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The Wife Swap Murders: The Stockdale Family

In 2008, two families appeared on the popular show Wife Swap. These two families could not have been more different. The Stockdale family of rural Ohio and the Tonkovic family of northern Illinois were complete opposites. Kathy and Tim Stockdale of Ohio raised their four boys on a rural farm in Ohio. They homeschooled the boys and were very conversative. On the other hand, Laurie & John Tonkovic were raising their children with much less structure and rules. In fact, the Tonkovic family included Laurie’s son’s girlfriend and teenaged daughter’s boyfriend.

Kathy left a manual to the running of her house for Laurie, who was shocked by the rigid rules of the Stockdale home. For example, the boys, aged 11-19, were not allowed to date and had never been romantically involved with anyone. All four boys were part of the Stockdale family band, a blue-grass band. Kathy prided herself in raising her children with conservative morals and values. In fact, her boys were very limited on the amount of television they could watch, and video games were prohibited. They had to do chores to earn privileges, very much in contrast to the Tonkovic family in which the children did very little to help mom Laurie.

Laurie was very upset about the way Kathy and Tim raised their kids saying, “they’re slaves”. “It’s important we have control over their character and education” Kathy said in the episode of Wife Swap. Laurie cried several times during the show, explaining she was sad for the kids who didn’t know how to have fun. Kathy was equally as upset about the way the Tonkovic family lived, calling their rapper son’s behavior “shameful, foul, and disgusting” (Wife Swap).


During the second week of the swap, the wives got to change the rules for each family. Kathy (right) had the unmarried young couples care for the life-like babies that cry and need fed. She also was openly rude and degrading towards the girlfriend of Laurie’s son. Meanwhile, in Ohio, Laurie wanted the oldest two boys, aged nineteen and sixteen, to go on a double date. Tim was very much against it, saying “I don’t care to have them experience that” and at first the boys were against it too. They did end up complying with the rule change and stated they had fun.

The reunion of the couples at the end of the show was short and dramatic. Kathy came across as judgmental, upsetting Laurie greatly. Laurie told her she was a terrible person and stormed out of the meeting after only a brief conversation. Clearly, the two families could not have been more different. On the follow up, the Tonkovic children had started doing chores and contributing to their household. The Stockdale boys stated they were not permitted to continue dating and went back to the super structured life they were accustomed to.

Almost a decade later, on June 15th, 2017, a 911 call came into the Stark County dispatch in Ohio. The caller quickly hung up the phone. Per protocol, the police responded to the location in which the call was coming from. It was coming from the rural farmhouse of the Stockdale family. When authorities arrived, the door to the residence was open. As they approached the house, they heard a gunshot. The police had to pause, to ensure their safety, and call for back-up.

Near the front door, authorities found twenty-one-year-old James. James, who was eleven when the show aired, was deceased from a gun shot wound. Upstairs, authorities found the deceased body of Kathy Stockdale. She too, had been shot. They quickly found Jacob Stockdale, the second to youngest son, with a self-inflicted gun shot wound to his head. He was alive, but barely. He was rushed to the hospital.

While it was obvious that Jacob Stockdale was the perpetrator, the motive was not clear at all. The murders were committed with a 20-gauge shot gun that was always kept in the home. The police had never been called out to the Stockdale home before, and Jacob had never been in trouble. The oldest two boys had moved out, but Jacob and James continued to live with their parents and were still a part of the family Bluegrass band (below). In fact, the band was booked for the entire summer. Jacob had won several awards for his musical talents. Tim was not home at the time of the murders.

(From left to right: Tim, Charles, James, Jacob, & Calvin Stockdale)

Tim was devastated by the loss of his wife and described her as “a wonderful mother” and said she had passions for her Christian faith, natural health, and organic farming (Popculturecrime, 2019). Oldest son Calvin, now married with children, described his youngest brother James as “a gifted musician and a catalyst of family fun” (Popculturecrime, 2019). Kathryn and James had a joint funeral service in which the Stockdale family mourned their enormous loss.

Jacob Stockdale underwent several surgeries and medical procedures and was in the hospital and rehabilitation facilities for over a year following the shooting. Once he had sufficiently recovered from his injuries, he was indicted on murder charges. That indictment came in September of 2018 and Jacob Stockdale turned himself in. In early 2019, his defense team requested psychological evaluations with an intention of pleading not guilty by reason of insanity (The News-Messenger, 2019).

After a second mental health evaluation, Jacob Stockdale was placed in a secured state psychiatric facility for mental health treatment. The legal proceedings in the case would be delayed until Jacob was ruled competent to stand trial. While in the facility, Jacob attempted to escape the facility twice. He was not tried with escape, however.

In February 2020, a judge ruled that Jacob Stockdale was competent to stand trial. Almost four years after the murders of his strict mother and younger brother, Jacob finally faced the music. In April of 2021, Jacob pled guilty to two counts of murder and was sentenced to fifteen years to life for each count, to run consecutively. He will not be eligible for parole until 2048. This sentence was given despite requests from Tim for his son to receive the lightest sentence possible. Tim and his other sons say they have forgiven Jacob.

But why did this happen? What was the motive? No one knows for sure, and Jacob (left) has never offered a motive in the case. Laurie Tonkovic has a theory, however. She states that she believes Jacob snapped under the pressure from his super religious and strict upbringing. She said that during the swap, Jacob “freaked out” when given any bit of freedom including being allowed to watch television and play video games. According to Laurie, Jacob was scared he would “burn in hell” (TMZ, 2017). Without any other motive, this certainly seems plausible. It is ironic that Kathy and Tim worked so hard to raise their kids in a wholesome environment, only to have their son spend the majority of his life in prison for murdering two members of his own family.



References

Ohio Department of Corrections (2021) Jacob Stockdale; Retrieved at: Offender Details (ohio.gov)

Bingel, J. (2021) Stark county man pleads guilty to 2017 murders of his mom and brother; 19 News; Retrieved at: Stark County man pleads guilty to the 2017 murders of his mom and brother (cleveland19.com)

TMZ (2017) ‘Wife Swap family murders’ other mom thinks strict home life made son snap; Retrieved at: 'Wife Swap' Son Accused of Killing Mom and Brother Snapped from Strict Home Life, Claims 'Other Mom' (tmz.com)

Farberov, S. & Tanno, S. (2020) Christian musician whose family appeared on Wife Swap ‘has made two attempts to escape from mental hospital’ ahead of trial over murder of his mother and brother; The Daily Mail; Retrieved at: Christian musician 'has made two attempts to escape from mental hospital' | Daily Mail Online

Byer, K. (2017) Stockdale mother, son remembered at memorial service; Retrieved at: Stockdale mother, son remembered at memorial service - News - The Repository - Canton, OH (cantonrep.com)

PopCultureCrime (2019) After Wife Swap: The Stockdale Family Murders; Retrieved at: After Wife Swap: The Stockdale Family Murders | by A. | Medium

Ickes, S. (2020) Slaying suspect ruled fit for trial; The Akron Beacon Journal; 12 Feb 2020; Retrieved at: Clipping from The Akron Beacon Journal - Newspapers.com

Telegraph-Forum (2019) Man charged in slaying of mother, brother ruled incompetent; Telegraph-Forum; 08 May 2019; retrieved at: Clipping from Telegraph-Forum - Newspapers.com

Springfield-News Sun (2018) Indictment in killings of mother, brother; Springfield News-Sun 30 Sep 2018; Retrieved at: Clipping from Springfield News-Sun - Newspapers.com

The News-Messenger (2019) Musician charged in family slayings seeks insanity plea; The News-Messenger 09 Jan 2019; Retrieved at: Clipping from The News-Messenger - Newspapers.com

Springfield News-Sun (2017) Man suspected of killing mom, brother; Springfield News-Sun 17 Jun 2017; Retrieved at: https://www.newspapers.com/clip/87440548/springfield-news-sun/

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