Special Report: 30 years since murder of Athens family of 5 - Part II

WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) -- It's been 30 years since investigators found the body of an elderly woman dead-- the fifth victim of her family to be murdered.

It would easily become one of Marathon County's most bizarre cases and longest investigations.

August 1988, Chris Jacobs is charged with five counts of murder more than four months after the body of 70-year-old Helen Kunz is found in swamp nearly 20 miles from her home. Just nine months earlier the bodies of her elderly siblings; Clarence Kunz, 76, Irene, 81, Marie, 72 and her 30 year-old son Randy are found dead in the home the family shared near Athens.

“There was a lot of interest because initially we've got four people murdered, one person missing and we don't know what's happened here. Is there a killer running around western Marathon County?,” said former WSAW reporter and anchor Bill Holland.

Holland covered the case for several years while working at NewsChannel 7 from 1986 to 1998.

Chris Jacobs was charged after investigators learned he had purchased some cars from the Kunzs. Prosectors believe Jacobs saw a large amount of money in the home when he went to pick up the vehicle's title.

They believed robbery was the motive for the murders.

"I'm not suggesting Chris Jacobs went to the Kunz house that night to kill the Kunzs. I'm suggesting he went there to get their money and something when fatally wrong,” said Marathon County District Attorney Rand Krueger during closing statements of Jacobs' trial in 1989.

Deputies testified Jacobs tire tracks were found at the home and shell casing linked him to the murders. Prosecutors said the tire tracks were fresh as Kenneth Kunz had tilled the garden July 3-- one day before the murders.

“You've the state witness that says 'it's a match' and the defense witness says, 'it could be a match, but maybe it's not',” explained Bill Holland.

The defense shares one theory that Helen Kunz killed her family and then committed suicide.

“Did you hear one word from one witness during the entire course of this case about what Chris Jacobs is supposed to have done?,” asked Weldon Nelson, Jacobs attorney to the jury in 1989.

But after that lengthy trial an out of county jury acquitted Jacobs in October 1989.

Under the prosecutors theory as stated today, anytime a jury acquits someone, the prosecutors begin a new case against them, the very next day,” warned Jacobs' defense attorney.

Four years later, Jacobs found himself facing new charges. One day before the statute of limitations was scheduled to expire in 1993.

"Mr. Jacobs is being charged with the kidnapping and false imprisonment of Helen Kunz as it relates to what transpired on July 4, 1987,” said Marathon County Assistant District Attorney Charles O'Neill to reporters in 1993.

“It's a different charge, but it's a lot of the same evidence. And I don't think there's any question, it's the same case,” Holland said recalling the case.

The new charges were based on new testimony from Jacobs ex-girlfriend who said he confessed to the murders and kidnapping.

“Do you start over? And the sheriff said at the time we feel we have the right man. They made it clear at that point, they're not going to start from scratch.

Our three-part series continues Thursday when we'll explain why it took another trial to finally keep Jacobs in prison.