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Village Copes With Mysterious Killings That Stump Authorities

August 27, 1987 GMT

ATHENS, Wis. (AP) _ A billboard once told visitors to this village that ″The family that prays together stays together.″

Nearly eight weeks after the baffling shooting deaths of four members of a mysterious family and the disappearance of a fifth, the sign carries a different message: ″Life goes on ... turn to the Bible.″

Residents of this rural central Wisconsin community of 988 people say they are determined to regain a sense of normality as the investigation continues.

″We use to be noted for our (high school) wrestling team. Now people say, ’That’s where the murders were,‴ said Shirley Diethelm, who works at The Corner Cafe. ″I hope it gets back to the way it was.″

The members of the Kunz family lived in a cluttered house on a 108-acre farm six miles outside town. They cooked on a wood-burning stove and had no indoor plumbing.

Farm owner Clarence Kunz, 76, his two elderly sisters and a 30-year-old nephew were found dead July 5, each shot in the head with a .22-caliber pistol or rifle.

Helen Kunz, 70, mother of the youngest victim and sister of the other three, was missing.

Her other son, Kenneth Kunz, 55, who lived in a trailer next to the house, told authorities he discovered the bodies when he came home after a night of drinking and visiting the cheese factory where he worked.

″People around here are wondering what’s happening,″ said Village Clerk Gloria Brodziski.″Does the sheriff’s department have any clues?″

The case was set aside while Marathon County investigators unsuccessfully tracked a Michigan prison escapee wanted in connection with an unrelated shooting. Sheriff LeRoy Schillinger reassigned detectives this week to work full-time on the killings and said the case is the department’s top priority.

Neither Miss Kunz, who never married, nor the weapon has been found.

The sheriff has declined to say whether investigators believe Miss Kunz is dead or alive and whether authorities consider her a suspect or victim.

Hardware store owner Gale Weiler said the woman bought .22-caliber ammunition a few weeks before the killings and complained that her family watched ″dirty movies″ on a videocassette recorder she bought for Christmas.

She said the ammunition was for her younger son to use to shoot birds, and Mrs. Weiler and others said they doubted the 5-foot-3-inch, 113-pound graying woman could be involved in the killings.

Miss Kunz was described by neighbors as the family matriarch, who was driven into town by her younger son so she could shop, do laundry and pay bills.

As investigators and reporters probed the family’s past, questions of incest, which first arose during a 1930s rape trial, resurfaced.

Lawyers had raised the possibility of incest during the trial of a 40-year- old neighbor whom Helen Kunz, then 15 and pregnant, had accused of attacking her. Her mother denied the incest accusations and the neighbor was convicted in 1933 of statutory rape.

Kenneth Kunz told the Milwaukee Sentinel in an interview after the killings that he thought Clarence Kunz was his father.

He is staying with other relatives and did not reply to a request from The Associated Press for an interview.

Neighbors knew little about the family. They said the Kunzes met visitors outside, spoke when spoken to and usually stayed on the farm in this hilly, German-Polish community of dairy, hay and corn farms.

Police Chief Patrick Ostrowski said investigators have received two leads he believes will help to crack the case. But he said he could not comment further for fear of jeopardizing the investigation.

The sheriff is confident the case will be solved.

″You have to keep a positive attitude,″ he said.