Tag Archives: 1990s

Lloyd’s Life After Cancer: ‘I’m a Better Man Than I Ever Was’

By Joseph Hanneman
Racine Journal Times

A group of sparrows perched on the edge of the bird feeder outside Lloyd Miller’s window, pecking at the seeds like there was no tomorrow.

Oblivious to the man watching them from just feet away, the birds went about their business, then flew away. They are a living reminder of just how much Miller’s life has changed in the past four years.

This story was part of an award-winning 12-page special section published in The Journal Times  on Dec. 1, 1991. The project won awards from the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, the American Cancer Society and the American College of Radiology.

For much of his life, the 71-year-old Miller never had time for little hobbies like bird watching. From his early days as a cavalry instructor in the U.S. Army to his career as a salesman and Racine’s city development director, Miller was a busy man.

Then came cancer.

“I never had a bird feeder before. Now, I’m feeding the birds at $10 a week,” Miller says with a chuckle. “I’ll have to win the lottery.”

Aside from the pinkish patch of scar tissue on his head and his lack of hair, you would never know this man tangled with a rare, life-threatening cancer.

He has a firm handshake, a hearty belly laugh and a warmth that twinkles from beneath his spectacles.

Life has changed
The bird feeder is one of the little ways Miller is a different man now. He isn’t bothered by the little things anymore. He’s more tolerant. He finds it a lot easier to tell his wife and friends that he loves them.

And although life has brought him persistent heart problems and a cancer that came back four times, Miller considers himself lucky.

Lloyd Miller never used to have time for hobbies. Now he’s a regular bird-feeder. — Journal Times photo by Mark Hertzberg

“I do not consider myself dying of cancer,” he says, softly tracing an invisible pattern on the kitchen table with his index finger, “but living despite it. I do not look at each day as a day closer to death, but another day to be appreciated and enjoyed.”

Lloyd Miller is a cancer survivor.

He is one of the 50 percent of cancer patients who live through the terrifying diagnosis, the fear, the uncertainty, the sickening treatments and the real risk of death. He is part of a growing group with a determination to live life fully, with a new appreciation for what was almost lost.

Miller’s rare form of cancer is in remission, four years after it was discovered. And although there still is a risk the cancer could come back and attack his lungs, he doesn’t let it worry him.

“I feel so comfortable, it’s almost a sin. I don’t think about it every day.”

But for much of the past few years, Miller had little choice but to think about cancer.

The first inkling of trouble came in 1987 while he was on a cruise with Sue, his wife of 16 years. A sunburn-like patch of blisters appeared on the left side of his scalp. It didn’t concern him, until his eye began to swell so badly he had to soak it to get it to open. Upon returning to Racine from Miami, Miller went to see his doctor in Kenosha. The doctor took a biopsy, then delivered the kind of heart-stopping news everyone fears.

Lloyd Miller’s story as it appeared in the Journal Times on Dec. 1, 1991.

“I knew I was in trouble. I expected bad news. It was bad news. Believe it or not, I was afraid,” he said. “The word ‘cancer’ just sent chills through me.”

The doctor referred Miller to the University of Wisconsin Comprehensive Cancer Center in Madison, one of the nation’s major cancer centers, with a medical staff of 350.

Doctors took 60 biopsies from Miller’s scalp in an effort to find what kind of cancer had taken hold.

Rare cancer diagnosed
The diagnosis was angiosarcoma, a rare cancer of the blood vessels that spreads to the connective tissues. Miller had extensive tumors throughout the left side of his scalp.

Doctors started Miller on a regimen of radiation treatments using a high-tech system in which treatments are planned using 3-D computers that help aim the radiation most effectively at the cancer. He traveled to the UW daily for treatments — journeys that would eventually total 33,000 miles.

The hospital staff drew targets with ink on his now-bald head. They took measurements and calibrated the 6-million-volt radiation machine.

The treatments were terrifying for Miller. Much of his head was covered in a lead mask that shielded healthy tissue. For a man with severe claustrophobia, the enclosure was pure hell.

“I would have killed them if I could have gotten loose,” he said. “When I got out of there, I said, ‘Never again, not me. I’ll die.’ ”

For his next trip, doctors gave Miller what he called “goofy pills” that helped him relax so much before treatment that by the time he arrived in Madison, he didn’t care what happened.

Treatments burn the scalp
The 30 treatments burned Miller’s scalp, causing an unsightly, migrating sore that covered a quarter of his scalp before it started to recede. But the therapy worked and the tumors died off.

Miller said death crossed his mind during those first days in treatment.

But his main physician, Dr. Timothy Kinsella, deputy director of the cancer center, told Miller to let him worry about the cancer.

“I’ll tell you when to worry,” Kinsella said. Those six words put Miller at ease. Kinsella never told Miller to worry.

“He was the Good Hands doctor,” Miller said, cupping his hands like they do on the Allstate insurance commercials. “He made me understand I was going to be all right.”

Despite the daily doses of radiation, Miller kept up his work schedule.

Staying on the job was important because, as Miller put it, “If a guy lies down in bed, I think he’s a goner.”

Shortly after the first round of radiation, doctors discovered nodes on the right side of Miller’s head. The cancer was back, which meant 30 more visits to the linear accelerator.

Eventually, the cancer spread to both sides of Millers’ neck and on the center of his head. Each time it appeared, Kinsella beat it back with radiation.

Miller became quite a regular on the first-floor clinic at the cancer center. He made the coffee in the waiting room, and brought Racine kringle for the staff. When he wasn’t in treatment, he spent time in the pediatric cancer ward.

One day, Miller was charged with cheering up a young boy who was quite sick from his cancer treatments. Miller pulled out a toy ball that laughed with the resonance of Ed McMahon when it was tossed into the air. “That was my secret weapon,” Miller said. “He liked it so much I gave it to him.”

They still remember Lloyd Miller at UW Cancer Center.

Help and prayers
And so Miller has beaten the odds, it would seem. It’s only now that one of his local doctors told him that after the initial cancer diagnosis, he wasn’t sure Miller would survive.

Now he spends time as a freelance real estate development consultant and likes to play golf at the Kenosha country club. Miller says he got through his ordeal with cancer with a lot of help from scores of friends and a lot of prayer.

“I think I’m a better man now than I ever was,” he said. “I’ve come so close to the unknown.”

His health has not been without complications since the cancer therapy stopped. He recently underwent his 11th balloon angioplasty, a procedure in which a tiny balloon is inflated in the arteries to clear blockages.

Miller’s story caught the attention of the American Cancer Society, which profiled him in an hourlong documentary on cancer survivors in 1990. The program also featured a 23-year-old student who lost his leg to cancer, then ran across country to raise money for cancer research.

Tears well up in Miller’s eyes when he watches the tape, as he watches his wife describe him as “our hero, Lloyd,” and as he watches himself talk about cancer.

“An experience like this lets you know what life’s all about,” he said. •

EPILOGUE: Lloyd G. Miller died on March 6, 2004 at his retirement home in Orlando, Fla. He was 83.

Jeff Peterson Overcame Testicular Cancer: ‘A New Outlook on Life’

By Joseph Hanneman
Racine Journal Times

 Jeff Peterson will never forget Valentine’s Day 1985.

A battalion chief with the Racine Fire Department, Peterson was on his way to St. Mary’s Medical Center on a routine call that night. En route, he noticed a sharp pain in his groin, a pain that steadily worsened. By the time he arrived, he needed medical attention.

“By the time I got to St. Mary’s, I could hardly walk,” Peterson, 49, recalled.

Doctors who examined him originally thought he was suffering from torsion, a painful twisting of the vas deferens leading from the testicles. But efforts to relieve the pain were useless.

This story was part of an award-winning 12-page special section published in The Journal Times  on Dec. 1, 1991. The project won awards from the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, the American Cancer Society and the American College of Radiology.

Peterson underwent exploratory surgery that night at St. Mary’s. He was under local anesthetic and was able to ask the surgeon what he saw. There were lumps on one of the testicles, he was told, and it could be cancer.

“I thought I was going to die,” he said. “I thought I had a death sentence.”

Surgeons removed the diseased testicle, which they believed was the original site of the cancer. He went home the next day, still reeling from the diagnosis.

Smoke inhalation a factor?
Peterson did not smoke and he wondered how he could develop such a rare cancer, which strikes about 130 Wisconsin men a year. But he recalled his early days in the fire department, days when “you were a candy ass” if you wore an oxygen mask to a fire scene.

More than once, he recalled coughing up black phlegm after coming out of a fire. Now, he wonders what those early days did to him.

Peterson was admitted to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., where doctors put him through a battery of tests. The news was not encouraging. The cancer had spread to Peterson’s lungs and the tumors were growing fast.

“They had grown from the size of the head of your pen to the size of a small orange in three weeks or so,” he said.

Jeff Peterson on duty with the Racine Fire Department. — Journal Times photo by Mark Hertzberg

Doctors decided to attack the lung tumors with chemotherapy. Peterson returned to Racine and went on a regimen of chemotherapy. One week of treatments was followed by three off weeks to let his body recover.

Peterson lost his hair from the nauseating treatments, but he decided to go back to work at the fire department, where he was in charge of training programs. Being at work was therapeutic.

“I found if I sat at home, the only thing I could think about is, ‘Am I going to die?’ ” he said. “I needed a diversion. That diversion was going to work.”

Diversion is not all he found at the fire department. He also found inspiration and the will to keep fighting.

Heroic inspiration
The source of the inspiration was Dan Christensen. Christensen was always the first to greet Peterson and ask him how he was doing. Christensen told him things would work out, he’d be OK.

Encouraging words are always good to hear, but Christensen’s words carried extra meaning for Peterson, because his fellow firefighter was dying from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — Lou Gehrig’s disease.

“It was just remarkable, a person could take life, so little of which he had left, and still give so much to the people he had around him,” Peterson said.

Even as Christensen lost his motion control as his muscles deteriorated from the disease, he kept up the pep talks for Peterson. He visited him in the hospital and always had an encouraging word. He may not have known it at the time, but Christensen, who died in August, helped save his friend’s life.

“He made me keep on fighting,” Peterson said. “That’s a major part of beating cancer. You have to take one day at a time.”

There was plenty of fight ahead for Jeff Peterson.

The nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy put him back in the hospital. He developed blood clots in his lungs. Then, he developed a fungus-like disease in his lungs that put his life in jeopardy.

Jeff Peterson’s story as it appeared in the newspaper on Dec. 1, 1991.

He remembers that meeting with doctors well. The combination of complications could be fatal. The doctor had tears in his eyes.

“ ‘You’re not rid of me yet,’ ” Peterson said he told the doctor. “I made up my mind I was not going to be that statistic. I was going to be a statistic on the positive side.”

Doctors started treating the lung fungus with steroids, but the going was still rough. Peterson got angry when some of his visitors treated him like he was a sure bet to die.

No giving up
There were a few times in the hospital, when he was weary from the chemotherapy, that Peterson felt like giving up. Dying. But then sleep would come for a few hours, putting a little more fight in his soul.

By late 1985, Peterson turned the corner on his disease. The tumors responded to therapy and the fungus was subsiding. Peterson was winning.

That was six years ago. Peterson has been cancer-free ever since. The disease challenged him and nearly killed him, but it also gave him a sense of how precious life is.

“Cancer gives you a new outlook on life. Every day to me is a bonus,” he said. “I used to take a lot more things more seriously than I do now. You know the time here is so short, you should make the best of it every day.”

These days, Peterson spends part of his time delivering talks to high school boys about testicular self-exams, something even he was ignorant about before he got cancer.

“It’s a subject not many kids want to talk about, but it’s got to be done,” he said. “That’s one of the points I was extremely angry about. My own physician never told me to do a testicular exam.”

He also spends time whenever called upon to help cancer patients adjust to the disease. He won’t let them give up, just like Danny Christensen wouldn’t let him give up. One man he saw recently was ready to throw in the towel, but Peterson convinced him it was worth the fight. The man is doing fine now.

“That’s one of the boosts that makes me smile every day,” he said. •

EPILOGUE: Peterson retired from the Racine Fire Department in early 1999 after more than 30 years as a firefighter, including a stint as chief.

A Wish Granted: Experimental Treatment Cures Sarah Mazzie

By Joseph Hanneman
Racine Journal Times

It was Christmas 1986, and little Sarah Mazzie was making out her wish list for Santa Claus. At the top of the list wasn’t a Barbie doll, a Cabbage Patch Kid or a doll house.

At the top of Sarah’s list was written: “good health.”

“That amazed me, a child that age asking for good health,” said Sarah’s mother, Mary. “It was in that little scrawl handwriting, ‘Good health.’ ”

The 6-year-old Racine girl had her priorities straight. In the 20 months since she was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia, Sarah learned what it was like to be sick, to endure painful treatments and lose her hair. “Good health” has been on her Christmas list ever since.

This story was part of an award-winning 12-page special section published in The Journal Times  on Dec. 1, 1991. The project won awards from the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, the American Cancer Society and the American College of Radiology.

Bruce Camitta doesn’t look much like Santa Claus. He doesn’t have the Santa-like spare tire, and his thinning crop of hair doesn’t resemble St. Nick’s white mane.

But for Sarah, Camitta might as well have been Santa Claus.

The professor of pediatrics at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Wauwatosa had developed an experimental leukemia treatment that would save Sarah’s life.

Preventing recurrence
Camitta’s treatment used high doses of chemotherapy, followed by an extended period of lower doses, administered after patients had gone into remission. Patients often respond well to initial treatment, but Camitta’s goal was to prevent recurrence of the cancer.

Sarah was his 27th patient in the trial at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in suburban Milwaukee, and one of the 80-plus percent for whom the treatment has worked. She has been cancer-free ever since.

“He says I’m a pioneer girl,” said Sarah, now a pretty 11-year-old sixth-grader at Mitchell Middle School. She’s proud that she helped break medical ground and beat the cancer that could have stolen her young life.

“I don’t think about it,” she said of the leukemia. “It’s not hard, I’m just lucky they had medicine.”

Wearing a red shirt, black jeans and deck shoes, Sarah sits in a director’s chair at her family’s home on Newman Road in Mount Pleasant. Her long, black hair, dark eyes and striking smile tell no tale of cancer.

Sarah’s story as it appeared in the newspaper on Dec. 1, 1991.

She twists her hair with her fingers, fidgets in the chair and toys with the family cat. This isn’t Sarah Mazzie cancer survivor, it’s Sarah, regular 11-year-old.

“I like playing sports,” she said. “I play baseball, soccer and I go horseback riding.” She also likes tennis and swimming.

Those words seem music to the ears of Gary and Mary Mazzie, who just seven years ago faced what all parents dread — the loss of a child to a deadly disease like cancer.

In January 1985, Sarah’s parents first noticed changes in their daughter, including a persistent low-grade fever, and pains in her arms and legs. Doctors at first thought it was a virus.

“She canceled her own birthday party because she didn’t feel well,” Mary said. “I knew something was wrong.”

Things didn’t reach crisis level until the family was on vacation in South Carolina that spring. Sarah was listless, and all she did at the beach was lie on blanket. She couldn’t even walk.

‘The bottom falls out’
The Mazzies rushed back to Racine and, after Sarah had a blood test, were told to get her to Children’s Hospital. They were told to go to the oncology department.

“At that point,” Mary said, “the bottom falls out.”

Mary remembers the day the doctor called to confirm the diagnosis of leukemia. She walked out into the back yard and screamed. After walking around a bit, she called her husband at work.

“She couldn’t even talk,” Gary recalled.

Sarah once cancelled her own birthday party because she felt ill. Her parents knew something was wrong.

Inside Sarah’s body, the cancer was causing white blood cells called lymphocytes to grow erratically. Billions of faulty cells were crowding out normal white cells in her bone marrow.

“The doctors tried to tell us there was much hope with this type of cancer,” Mary said. ‘At that point, it’s very difficult to believe that.”

Gary said there was “some doubt in my mind” about trying an experimental treatment, but the couple decided to put Sarah in the trial group being gathered by Dr. Camitta.

Sarah would he treated with standard chemotherapy until the disease was in remission, then undergo six months of intensive chemotherapy and two years of oral anti-leukemia drugs.

Intensive treatment
Camitta said the goal is to keep drug levels high over long periods to reduce the number of leukemic cells in the system. Treating a child who is in remission with intensive chemotherapy was considered a somewhat “rogue” idea in the medical community at the time, he said.

Mary stayed in the hospital with Sarah each night, and Gary visited after work. Sarah was hospitalized for 21 days, and after about two weeks of chemotherapy, her cancer was in remission.

Sarah then came back to the hospital every two weeks for an infusion of methotrexate and 6-mercaptopurine, the drug combination Camitta had chosen for the experiment. Every other week, she went to the clinic for a checkup.

Doctors periodically had to insert a needle into Sarah’s spine to check for leukemic cells, and to inject chemotherapy into the spinal fluid. They also took marrow samples from her pelvis by inserting a sharp lance into the bone.

Sarah said the bone marrow biopsies were scary.

“When they were taking the blood (marrow), it hurt in my leg,” she said.

Sarah would lie on the examining table, hugging her favorite stuffed dog, Amos. She imagined that she was somewhere else, somewhere with no pain, doing something fun.

“One time I thought about the Fourth of July parade. Another time I thought about being at the beach,” she said.

Making something positive
Camitta said he was impressed that such a young child could remain so calm during treatments and tests. “She was super,” he said.

The treatments during those first six months made Sarah sick. The drugs dropped her count of infection-fighting white blood cells. She got headaches, and mouth sores. And her hair fell out.

To help make something positive out of a bad situation, Sarah took the hair that had fallen out off of her pillow each morning, and strung it out on the bushes outside. She wanted the birds to use it to build their springtime nests.

Although she was “kind of scared” about her hair falling out, Sarah adjusted. Most of her friends knew why she was losing her hair.

“When I was in kindergarten, someone thought I was a boy,” she said. “I knew it was going to grow back. I wore a lot of hats.”

Sarah’s parent said she handled the treatments well. She didn’t cry, or fight with the doctors. Her only response was to become silent and withdrawn on the way to the hospital. Occasionally she shed a few quiet tears.

Drug treatments continue
Once the first six months of drug treatments stopped, Sarah went home from the hospital. She began taking pills every day, and her mother gave her a shot every Wednesday.

Getting the pills down took some creativity on the part of her parents. The pills were mashed in food, coated with sugar and even mixed with syrup and shot down her throat with a syringe.

“They were just giving me so many medicines, and they all tasted bad,” Sarah said. “There was one l wouldn’t take. They put it in my food, tried to trick me. But I’d always find it.”

Sarah Mazzie. — Journal Times photo by Mark Hertzberg

The Mazzies religiously followed doctors’ orders in giving Sarah the medicine. The pills continued until Oct. 2, 1987.

Ordeal is over
Then it was over. Or was it? Mary kept quizzing doctors to see if any other children in the trial had a relapse of cancer. They told her not to worry.

Of the 73 children who underwent the treatment in the first two trials, more than 80 percent have remained cancer-free over long periods, Camitta said.

“That’s as good as anything else available, and we’re only using two drugs,” said Camitta, who has a giant teddy bear perched on a file cabinet outside his office. But many more children will have to be tested on the trial nationally to confirm the results, he said.

Camitta won three ardent believers on Newman Road in Mount Pleasant.

Gary said the family is stronger for the ordeal, and he realizes just how fragile life is. Whenever he has a bad day at work, he just looks at a picture of Sarah from back then, and is reminded of what is most important to him.

As for Sarah, she’s gotten on with her life, and will turn 12 in February. Asked if she has any advice for other children with cancer, she doesn’t hesitate in her response.

“I’d tell them you’d probably get better. If they cured me, they should probably be able to cure kids now.”

EPILOGUE: Sarah B. Mazzie graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 2002, was married to Kevin Lee Briscoe in 2003 and earned her Juris Doctor degree from the DePaul University College of Law in 2006. She was a partner in her own law firm and has worked for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Now 40, she is a U.S. immigration judge in Minneapolis. Her parents Iive in Racine.

Top photo: Sarah Mazzie in her classroom at Mitchell Middle School in Racine. — Journal Times Photo by Mark Hertzberg.

For Army Families, Emotions are the First Casualties of War

This story appeared on Page 1 of the Jan. 26, 1991 edition of the Racine Journal Times. It was based on observations during my second trip to Germany during the Persian Gulf War.

By Joseph Hanneman
Racine Journal Times

U.S. BASE, SOUTHERN GERMANY — Some of the first casualties of the Persian Gulf War were the emo­tions U.S. troops and families stationed in Europe, as they worried about loved ones in Saudi Arabia and expressed resentment toward anti-war protests back home.

In the first-week of combat between U.S.-led allies and Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces, one U.S. base in Germany displayed fear, anguish, anticipation and a host of other emotions.

People at the base clearly were in anguish. Many of them have relatives deployed in Saudi, as they call it here. Most of the deployed soldiers are in combat units.

Members of the Army’s VII Corps artillery units from this base are now at forward positions in Saudi Arabia. They would be in the thick of it if the United States starts a ground offensive into Kuwait.

“God Bless our Soldiers in Saudi Arabia,” proclaimed a banner inside one of the many post exchange shops on base. Employees wore yellow ribbons in remembrance.

At the U.S. Army hospital here, one nurse in the outpatient clinic said her husband was just deployed to the front lines.

Page 1 story from Jan. 26, 1991.

“I’ve just been pulling my hair out,” she said, adding that she has been glued to the TV set, watching Cable News Network’s coverage of the war. She said she fears a ground war is inevitable.

Discussion on the Army’s base shuttle bus turned to one active-duty soldier, who was supposed to be sent home last week because his unit was deactivated as the United States prepares to shut down some of its bases.

Three days before his plane was supposed to leave, he was told to report for duty in Saudi Arabia.

Fear has also become a staple in the daily routine.

The threat of terrorist attacks on U.S. bases is considered very real, and the military has employed many tools to reduce the risks.

Commercials on Armed Forces Radio and Television warn against speaking about military matters in public, for fear terrorists could be listening. It was reminiscent of the old war slogan, “Loose lips sink ships.”

Soldiers were also warned that Arab terrorists may try to buy military uniforms or identification cards.

Military families were told to venture off base sparingly, and try to blend into the German population as much as possible, lest they attract undue attention.

The Gulf War dominated global news in January 1991.

But the post commander appealed to parents not to pull their children from Defense Department schools on base. Many families here and elsewhere in Europe kept their children home in the wake of hostilities and terrorist threats.

Security was at a peak level, called “Threatcon Charlie.” That puts scores of heavily armed military police at every entrance, checking IDs and searching for bombs. At least two forms of photo identification were required, and every bag and package was searched.

There was growing resentment among soldiers and families as they watched news reports of anti-war protests at home.

Some soldiers who oppose Operation Desert Storm wondered aloud where the protesters were over the past 5 ½  months, when the United States built its war force in the Gulf. Others said it hurt knowing while they were overseas serving their country, some back home didn’t appreciate it.

The growing number of military reservists shipped here to fill in for regular troops sent to the Middle East complained of shabby treatment by regular Army personnel.

Some reservists said regular troops seem to resent the citizen-soldiers, and treat them accordingly. Reservists are performing a host of support duties, such as medical care, transportation and administration.

“The sacrifices we have made are not acknowledged by the regular army,” one reservist said. “They seem to consider us a burden.”

One thought was universal here — a desire for the war to end quickly. For military families, that will mean loved ones come back to Germany. For reservists, it will mean going home.

(Reporter Joseph Hanneman, who covers government and higher education for the Journal Times, travelled to Germany to visit his wife, Susan, an Army reservist called to active duty at the U.S. base in Germany.)

Feature image atop the story: A sculpture outside the museum at the former concentration camp near Dachau, Germany. Photo taken during my second trip to Germany in 1991.

©2020 The Hanneman Archive

Dane Priest’s Murder Unsolved 20 Years Later

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.

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Fr. Alfred Kunz, 1930-1998

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.

Brutal Murder

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.

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Father Kunz’s hands had defensive wounds, meaning he valiantly fought off his attacker. (Dane County Sheriff’s Department Photo)

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.

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Crime scene tape surrounds St. Michael Catholic School on March 4, 1998. (Dane County Sheriff’s Department photo)

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.

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Fr. John Zuhlsdorf reads prayers of absolution at the Solemn Requiem Mass for the soul of Fr. Alfred J. Kunz, held at St. Mary of Pine Bluff Catholic Church.

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.

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Blood spatter on the student lockers at St. Michael Catholic School show how violent the attack on Fr. Kunz was. (Dane County Sheriff’s Department Photo)

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, tips@danesheriff.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.

16 Years Later, Welcoming Young Jane Home Again

I had the honor and privilege on July 21 to be a witness as we welcomed a special young lady home. She is called Jane, but one day we hope to know her real name. Sixteen years to the day after her beaten body was found in rural Racine County, Jane Doe again found rest at Holy Family Catholic Cemetery in Caledonia, Wisconsin.

In my day job as director of Racine Catholic Cemeteries, I had the task of making sure this little country cemetery was looking its best for the noon committal of Jane’s body. From October 1999 until October 2013, Jane lay at rest on the western edge of Holy Family Catholic Cemetery.

This composite image shows what Jane Doe might have looked like.
This 2012 composite image from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children shows what Jane Doe might have looked like.

But for the past 22 months, she was at the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s Office as police gathered new forensic evidence and conducted new tests. The murder investigation is still very active. The Racine County Sheriff’s Department is determined to not only identify Jane, but to arrest her killer or killers. Investigators say Jane was serially abused and tortured in the weeks leading up to her death. She was found on July 21, 1999 at the edge of a cornfield in the Town of Raymond.

The most poignant scene on this beautiful sunny day was that of Tracy Hintz standing alongside the casket throughout the committal service. Hintz is the Racine County Sheriff’s Department lead investigator on the Jane Doe case. She is much more to Jane, who was between 18 and 25 when she was murdered. Tracy is her advocate, protector, guardian and champion. She rode in the hearse from Draeger-Langendorf Funeral Home in Racine to Milwaukee, then back again to Holy Family Catholic Cemetery. It seemed she did not want to let Jane go; not without a proper goodbye. That goodbye can’t come until the day the world know’s Jane’s real name.

Tracy wiped a silent tear and momentarily stepped away from Jane’s casket. This case is deeply personal for her. Thank God for that. Look at Tracy’s face and you can see it. She will identify Jane. She will arrest her killer. Then she can return to this beautiful place, point Heavenward and whisper a goodbye and a thank you.

It was a special day to welcome this young lady back. You are loved, Jane. Be assured of that. And you are home.

©2015 The Hanneman Archive

Click here to watch a soloist sing Amazing Grace at the committal service for Jane Doe.