By Shereen Siewert
An ex-dairy farmer acquitted of murdering five members of a rural Athens Family and convicted of kidnapping one of them before she died is back in prison this week, corrections officials confirmed Thursday.
Chris Jacobs III, 53, was sentenced in August 1998 to 31 years in prison for kidnapping 70-year-old Helen Kunz, whose body was discovered in a marsh nine months after four relatives were slain at her town of Bern farmhouse. Jacobs was acquitted in 1989 of being party to five counts of first degree murder, but was charged with Helen Kunz’ kidnapping one day before the statute of limitations ran out.
Randy Kunz, 30, his uncle Clarence, 76, and aunts Irene, 81, and Marie, 72, were found July 5, 1987 in their rural farmhouse, each with at least one .22-caliber gunshot wound to the head.
In a circumstantial case, prosecutors used tire tracks taken from a garden near the Kunz home and .22-caliber bullet shells to link Jacobs to the home, contending the family died because something went wrong during an attempt to steal their money.
During Jacobs’ kidnapping trial, prosecutors provided one new piece of major evidence: testimony from Stacy Weis, Jacobs’ former girlfriend, who told jurors Jacobs admitted he shot and killed the family and abducted Helen Kunz to sexually assault her, to “lose his virginity” and prove to his father he was a man, according to court records. Weis surfaced as a witness against Jacobs after she was arrested in Minnesota in a bank robbery and home burglary and worked out a plea deal.
A second witness told police Jacobs admitted killing the family while drinking at a wedding reception and said the slaying was motivated by money. In his admission, he allegedly also suggested two other people were involved, but no other suspects have ever been identified.
At trial, Jacobs was portrayed as a killer who got away with murder.
Following eight days of testimony, jurors deliberated for just four hours before finding Jacobs guilty.
Jacobs was released from prison in February but was jailed in Marathon County on the day of his release. He returned to prison on Tuesday at his own request and will remain in custody until 2029.
Jacobs Case Chronology
July 5, 1987: Randy Kunz, 30, his uncle Clarence, 76, and aunts Irene, 81, and Marie, 72, were found dead in their farmhouse, each with at least one .22-caliber gunshot wound to the head. Each was shot in the head at close range. Kenneth Kunz, a nephew of the three older victims, discovered the bodies when he came home. Police said the family was killed late the night of July 4 or early July 5. Helen Kunz, 70, mother of Kenneth and Randy, was reported missing.
Jan. 29-31, 1988: Using search warrants, investigators seized several items from the home of Chris Jacobs III including a 1974 Dodge Charger and two rifles.
March 20, 1988: Helen Kunz’s body was found submerged in a swamp northeast of Medford, about 19 miles from the Kunz farmhouse.
Aug. 31, 1988: Prosecutors charged Jacobs with five counts of being party to first degree intentional homicide.
Oct. 28, 1989: Jacobs acquitted by a Brown County jury of all five charges.
July 7, 1993: Prosecutors charged Jacobs with kidnapping and false imprisonment of Helen Kunz, after his former girlfriend told police that Jacobs admitted to her in 1991 that he killed the family.
Jan. 27, 1994: Circuit Judge Michael Hoover rejected Jacobs’ request to dismiss the charges, ruling the charges did not violate his constitutional right against being tried twice for the same crime.
June 11, 1996: The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Jacobs’ appeal of Hoover’s ruling.
June 19, 1992: Jacobs convicted by a St. Croix County of kidnapping and false imprisonment
Aug. 21, 1998: Circuit Judge Donald Fox sentenced Jacobs to 31 years in prison, the maximum punishment possible
Feb. 4, 2020: Chris Jacobs is released from prison on extended supervision, then taken into custody and jailed in Wausau.
June 2, 2020: Jacobs returned to prison at his own request.