Real Name: John Patrick Kerrigan
Nicknames: No known nicknames
Location: Ronan, Montana
Date: July 20, 1984
Date of Birth: January 20, 1926
Weight: 185 pounds
Marital Status: Single
Characteristics: Caucasian male with gray hair and blue eyes
Details: On July 20, 1984, fifty-eight-year-old Father John Kerrigan of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Ronan, Montana, vanished. Father Kerrigan had been at the church for only four days. At 11pm on the night he went missing, he visited a bakery across the street from the church and talked to some of the parishioners. He left, saying that he was going to bed. He was never seen again. The next day, several bloody clothes were found along a highway near Flathead Lake. The clothes, which included a shirt, shoes, and a windbreaker, were determined to belong to Father Kerrigan. Nearby, a bloody coat hanger was found; it is believed that the coat hanger was used to either tie the victim up or strangle him.
One week later on July 29, his white-and-brown 1976 Chevrolet Impala was found five miles away with blood throughout it. The car's keys were found just a few feet away. When the trunk was opened, investigators found a bloody shovel, a bloody pillow, and his wallet. After his wallet was found with large sums of money inside, police ruled out robbery. Some investigators suspect that Father Kerrigan's disappearance is related to the 1982 murder of a New Mexico priest.
On August 7, 1982, a call was placed to the rectory of St. Francis Cathedral in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the caller needed someone to perform the last rites. The first priest that answered was unable to perform them but suggested wait fifteen minutes then call again. Fifteen minutes later, the man called again and this time Father Reynaldo Rivera received the call. The caller claimed he was at a rest stop near Waldo, New Mexico and that he was with his dying grandfather, and requested Rivera give the dying man Extreme Unction. Rivera agreed, and informed the abbot he was headed to Waldo.
Three days later, Father Rivera's body was found three miles from the rest stop. As the town mourned his death, police began gathering evidence and believed that he may have been overpowered by two men, who killed him before dropping his body off where it would be found soon after. They later dropped his car off east of Grants.
Police found several similarities between Father Kerrigan's disappearance and Father Rivera's murder. Santa Fe police cooperated with Montana state troopers, believing that the crimes were committed by the same perpetrator. Both priests' cars were driven away from the crime scene and were found with nearly all evidence wiped clean from them, coat hangers were believed to be used in both murders, and they both belonged to the Order of Franciscans. It could be surmised that the motivation for the murders was rabid anti-Catholicism, but this has also been unconfirmed.
Suspects: In Santa Fe, the man who talked to Father Rivera identified himself as Michael Carmello. He was driving a blue pickup truck. The police have not found any suspects with this name. They also believe that at least two people were involved in the murder. However, it is unknown if the man calling himself "Carmello" was involved in Father Kerrigan's case.
On the same day Father Kerrigan vanished, two men escaped from the Swan River Youth Camp. The two were later captured and questioned about the priest's disappearance. However, they denied any involvement in the case and were later ruled out.
In 1985, investigators noted that they had a possible suspect in Kerrigan's case. The suspect was under surveillance in another state. However, the suspect was never publicly identified or charged.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the November 23, 1988 episode.
Some reports state that Father Kerrigan was last seen on August 8.
Interestingly, Father Kerrigan was friends with another priest, James Otis Anderson, who vanished from Townsend, Montana in 1982.
Results: Unsolved. In April 2015, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena released the names of eighty former employees (mostly priests and nuns) who had allegedly sexually abused children in western Montana. One of the names released was Father Kerrigan. It was discovered that he had been moved between multiple churches throughout his thirty years of priesthood. Also, he had previously spent time at the Congregation of the Servants of the Paraclete in Jemez Springs, New Mexico. The facility was originally used to treat priests with drug and alcohol problems; however, it later took in priests accused of sexual abuse. Some have now theorized that his disappearance may be a case of vigilante justice. However, some investigators have claimed that the motive for his alleged murder was not related to the sexual abuse.
Police later found remains that were suspected of being Father Kerrigan's but were later proven to be not. To this day, he remains missing.
- Father Kerrigan on Wikipedia
- Father Kerrigan on The Charley Project
- Father Kerrigan on NamUs
- Ronan priest is missing - July 24, 1984
- Father Kerrigan: 'He had such a broad smile' - July 27, 1984
- Priest's disappearance a shock to his friends - July 28, 1984
- Police locate priest's car - July 30, 1984
- Missing priest still not found - July 31, 1984
- No progress reported in missing priest case - July 31, 1984
- Escapees deny role in priest's disappearance - August 1, 1984
- Search for priest called off - August 1, 1984
- Kerrigan case makes clergy wary - August 12, 1984
- New Mexico police probe disappearance - October 23, 1984
- Santa Fe police still probing priest mystery - November 23, 1984
- Progress reported in solving Kerrigan case - July 21, 1985
- Priest's disappearance to be 'Unsolved Mystery' - November 2, 1987
- Disappearance featured - November 19, 1988
- Trail cold on missing priest - July 16, 1989
- Case Study on Father Kerrigan's case - August 25, 2008
- Bishop Accountability Page: List of Alleged Perpetrators - April 29, 2015
- Helena Diocese names perpetrators of sexual abuse; many at western Montana parishes - April 30, 2015
- List of priests accused of sex abuse includes 1 believed to be murder victim - June 1, 2015
- Ronan priest who disappeared accused of sex abuse - June 5, 2015
- Father John Kerrigan - Billings Gazette - March 31, 2017
- The Vanishing of a Priest - March 23, 2021