Details of Disappearance
Kerrigan was last seen at the now-defunct Deneault's Bakery on 4th Avenue southwest in Ronan, Montana on July 20, 1984; he stopped there on his way home from jogging. He has never been heard from again.
A Franciscan priest, he had just been transferred to the Ronan parish two days before to work at Sacred Heart Church. He went missing the day before he was scheduled to deliver his first sermon at the parish. He was discovered missing after he didn't show up for Mass to give his sermon.
The day after Kerrigan's disappearance, the clothes he was last seen wearing were found by a woman setting up a roadside fruit stand on Highway 35 near Flathead Lake. They appeared to have been intentionally placed next to the road: his shirt, shoes and windbreaker jacket. His shirt was stained with his blood and there was a $100 bill in the pocket. A bloodstained and "deformed" coat hanger was also present.
His brown Chevrolet Impala was found a week later and seven miles away, just outside Polson, Montana; inside the trunk there was a bloodstained shovel and a bloody pillow. The car's interior and trunk were bloodstained, and the car had been wiped clean of fingerprints. The keys were in a field about 30 yards away.
There are differing accounts as to when and where Kerrigan's wallet was found and how much money it contained. Some stories are that his wallet was found with his clothes and contained about $200 in cash; other accounts claim the wallet was in the trunk of his car and contained over $1,200. It's possible there was more than one wallet.
Another local man, Curtis Holmen
, disappeared from the same general area two days after Kerrigan did, and his vehicle was found abandoned about forty miles from where Kerrigan's car was found. Holmen's brother believes the two cases could be connected in some way, but this theory hasn't been proven.
Police could find no connection between Kerrigan's case and the 1982 disappearance of James Anderson
, an Episcopal priest who went missing from Townsend, Montana and was never found. The two men had worked in White Sulphur Springs, Montana at the same time in their clerical careers, and they were friends.
In August 1982, nearly two years before Kerrigan vanished, another Franciscan priest named Reynaldo Rivera was called away from his rectory in Santa Fe, New Mexico by a man who called himself "Michael Carmello" and asked for a priest to come administer last rites at a rest stop in the town of Waldo. Three days later, Rivera's body was found lying in the open in a remote desert area three miles from the rest stop. He had been shot to death and his murder has never been solved.
"Carmello" had called the same rectory earlier on the day of Rivera's disappearance with the same request for a priest to come and give the last rites, but the first priest he spoke to was unable to come, so he called back later and got Rivera.
The FBI created a profile of Rivera's killer, theorizing the person was someone who was familiar with the Catholic Church and felt betrayed by it. It's possible more than one perpetrator was involved. One of the officers investigating the murder believed there was a connection between Rivera's murder and Kerrigan's disappearance, but he could find no evidence that the two men knew each other.
Kerrigan was born in Butte, Montana, attended St. Edward’s Seminary in Seattle, Washington, and was ordained a priest in 1954. In his thirty-year career as a priest, he served in various rural parishes throughout the state of Montana, including Butte, Hamilton, Walkerville, Dillon, Browning, Bozeman, Drummond, White Sulphur Springs, Choteau, Plains, and lastly, Ronan. Sacred Heart Church was his thirteenth assignment.
In 1983, Kerrigan stayed for three months at a retreat, the Congregation of the Servants of the Paraclete in Jemez Springs, New Mexico. It was designed for priests who are experiencing personal difficulties, including substance abuse, depression and sexual misconduct. After his disappearance, the Catholic Church admitted he'd been to the retreat but wouldn't say exactly why.
In 2011, two separate groups of victims sued the Catholic diocese in Helena, Montana, alleging that between the 1940s and the 1970s, they were sexually abused at the hands of Jesuit priests and Ursuline Sisters at the St. Ignatius Mission and the Ursuline Academy in St. Ignatius, Montana.
The plaintiffs implicated twelve priests from western Montana as well as 21 nuns from the St. Ignatius Mission; one of the priests they named was Kerrigan. Because many of the alleged abusers have since died and because of the statute of limitations, no charges could be brought against anyone.
As part of a settlement reached with the victims, however, the Church published a list of the alleged perpetrators in 2015. The lawsuit, which involved hundreds of abuse claims, was settled for $20 million; it drove the diocese into bankruptcy.
Foul play is suspected in Kerrigan's case and he is presumed to have been the victim of a homicide, but it's unclear whether the abuse scandal had anything to do with his disappearance. His case remains unsolved.