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

WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) -- It took hundreds of reports, countless hours and two costly trials for investigators to close the case involving the murders of five family members. But it's not a murder conviction keeping the suspect in prison.

October 1989, following a month -long trial, Chris Jacobs is found not guilty of killing five people.

A huge disappointment to the prosecution and law enforcement who had already spent countless hours working to get justice in the deaths of Helen, Clarence, Irene, Marie and Randy Kunz.

But to the public's surprise in 1993, prosecutors file a new charge against Jacobs-- kidnapping and false imprisonment of Helen Kunz just before the statute of limitations runs out.

“I think this had kind of fallen off the radar,” recalled former NewsChannel 7 reporter Bill Holland. “And the initial reaction from a number of people was 'Can they do that'?”

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

Investigators said the new charge comes after a former girlfriend of Chris Jacobs said he confessed to the murders. But the defense says she's in legal trouble in Minnesota and is just hoping to make a deal.

It would take another five years for the trial to begin thanks to a number of motions and a federal appeal.
But in June 1998, Jacobs is back before a jury again-- this time-- in Saint Croix County due to pre-trial publicity.

“This trial is about Helen Kunz's suffering. Her being held against her will. Her being abducted. And possibly being raped,” said Marathon County Assistant District Attorney LaMont Jacobson during opening statements.

The prosecution begins by addressing the Kunzs lifestyle.

“You may find find them repulsive. You will hear of a house filled with pornography. You will hear of a house that was filthy. You will hear rumors of incest. But you will hear that they never hurt anyone,” Jacobson said.

The defense suggested it was Helen Kunz that killed her family and then committed suicide.

But after eight days, and four hours of deliberations, a jury disagreed.

“We the jury find the defendant Chris Jacobs III guilty... “

“Somebody asked the prosecutor if he was happy with the outcome, and his response was 'No one is happy. Five people are dead, a young man is going to prison,” Holland recalled of the trial's outcome.

Chris Jacobs was sentenced to 31 years in prison that August. Jacobs withdrew from parole consideration in February 2006 and never had a parole hearing. A spokesman from the Department of Corrections said Jacobs is scheduled to be released in February 2020. He'll remain on extended supervision until 2029.

Kenneth Kunz, the surviving member of the Kunz family and the person that found the bodies of his relatives, died in 2001. He was 68.

We asked the current Marathon County Sheriff if he considers this case closed-- even though no one has ever been convicted of the Kunzs' murders. He said 'yes', the department is confident the right man is in prison today.

Because Chris Jacobs had been acquitted in the homicide case, he could not be retried with homicide as it would be double jeopardy.