The Tragic Wife Swap Family Murders Explained

In June 2017, Jacob Stockdale, then 25, fatally shot his mother and younger brother at the family's home (via People). This was years after the Stockdales had appeared on Season 4 of the popular TV show "Wife Swap." Per Buzzfeed, the premise of "Wife Swap" is simple: for two weeks, two families with different backgrounds switch wives. The Mirror states that Stockdale was only a teen when he appeared on the show with his parents, Kathy and Timothy, and his brothers, Calvin, Charles, and James. The Stockdales, who were devout Christians from Ohio, switched with the Tonkovics, a laid-back liberal family from Illinois.

The Midwest Crime Files writes that the two families were extraordinarily different from each other. While the Tonkovics were mellow and flexible, the Stockdales were not. In fact, Laurie Tonkovic the woman who swapped with Stockdale's mother stated that the Stockdale children were treated like "slaves." She added that they did not know how to let go and enjoy being kids. The 2008 "Wife Swap" episode shows just how strict the Stockdales were.

According to Yahoo, the family lived in seclusion on a farm in order to protect the boys from what they believed to be negative influences. Moreover, they were not allowed to have friends and the kids had to work to earn tokens to get access to simple items such as a radio. They were also not allowed to date anyone. Another article from People reports that television, video games, and curse words were all banned from the household.

The Stockdales had a family band

News 5 Cleveland reports that Timothy, Calvin, Charles, James, and Jacob performed together under the name of The Stockdale Family Band. TheNetline describes it as being a bluegrass group. Jacob played the fiddle while his brother James was on bass. Additionally, older brothers Charles played the Mandolin and Calvin played the banjo. Timothy, the family's patriarch, was on guitar (via Saving Country Music). As for Kathy, her role was managing the band and booking their shows. According to The Columbus Dispatch, Jacob learned how to play the fiddle when he was 7 and the family began performing in 2004 when he was 12 years old. 

The Stockdales reportedly toured around Ohio and the United States (per Tuko). Eventually, Calvin and Charles left the band when they moved out of their hometown. Nonetheless, Jacob, James, and Timothy continued to perform. On their now-defunct band website, Jacob was described as "the man in the middle, who sees the important things" (via News 5 Cleveland). He went on to win a series of awards for his musicianship including the Ohio Grand Fiddle Championship in 2012.

Moreover, Saving Country Music writes that The Stockdale Family Band won several contests throughout the years and had released a few albums. Prior to the June 2017 killings, the band had performed only days before and had several summer concerts scheduled. Per The Columbus Dispatch, those who knew the family and fans were taken aback by the murders and stated that they never saw it coming; they could not comprehend why Jacob chose violence.

Jacob Stockdale was sentenced to 30 years in prison

Jacob Stockdale was charged with the murder of his mother Kathy and youngest brother, James, in 2018 (via Yahoo). According to People, authorities believe he shot them before turning the gun on himself. His father and older brothers were not home at the time (per Buzzfeed). Per The Midwest Crime Files, this was the first time police had ever been called to the family home and Jacob had never been in legal trouble prior to the killings. Shortly after the murders, Timothy released a statement saying that his wife Kathy was a "wonderful mother" and a devoted Christian. 

The Daily Mail states that Jacob spent much of the year after the murders recovering from his self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head with support from his remaining family members. He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and the grand jury decided to not apply the death penalty to his case. Jacob was later found to be sane at the time of the murders and competent to stand trial (per TheNetline).

TMZ reports that he tried to escape twice from a mental hospital ahead of his trial. Nonetheless, Jacob was sentenced to 30 years in prison (15 years for each murder) in 2021. Although a motive has not been released, Laurie Tonkovic said she believes Stockdale's strict upbringing caused him to snap (via The Mirror). She later said that the children had no free will and that Stockdale believed he would be going to hell after Tonkovic allowed him to have a little freedom.