A reclusive family of 4 older unmarried siblings and two younger adults lived on a small farm in Central Wisconsin. Their last name was Kunz. On the morning of July 5, 1987, one of the young adults, Kenney Kunz, returned home and found three of the adults and his younger brother fatally shot. His mother Helen Kunz was missing but her body would be found a year later in a swamp.
They were known to keep cash in their home. Chris Jacobs III, age 21, was arrested for their murder. There was no physical evidence tying him to the crime but one tire track left near the crime scene was indicative of a specific type of tire. Chris liked to fix old cars so he had a tire like that on his farm. Chris had also bought an old car from the Kunz family shortly before their death. Chris was charged with the murder of all five people and also kidnapping, for transporting one of the victims to the swamp before killing her.
Chris was acquitted at trial for all five murders but before the case ended, the prosecutor removed the charge of kidnapping from the case. Years later and one day before the statute of limitations ran out on the kidnapping charge, Chris Jacobs was rearrested for kidnapping. In this second trial, Chris was convicted based primarily on the same tire track, after it had been “enhanced” by the FBI, and the new testimony of an ex-girlfriend who had been recently caught in Minnnesota as an accessory to a robbery. After her testimony, the girl was never charged in the robbery case. The girl testified that Chris had confessed to murdering the family while they were driving together one day.
At the first trial, there was exculpatory evidence. A car was seen parked at an intersection only about 100′ from the crime scene on the night of the murder. The car was facing away from the house, in the direction that Kenney Kunz would normally have come home. A woman stopped at the intersection, facing the parked car on the opposite side. As she drove through, the driver of the car blinded her with a light in her face so she couldn’t see who was in the car. As she passed the car, it turned to follow her but as she passed the Kunz house, the car slowed, did a u turn and went back in the direction of the Kunz house. The car did not match the description of Jacobs’ car.
Kenney Kunz’s younger brother, Randy, had been making extra money by occasionally selling drugs. The defense’s theory was that Randy had planned to meet his suppliers that night and give them payment for the drugs he had sold. Unfortunately, Randy had enlisted the help of his other brother, Kenney, to sell some at the cheese factory where Kenney worked. Kenney did have large amounts of cash that night because he bought some drinks at a local bar and then bought several shopping bags of fireworks. Kenney was below average intelligence and locals figured that he had stopped to buy some fireworks and the sellers, seeing all of Kenney’s cash, sold out their inventory to him. It would have been like taking candy from a baby.
Kenney, realizing too late what he had done and fearful that his brother would be angry, decided to drive back to the cheese factory and sleep the night in his car, facing his brother in the morning. Meanwhile, Randy had driven his mother, Helen, home from the fireworks show and was waiting near the house for Kenney to show up with Kenney’s share of the money needed to pay his suppliers. When Kenney didn’t show up, they took Randy and his mother, Helen, hostage and waited at the intersection for Kenney to come home. After it was clear that Kenney wasn’t coming home and losing patience and knowing that the Kunz family kept a large roll of cash in the house, the drug suppliers took Randy in with them to get it. Unfortunately, a fight broke out and the suppliers killed everyone so there would be no witnesses. Running back to their car, where they still had Helen, they drove her to a remote swamp where they killed her and left her body.
The timeframe was also exculpatory. Randy and Helen were at a nearby fireworks display that didn’t end until about 11:00. Chris’ mother was able to confirm that Chris came home that night at 11:00 and helped with the birthing of a calf. There was not enough time for Chris to have committed the murder. There was also no incriminatory evidence, other than the tire mark. The tires are remarketed by a number of tire manufacturers and were fairly common in the area under different names. There were no fingerprints or footprints at the scene, and Chris’ car had no bloodstains or any evidence that Helen or Randy had ever been in the car.
At the second trial, witnesses were reluctant to testify for the defense, after a witness at the first trial was apparently harassed by law enforcement.
Chris has always maintained his innocence. All five murders remain officially unsolved but the investigating jurisdiction refuses to add them to the state database of unsolved cases, claiming that the case was solved and that Chris is the killer, even though he was acquitted of the crime.
Due to some family history in the area and the fact that most of the family members had no contact with the community, there was little pressure to solve this murder after Chris’ acquittal. Kenney Kunz died several years afterwards. Chris was sent to prison in Wisconsin for 30 years and remains incarcerated. His requests for parole have all been denied.
Featured case #111 | Proposal Post