit area after a Labor Day vacation. Following the advice of the airport manager in Wisconsin Rapids, Rickman flew across Wisconsin and then along the Lake Michigan shoreline to Chicago. That’s where the trouble started. Rickman radioed the tower at Meigs Field in Chicago that he had an emergency and needed to land. [See an aerial view of Meigs Field] He never got the chance. The plane nose-dived into the water about 1 mile offshore from a crowded Oak Street Beach. All six Rickmans were killed.
The Civil Aeronautics Board began investigating the crash just as the sections of damaged plane were recovered from the depths of Lake Michigan. The wings were sheared off on impact. Witnesses on the beach reported seeing flames coming from the engine as the single-engine plane dove into the water. The probe was led by Clifford G. Sheker, the CAB’s air safety investigator. The 205-horsepower Continental engine was recovered and sent off for analysis. Sheker testified before a Cook County coroner’s inquest jury twice — in September and October 1960. His preliminary finding in October was that engine trouble caused the crash.
That’s where the public attention stopped. The probe continued and led to a report of findings in April 1961, but there was no media coverage on the final cause of the crash. The Hanneman Archive began a search for Sheker’s report back in 2015. It was not on the Federal Aviation Administration’s online database of old CAB crash investigations. The CAB was a predecessor to the National Transportation Safety Board.
We enlisted the help of the National Archives and Records Administration in College Park, Maryland. After several months, an archivist named Amy R. found the answer in April 1961 meeting minutes from the Civil Aeronautics Board. She was kind enough to snap digital photos of the report narrative and send them via email. As far as we can tell, these details were not published by news outlets at the time.
The report said Rickman was about a mile offshore headed south at 7:26 p.m. when he broadcast a Mayday call: “I have an engine failure or something – I am coming in!” The flight was immediately cleared for emergency landing at Meigs Field, a single-runway airport on Northerly Island, a peninsula along Chicago’s lakefront. Sheker’s report described what happened:
“About this time ground witnesses and the occupants of another plane saw the aircraft afire in flight. They observed the plane make a left turn and go out of control twice before it crashed into Lake Michigan and exploded.”
The Continental Motors E-185 engine became disabled by an “intense oil fire” that originated in the area of the exhaust heater muff. The No. 3 exhaust valve showed “fatigue failure” that led to the fire. The engine crankcase was broken open and the Nos. 3 and 4 pistons and connecting rods were broken. The “intense, in-flight fire” entered the cabin in the area of the rudder pedals and “subjected the entire cabin to fire.”
Rickman was an experienced pilot with 379 total flight hours, including 228 hours with the Beechcraft C35. His Beechcraft was manufactured in 1951 and licensed to Rickman in 1957. It’s unknown if the CAB or later the FAA took any action as a result of the Rickman crash, such as issuing an airworthiness letter. There was no indication in the CAB report of the maintenance history of the plane, or if the No. 3 exhaust valve had caused other engine fires.
Just 18 months before, superstar singers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson were killed when the Beechcraft C35 Bonanza in which they were traveling crashed near Clear Lake, Iowa. February 3, 1959 became known as “The Day the Music Died,” memorialized in Don McLean’s 1971 song, “American Pie.” The Civil Aeronautics Board faulted the pilot for taking off in poor weather when he was restricted to visual flight rules.
One of the most heartbreaking scenes from Sept. 5, 1960 was the sight of little Catherine Rickman, 4, being carried from a rescue boat to an ambulance by lifeguard Fred Rizzo. Boaters found her floating in the water shortly after the crash. She had burns on her face, legs and feet. The girl was revived briefly in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, but she died a short time later. Her grandparents, Edwin and Renata Rickman of Saginaw, Mich., identified her body. The search for her parents and siblings went on for days.
The diver who first found the bodies was Jeffrey Daxe, 34, a Chicago pilot and lifeguard. Daxe lived just across Lakeshore Drive near the beach. He was able to quickly gather his diving gear and have a lifeguard row him out to the crash site. The experience haunted Daxe for decades, according to his son, Jeff Daxe of Dayton, Ohio:
“As he told the story of the recovery of the victims, his face would transform to one with a look of concern. He would look away from his outstretched hand almost as if he could see, or didn’t want to see, the faces of the victims as he brought them to the surface.”
The senior Daxe went on to a career in aviation, and moved to Valparaiso, Ind. He told the story of the Rickman crash often. Even in recent years, when visiting Lake Michigan, his son said, he spent a long time gazing out on the water, expressing concern for the safety of boaters and windsurfers. “I believe the experience had a tremendous impact on his life.”
Tom Metcalf remembers the Rickmans well, growing up for a time in the same neighborhood in Redford Township, a western suburb of Detroit. “I remember playing with Richard and Robert,” said Metcalf, who was 6 at the time of the crash. “I also remember flying with them in their aircraft. My father was a military pilot and he and Mr. Rickman were friends with a common interest in flying. I also remember my mother chasing some news reporter out of our back yard after catching him trying to ask me questions after the accident.”
Like Daxe, Metcalf was deeply affected by the Rickman tragedy. He said he hopes to visit the family’s graves at Forest Hill Cemetery in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis. “I have thought of them often and sent prayers their way throughout my life,” Metcalf said.
Richard E. Rickman, the son of longtime shoe-store proprietor Edwin J. Rickman, grew up in Wisconsin Rapids. He was a descendant of pioneer resident Matthias Hanneman, who came to Wisconsin in 1866 from Pomerania. He served in the U.S. Naval Reserve in World War II. His father had served in WWI. A factory representative for the Ogden Manufacturing Co., Rickman married the former Helen Anderson in December 1949 and they later moved to Michigan. Their first child, Richard Edward, was born in Lansing in May 1953. Robert John was born in Lansing in March 1955. Catherine Helen was born in Detroit in June 1956; and Patricia Ann joined the family in Detroit in September 1957.
The epitaph on the Rickman Family monument at Forest Hill says simply: “Not my will, but Thine be done.”
“Man’s days are like those of grass; like a flower of the field he blooms; the wind sweeps over him and he is gone, and his place knows him no more.”
—Psalm 103:15, from the St. Michael church bulletin, Feb. 22, 1998
By Joseph M. Hanneman MADISON, Wis. — Sheriff’s investigators are exploring the possibility that the man who brutally murdered Father Alfred J. Kunz in March 1998 is dead, and they are urging the public to come forward with tips and clues needed to break the case and solve one of the most vexing killings in Wisconsin history.
After a 20-year investigation involving more than 50 detectives and thousands of interviews, the Dane County Sheriff’s Office has “multiple” persons of interest in the murder of the traditionalist Catholic priest. Dane County Sheriff David J. Mahoney said investigators believe it’s possible the killer himself is dead. This has added urgency to law enforcement appeals for the public to come forward with more information.
“We have to look at the possibility that the person responsible, or others who might have been aware, are dead,” Mahoney said in an interview with Catholic World Report. “If that’s the case, we’ll never solve it unless somebody comes forth with evidence.”
Father Kunz, 67, was found with his throat slashed on the morning of March 4, 1998, in a hallway of St. Michael School in the rural enclave of Dane, about 15 miles northwest of Madison. He died from blood loss suffered when his carotid artery was cut during a brief but ferocious struggle with his killer. The massive murder investigation is the most extensive in Dane County history, but has yet to yield an arrest or assignment of blame.
“Where we’re at today, we have multiple people of interest, where 12 years ago we were concentrating our efforts on one individual,” Mahoney said in an extensive interview at the Dane County Public Safety Building. “We have multiple individuals who we would consider to be persons of interest, who either have motive or had a pattern of practices, maybe in the area of burglaries. We’ve looked at this as a crime of passion, we’ve looked at this as being a crime of opportunity — a burglary that was interrupted.”
New leads developed in the case over the past year have expanded the list of persons of interest. This development comes as one of the early persons of interest, a former St. Michael teacher who found Kunz’s body, has now been cleared of involvement in the crime. Mahoney wants members of the public who might have information to take a fresh look at memories from 1998 and in the years after. Investigators are hoping someone comes forward with information that can tip the case to a solution.
“Over the years, some of our witnesses and people with knowledge have died, and with them goes the information,” Mahoney said. “That’s one of the reasons we pushed more information out on the 20th anniversary. If there were family members of people who passed (away), or friends or associates or even somebody who heard something, we want to try to try to bring them out into the open at this point. Before we lose more people.”
Father Kunz was a sign of contradiction; a tradition-minded priest in the shadow of the liberal state capital. He was a 20th century fidei defensor, upholding Catholic teachings amid a sea of post-Vatican-II modernism. He preached the truth, no matter how unpopular. A sharp critic of homosexual corruption in the Church, he worked at the highest levels to expose priestly pederasty in rectories and chanceries. He saw the coming storm of sexual-abuse allegations that would swamp the Church years later and lead to more than $3.3 billion in victim settlements and attorney fees in the United States alone. “You will find no justice in the Church today,” he told a friend not long before his death. He worried the pederasty scandals would destroy the diocesan priesthood.
His celebration of the Usus Antiquior, or the Traditional Latin Mass, drew congregants from three states. Even though he also celebrated the NovusOrdo Mass, some locals left for other churches. Kunz had a soft pastoral touch and a generous heart. He fixed up old cars and provided them to his cash-strapped teachers. He took no salary. His sister sent him boxes of socks when his became worn. He ran successful fish-fry fundraising dinners to support his parish and school. A typical day for Kunz started at 5:30 a.m. and didn’t end until well after midnight. In between, he was a whirlwind of activity at church, in school, at diocesan offices in Madison, at hospitals and among his parishioners. His sudden, violent death left a trail of tears that still flows 20 years later.
Kunz was last seen alive about 10 p.m. on March 3, 1998, when his friend, Father Charles C. Fiore, dropped him off at St. Michael’s. The pair just took part in a recording session in Monroe for the “Our Catholic Family” radio program that aired on Sunday mornings across southern Wisconsin. Kunz fixed himself some dinner at the rectory and spoke by phone with another priest at 10:23 p.m. He then retired to his sparse one-room office that doubled as living quarters in the adjacent school. Police believe Kunz encountered his killer shortly after. His body was found the next morning, face down in a pool of blood at the foot of a statue of St. Michael the Archangel. Kunz was barefoot, dressed in dark slacks and a white T-shirt.
There were no signs of forced entry, so the killer gained access without leaving evidence behind, had a key or was let in by Father Kunz. Police said the attack was sudden and unexpected. Kunz, a Golden Gloves boxer in his youth, put up quite a fight and might have gained the upper hand on the suspect before being knocked to his knees by a blow from a weapon, Mahoney said. His throat was then cut with some kind of sharp-edge instrument, severing the artery that carries blood to the brain. No weapons were recovered.
Police believe the killer was a man, who might have been familiar with Kunz and St. Michael parish. While an FBI profile suggested the killer might have had an argument or altercation with Kunz in the 72 hours before the murder, Mahoney said it is possible the priest simply interrupted a burglary. The killer was likely shocked by the amount of blood that flowed when he cut Kunz’s throat. When he escaped from the school, the murderer was covered in blood and bearing noticeable injuries to his face, Mahoney said. Based on the wounds on Kunz’s hands, police believe the priest landed serious blows to the head of his attacker. An autopsy photo released by the sheriff’s office in 2018 shows Kunz’s right hand with major bruising along the index finger, bruises on three of the four knuckles and several small puncture-type wounds across the back of the hand.
“Father Kunz did engage physically with his murderer,” Mahoney said. “We believe whomever was in fact involved probably had some significant facial injuries and probably was visibly injured.” The assailant would have “looked like he had been beaten up,” Mahoney said. “Father Kunz had hand injuries. He knew how to land a punch.”
Profilers said the killer did not go to St. Michael’s that night intending to kill Kunz. Investigators believe the killer felt regret afterward. He went home with clothing soaked in blood that he would seek to wash or destroy. Family or friends would have noticed facial injuries. The suspect might have missed work the next day. The killer could have used a favorite hunting knife, box cutter or other instrument that he then discarded. Friends or co-workers could have noticed he no longer carried the cutting instrument and that he had a story for what happened to it. In the weeks, months and years afterward, the person could have had mental health issues, or struggled with alcohol abuse, police said.
Could something as simple as a burglary be the answer in this case? Kunz’s office was burglarized in 1994. The priest’s late-night routine was predictable, a fact that could be crucial if a burglar was watching the property. Kunz was security conscious and the school doors were always locked at night, friends said. Some collection money went missing in the weeks before the murder, police said. It was not unusual for bags of Sunday collection money to sit at the church, undeposited, sometimes for weeks. Large amounts of money had been moved between parish accounts in the months before the murder, and some large checks were cut, police said.
Early in the investigation, detectives questioned two men with ties to Kunz who were involved in burglaries. Jeffrey L. Maas of Pewaukee, Wis., pilfered statues, chalices, candles, books and artifacts from churches in five Wisconsin counties, police said. He was convicted in 1999 of four misdemeanor and five felony counts of theft and receiving stolen property. Robert M. Pulvermacher of Dane was arrested shortly after the Kunz murder and later sentenced to nearly four years in prison for burglary. He escaped from a prison work camp in December 1998. While on the lam, he attacked a local constable and wrestled his gun away, police said. During a massive search of central Wisconsin, a deputy confronted and disarmed Pulvermacher. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison on escape-related charges. Investigators concluded the men were not involved in the priest’s murder. The burglary motive, however, remains an active focus.
The Kunz homicide was the first in the village of Dane since March 1971, when William C. Chambers shot and killed his 22-year-old son, Kenneth D. Chambers, during a long-simmering family feud. The father fired three bullets into the heart, brain and lungs of his son. He was later acquitted of first-degree murder. Kenneth Chambers was a member of St. Michael Catholic Church. Father Kunz officiated at his funeral Mass on March 13, 1971.
Dozens of fire trucks and other emergency vehicles escorted the body of fallen Sun Prairie Volunteer Fire Department Capt. Cory Barr from the medical examiner’s office to the funeral home late Wednesday.
The 15-year fire department veteran was killed Tuesday evening July 10 when a gas leak set off a massive explosion in the 100 block of West Main Street. The blast leveled several buildings and triggered a five-alarm fire that required mutual assistance from area fire departments. Sections of downtown Sun Prairie were still off limits four days later.
Fire engines, squad cars and rescue vehicles from around southern Wisconsin formed a long memorial procession from McFarland to Sun Prairie. The hearse carrying Barr’s body processed through fire station No. 1 before arriving at the Tuschen-Newcomer Funeral Home. Ladder trucks from the Waunakee and Columbus fire departments formed an arch under which the procession traveled.
The following departments were represented in the procession: Belleville-Exeter-Montrose, Black Earth, Burke-Bristol-Sun Prairie, Cambridge, Columbus, Cottage Grove, Cross Plains-Berry, Deerfield, DeForest, Fitchburg, Footville, Madison, Maple Bluff, Marshall, McFarland, Milwaukee, Monona, Mount Horeb, Oregon, Stoughton, Sun Prairie, Town of Madison, Verona, Waunakee and Wonewoc.
The huge explosion and fire that leveled numerous buildings in Sun Prairie on July 10 and 11 reminded me of another massive fire in the same area more than 40 years ago. On March 3, 1975, a fast-moving fire destroyed the Schweiger Walgreen Drug Store and Hillenbrand’s shoe store in the 200 block of East Main Street.
The fire alarm was sounded at 1:51 p.m. that day, bringing 33 firemen from the Sun Prairie Volunteer Fire Department to the scene. They were shortly joined by another 25 firefighters and trucks from Stoughton, DeForest and Marshall. The fire was discovered in the basement of the Schweiger Walgreen’s store, 214 E. Main St., and quickly spread to the adjacent Hillenbrand’s and apartments above both buildings. It took more than five hours to fully contain the blaze. The last crews left the scene at around 11 p.m.
Margaret McGonigle, 75, became trapped on the roof of the drug store building when the stairs down from her apartment were blocked by fire. She was rescued by the snorkel truck from the Sun Prairie Fire Department, according to the March 6, 1975 issue of the Sun Prairie Star-Countryman. Mrs. McGonigle was the widow of pharmacist John M. McGonigle, whose family owned and operated McGonigle’s Drug Store for more than 50 years before Robert Schweiger purchased it in 1970. She was also postmaster of Sun Prairie for 38 years before retiring in 1966. John McGonigle died in September 1965.
I distinctly recall going downtown with my father to view the aftermath of the fire. I recall the outriggers on the snorkel truck, and large amounts of road salt around the tires of the fire engines. The pharmacy held special memories for us, since my grandfather, Carl F. Hanneman, was a reserve pharmacist who occasionally worked for McGonigle’s. The Hillenbrand clothing and shoe stores were run by John Hein, a good friend of my parents, and the shoe store was managed by Roger Reichert, also a family friend. Reichert lived above the store and lost all of his belongings in the fire.
The state fire marshal investigated the blaze, but was unable to determine a cause. Damage to the structures and contents was estimated by Fire Chief Milton Tester at $200,000. Within a week, Schweiger’s opened in temporary quarters on Bristol Street. The buildings were a total loss and had to be demolished.
“Many fine things have been said about our volunteer firemen before. But last week’s fire had to be one of their finest efforts,” read the “Shavings from the Editor’s Pencil” column in the Star-Countryman. “I spent nearly three hours in that biting cold watching those magnificent, heroic firemen work. Not once did I see anyone so much as flinch at going into a burning building or otherwise approaching a dangerous situation.”
Both the 2018 fire that claimed the life of Capt. Cory Barr and the 1975 fire had one thing in common: a pharmacy. The Barr House tavern at the corner of Bristol and Main streets, owned by Capt. Barr and his wife, once housed the Crosse and Crosse Drug Store, according to the Sun Prairie Public Museum. The building dates to the 1890s.
The Schweiger fire was one of three major blazes in Sun Prairie in 1975. On Aug. 10 that year, fire swept through the Moldrem Furniture store at 13 N. Bird St. in the Bird Street Centre. The fire did about $185,000 damage to the 34-year-old business. The store was a total loss. A backdraft blew two firefighters out the front doors of the store. Retiring assistant fire chief Arnie Kleven described the fire as his most frightening in an August 2017 interview with The Star. Kleven said the doors probably saved his life that day. Wiring in the air conditioning system was cited as the cause of the fire.
In July 1975, shorted wiring sparked a major fire in the garage and offices of Bill Gawne Ford Inc., 425 W. Main St. That fire caused an estimated $85,000 damage.
(This post has been updated with details on the Moldrem and Gawne fires.)
Firefighters battled fire, smoke and bitter cold weather. (The Capital Times/Dave Sandell)
It took more than five hours to contain the blaze. (Wisconsin State Journal/Edwin Stein)
A snorkel truck was used in the dramatic rescue of Margaret McGonigle, owner of the drug store building, who was trapped on the roof. (Sun Prairie Star-Countryman photo)
Fire crews from Sun Prairie, DeForest, Stoughton and Marshall battled the blaze. (Sun Prairie Star-Countryman photo)
Shelby Beers behind the counter of the Crosse and Cross Drugstore, circa 1920s. (Sun Prairie Public Museum photo)
For years, Father Alfred Kunz said the Traditional Latin Mass at St. Michael Catholic Church in the village of Dane, northwest of Madison. On Saturday, 20 years after the priest was brutally murdered in the adjoining parish school, a Solemn Requiem Mass was said for his soul at St. Mary of Pine Bluff Catholic Church.
Several dozen people attended the Latin Requiem Mass for Fr. Kunz, held in the beautiful St. Mary church west of Madison. It had every bit of the sacred reverence that Kunz brought to the Latin Masses he celebrated at St. Michael’s in Dane. Standing in stark contrast to the beauty of the incense, bells and Gregorian chant was the fact that Fr. Kunz’s killer has not been brought to justice.
Father John Zuhlsdorf reminded those in attendance that a Requiem Mass is not a celebration of life, but a funeral Mass for the souls of the dead. He urged the faithful to think of their own deaths, and to pray that they not die without benefit of the sacraments, including anointing of the sick. Dying without the sacraments, known as an “unprovided death,” is a truly frightful thing, Zuhlsdorf said. He prayed that God would admit Fr. Kunz into the Beatific Vision of Heaven. (The photo atop this article shows Fr. Zuhlsdorf blessing the catafalque, which serves as a stand-in for the casket in Requiem Masses where the body of the deceased is not present.)
In the narthex of St. Mary’s stood an easel with a framed photograph of Fr. Kunz, inscribed with the words Ecce Agnus Dei, “Behold the Lamb of God.” It was a testament to Kunz’s 42 years of service as a Catholic priest in Cassville, Waunakee, Monroe and the village of Dane. It also spoke of the wounds left behind by such a violent death, perpetrated on a holy man dedicated to serving others.
On March 4, 1998, Kunz’s body was discovered in a school hallway by a teacher arriving for the workday. Kunz’s throat had been cut, causing him to bleed to death from a severed carotid artery. The edged weapon used to cut his throat was never found. Police said the killer might have discarded a knife or weapon that was a treasured possession; something he carried every day. Kunz’s body was found face down, at the foot of a statue of St. Michael the Archangel.
The ensuing investigation is said to be the most expansive, and expensive, in Dane County history. Yet no arrests have been made. On the 20th anniversary of Kunz’s murder, the Dane County Sheriff’s Department has begun releasing new details on the case in hopes someone will come forward with a tip that could break the case open. The department started posting details to a Facebook page set up in Fr. Kunz’s name. Some of the posts were written in first person, as if Fr. Kunz were speaking. After a few days, Facebook removed the page and all related content, with no explanation.
Father Kunz was last heard from at 10:23 p.m. on March 3, 1998, when he made a telephone call to a priest friend. Earlier that evening, Kunz attended the taping of a radio program, “Our Catholic Family,” with his friend, Fr. Charles Fiore. After being dropped off at St. Michael’s about 10 p.m., Kunz eventually returned to his living quarters in the school. The perpetrator, laying in wait, might have gained access through a window in Kunz’s apartment. Police said Kunz defended himself and tried to fend off the attack. Kunz was a former Golden Gloves boxer, in good physical shape despite his 67 years. Here is how the sheriff’s department described what happened:
Inside the school hallway, upon inserting my key into the lock of my private quarters and opening the door, it was then that the killer made his move. I saw and confronted the killer; I wasn’t afraid of him. He attacked, but we both landed some punches. The killer then attacked me with a weapon, and then pulled out a knife. I was knocked to my knees, and the killer then slashed my neck, which caused the fatal loss of blood.
On March 3, 1998, someone in the St. Michael school office overheard Fr. Kunz having a heated phone conversation, the sheriff’s department said. Kunz told the caller he could not see them that day. “Furthermore, I don’t think we have anything else to talk about,” Kunz said.
A criminal profile of the murderer suggested he not only knew Fr. Kunz, he was likely familiar with the layout of the church and the school. A former FBI profiler said the killer was most likely surprised by the amount of blood that resulted from the attack. The perpetrator left the school that night covered in blood. He might have been in an altered state of mind that night, and has lived in with regret, and denial, ever since. Details of the crime indicated a “very strong personal motive,” according to then Dane County Sheriff Gary Hamblin.
The sheriff’s department said large amounts of parish money had been moved from account to account prior to the murder. Some “very large checks” were also cut. The week before the murder, collection money was missing from the St. Michael’s sacristy. Four months before the murder, Fr. Kunz told a friend: “Please, please pray for me.”
The murder case exposed biases and hostility in the media and community against the Traditional Latin Mass that Kunz so loved and revered. The TLM is the Catholic liturgy as it has been celebrated for millennia. Fr. Kunz regularly said the Latin Mass, although he also celebrated the Novus Ordo, or new order of the Mass, promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1969. Catholics from around Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois drove to St. Michael’s in Dane to participate in the 10 a.m. Sunday Latin Masses offered by Fr. Kunz. This was years before Pope Benedict XVI issued his motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, which stated priests around the world can offer the Latin Mass without permission from a bishop.
One investigator remarked in 1999 that “people have described Kunz’s followers as cult-like.” This attitude smears traditional-minded Catholics and suggests they are followers of a priest instead of Jesus Christ in his Catholic Church. Latin Mass participants were described in media stories as “extremely conservative,” even rigid or at the fringe of Catholic life. Prior to Vatican II in the 1960s, the Latin Mass was simply Catholic, celebrated in the same way around the world. A profile of the Kunz case published in Las Vegas Weekly magazine in 2002 said the Latin Mass “seems to a visiting outsider like a postcard from some musty, long-forgotten time.”
From Devout Catholic Family
Alfred J. Kunz was born on April 15, 1930 in Dodgeville, Wisconsin. He was one of eight children of Alfred J. and Helen T. Kunz. His father emigrated from Switzerland in 1914. His mother was born in Michigan, although her parents came to America from Baden and Württemberg, Germany. Alfred Kunz Sr. was a cheesemaker. He established his own business, the Fairview Cheese Factory, near Stitzer in the Town of Liberty. The Kunz family was devoutly Catholic, attending daily Mass at St. Mary’s in Fennimore. The senior Kunz died on March 3, 1965, exactly 33 years before the attack that ended his son’s life. Mrs. Kunz died in January 1993 at age 98.
A young Alfred heard a calling to the priesthood after suffering a nearly fatal bout of appendicitis at age 10. As he regained consciousness from surgery, he told his mother, “I want to be a priest.” In 1944, Fr. Kunz entered Pontifical College Josephinum in Worthington, Ohio, for a 12-year course of study. At the time, it was the only seminary in the United States under direct supervision of the Vatican. In November 1950, Kunz was featured in an essay in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, pictured serving Mass for Msgr. Gilbert Schmenck, procurator of Pontifical College. Kunz was ordained a priest at Pontifical College upon his graduation on May 26, 1956. According to his cemetery monument, he also held a canon law degree. He said his first Mass on June 3, 1956 at St. Mary Catholic Church in Fennimore. Fr. Kunz served at parishes in Cassville and Waunakee before becoming assistant pastor at St. Victor’s Catholic Church in Monroe. In June 1967, Bishop Cletus O’Donnell named him pastor of St. Michael’s in the village of Dane.
On a very stormy day in April 1965, Fr. Kunz had a brush with death just outside Monroe. As he was leaving town in his automobile, a tornado blew across the road, spinning his car around. When the winds had passed, Fr. Kunz’s car was pointed back toward Monroe. “I saw the light,” he told The Milwaukee Journal, “so I returned.” The storms that day did damage across a wide swath of southern Wisconsin.
Fr. Kunz became known as a faithful and tireless defender of the truth of the Catholic faith. This in and of itself would have been unremarkable in another period of history when modernism didn’t have such a hold on an increasingly secular society. He was a vocal opponent of abortion and promoter of the sanctity of human life from conception until natural death. He once held a funeral for an aborted child at St. Michael’s, burying the baby at the foot of a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He preached the truth about the sinful vice of sodomy and spoke against no-fault divorce. His introduction of the Latin Mass at St. Michael’s rankled some people, even though the Novus Ordo Mass was offered as well. He said Mass for the school children every weekday. Three times a week those 8 a.m. Masses were in Latin.
Fr. Kunz worked hard to ensure that St. Michael’s Catholic Church was rebuilt in the 1970s after it was destroyed by fire. He handled maintenance tasks at the church and school, and even mowed the grass at the cemetery. He took no parish salary and drove a well worn Volkswagen in order to save money. His presence at monthly fish fry fund-raisers was almost legendary. He slaved in the hot kitchen to make sure enough food was available to serve all comers.
The case of Fr. Kunz has at times been dominated by conspiracy theories and harsh assessments of the murdered priest. Because he was an exorcist, some contend Kunz was killed by Luciferians, or someone under Satan’s influence. The sheriff’s department contends Fr. Kunz had “intimate” relationships with women in his parish, although it has never provided details or indicated the source of this information. One former St. Michael parishioner questioned by the sheriff’s department said she felt Fr. Kunz’s name was dragged through the mud with such unsubstantiated allegations.
In a social media dispatch on the case, the sheriff’s department said, “Father Kunz taught that sending children to public school was a mortal sin. Father Kunz didn’t like his teachers socializing with the parishioners. Could someone have disagreed with Father Kunz’s views?” There was no source information offered on the claim that Fr. Kunz taught that going to public school was a mortal sin. The department also said Fr. Kunz was viewed as “very controlling; he had disbanded the church council and didn’t have a finance committee.” Police now say former St. Michael Catholic School Principal Maureen O’Leary was uncooperative during the investigation, even though she and Fr. Kunz were close. O’Leary suggested that the Dane County Sheriff’s Department should call off the the investigation and mark it “unsolved,” police said. “Could something she knew have been a motive for the killer?” the sheriff’s department asked on Facebook March 7, 2018.
Kunz’s friend Fr. Fiore was an early critic of sexual abuse committed by Catholic clergy and covered up by U.S. bishops. Fr. Kunz was a canon-law adviser to The Roman Catholic Faithful, a now-defunct nonprofit group dedicated to exposing sexual misconduct among priests and bishops. Because of this, some believe Kunz might have been killed to keep him from identifying priests or bishops who sexually abused boys or teenagers. Kunz was said to be helping Fiore prepare a report on sexual abuse by clergy, for delivery to Pope John Paul II. Father Malachi Martin said he believed Kunz’s killing was a “deliberate attempt by those who hated what he represented and what he was doing, to silence and disable him permanently.”
A tribute written on the 10th anniversary of his murder described Fr. Kunz as “completely faithful to Christ and the sacraments.” Written by Toby Westerman of Tradition in Action, the tribute continued:
“Like Christ the High Priest, he poured himself out for the love of God and the good of souls. In the words of his close friend and one of the founders of the pro-life movement in the United States, the late Fr. Charles Fiore, ‘in the end Fr. Kunz even poured out his own blood for Jesus and His flock.’ “
An appearance Fr. Kunz made at a public memorial service in 1967 seems in retrospect almost prophetic. Kunz was among five clergy members who spoke words of comfort at Juda High School for nine seniors killed when a plane crashed into the motel where they were staying on a class trip. More than 1,500 people attended the service in the Green County community, located between Monroe and Brodhead. Fr. Kunz spoke of the hope for the Christian dead, reading words from St. Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians.
“We who live, who survive to the Lord’s coming, will in no way have an advantage over those who have fallen asleep. …The dead in Christ will first rise.”
At the conclusion of the March 3, 2018 Solemn Requiem Mass for Fr. Kunz, the faithful spilled into the narthex of St. Mary’s. They shared memories of Father Al, and wondered aloud if his murder will ever be solved. They spoke most of his love for the Traditional Latin Mass, and how his work helped lay the foundation for traditional Masses now said at St. Mary and other parishes across Wisconsin. Father Al would have been very much at home here in Pine Bluff. On this sunny March day in 2018, in fact, he was at home. ♦
—This article was updated at 9:07 p.m. and 11:26 a.m. CST March 7, 2018, 11:00 a.m. CST March 6, 2018, and at 9:35 p.m. CST March 4, 2018, with new case details from the Dane County Sheriff’s Department.
Anyone with information on the murder of Fr. Kunz should contact the Dane County Sheriff’s Department tips line, 608-284-6900, or via email, email@example.com. The department set up a Facebook page in Fr. Kunz’s name, but Facebook has removed the page. The Fr. Kunz Twitter page is still being used by the department to share information on the case. Use the hashtag #whokilledfatherkunz.
An escaped federal prisoner from Indiana was captured by Racine County sheriff’s deputies early Saturday after he took a hostage, went on a three-state crime spree and shot an Oak Creek police officer, authorities said.
Ronald R. Plummer, 39, a federal prisoner awaiting sentencing in Indianapolis, and his alleged accomplice, Elizabeth Bonvillain, 31, a jail social worker, were captured in a town of Raymond barn after they took an apparent drug overdose.
Both were in critical condition early today at St. Luke’s Hospital in Racine. A nursing supervisor said the couple were starting to come out of drug-induced comas they had been in much of the day.
The couple are under armed guard. If they regain consciousness, they will be turned over to Oak Creek authorities to face charges of attempted murder of a police officer, police said
They also face a long list of charges in other jurisdictions-so many that police had not sorted them all out late Saturday. Charges could include kidnapping, federal escape, attempted murder and possession of firearms by a felon.
Meanwhile, Oak Creek Police Patrolman John Edwards, 26, was treated at a Milwaukee hospital, then released after he was shot in the hand and nearly shot in the chest, police said.
Edwards was shot about 4:15 a.m. in the parking lot of the Union 76 Milwaukee Truck Stop, at Highway 100 and Interstate 94, as he routinely checked what he believed to be a suspicious vehicle.
“The driver of the car got out and had two guns pointed at officer Edwards — one in each hand,” said Oak Creek Police Lt. Gerald Stahl.
Plummer ordered Edwards to lie on the ground, but the patrolman turned sideways and started to run, Stahl said. Plummer fired a shot at Edwards.
“The bullet came from the side and hit his badge,” Stahl said. The bullet ripped a hole in the badge, which was knocked off, but the bullet did not enter Edwards’ body. A second bullet struck Edwards’ right index finger.
The escaped bank robber then got back in his car and fled south on I-94 with Edwards in pursuit.
Police lost sight of Plummer and Bonvillain as they headed west on 7 Mile Road in Racine County. About 6 a.m., Racine County sheriff’s deputy Jeff Holmes spotted Plummer’s car parked in a driveway at 3526 7 Mile Road.
Authorities from Racine County, Milwaukee County, the State Patrol and the U. S. Marshal’s office surrounded the barn next door after the Racine Police Department’s dog, Bonny, picked up the couple’s scent.
Bonny was sent into the barn at 3516 7 Mile Road ahead of officers and bit Plummer on the arm. Police found Plummer and Bonvillain in an animal stall, covered with hay, and semi-comatose from an apparent barbiturate overdose, authorities said. Two .38-caliber pistols were found.
Bonnie Falkowski, co-owner of the barn, said she found three “really big” prescription pill bottles and a bottle of water next to where the fugitives were found.
The bottles, which apparently had a woman’s name on them, were empty, Falkowski said. “It makes sense,” she said. “They probably had the water to take the pills.”
Spree started in Indiana
Plummer’s bizarre journey to Racine County began Friday in Indianapolis, where he was awaiting sentencing for a June 1987 robbery of an Evansville, Ind., bank.
He was brought to Indianapolis from the federal penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pa., where he was serving a sentence for robbing two Ohio banks and a federal savings and loan, police said.
Plummer apparently self-inflicted a hand injury at the jail and was taken to Wishard Memorial Hospital in Indianapolis for treatment, according to the Marion County (Ind.) Sheriff’s Department and the Indianapolis office of the FBI.
Plummer was shackled to a gurney in the X-ray room when Bonvillain, wearing a nurse’s coat and armed with the pistols and a bolt cutter, burst in and tried to give the gun to Plummer, police said.
“Evidently, the gun was on a table,” said Garry Schoon, FBI special agent in Indianapolis “Both the deputy and Plummer went for it. The deputy grabbed the top of it.”
Schoon said Plummer attempted to fire the weapon at the deputy, but the officer’s hand blocked the gun’s hammer from making contact with the bullet. Confronted with the loaded pistol, the deputy backed off. Plummer and Bonvillain took X-ray technician Donald Elsner hostage, and fled to a waiting car.
Fled in rental car
About three blocks away, on the Indiana University campus, they dumped the escape car and got into a rental car and fled north on Interstate 65, police said. Elsner was released unharmed in the Chicago area and the duo continued north on I-94 into Wisconsin.
Police believe there was “a considerable amount of planning” involved, said Sgt. Randy Russell of the Marion County Sheriff’s Department. “It looked to be fairly well thought out,” Russell said.
Police found a sketch of the hospital’s layout in the original escape car, Russell said.
Schoon said Bonvillain apparently met Plummer at the Hamilton County, Ohio, jail in Cincinnati, where she worked as a counselor. “They did have some contact in the Hamilton County Jail,” Schoon said.
Hamilton County authorities said Bonvillain was acting coordinator of the mental health unit at the Hamilton County Justice Center in Cincinnati. She was employed by Correctional Medical Services Inc., which provides service to the county.
She apparently met Plummer in February 1988 while he was awaiting trial on two Ohio bank robbery charges, police said. She called in sick on March 17 then began a vacation last week, Hamilton County authorities said. Last Monday, she purchased the two pistols in Cincinnati, police said.
On Thursday, she checked in to the Inntowner Motor Lodge in Indianapolis. Shortly before leaving for Wishard Hospital she took three calls from Plummer, who was in the jail, police said.
If the couple survive the drug overdose, they could face a long list of charges and warrants from numerous law enforcement agencies.
“He would be considered for kidnapping charges, probably federal and state,” said Jon Wendt, FBI special agent in charge of Wisconsin. “Traditionally, you look at the more violent crime first.” Marion County will consider “five or six” charges against the pair, Russell said, on top of charges being considered by the U.S. Attorney. ♦
EPILOGUE: In December 1990, Plummer was sentenced to 100 years in prison for the kidnapping of X-ray technician Elsner. He was earlier sentenced to more than 130 years in prison for a series of bank robberies. ….Bonvillain pleaded guilty to armed escape and conspiracy to commit kidnapping. In September 1990 she was sentenced in Marion County, Indiana, to 20 years in prison.