The Sad Saga of the Kunz Executions

“A friendly town that bands together.”  Such is the motto of Athens, a quaint, sleepy village totaling less than two and a half square miles in north central Wisconsin.  Located about 30 miles from Wausau, the largest city in Marathon County, just over 1,000 people call Athens home, reveling in it’s small town atmosphere and close sense of community.

This old-fashioned town, however, holds secrets.  Secrets of the most vile nature, many of which were ripped open for the world to see on a hot, July 4th night in 1987. A night when five members of a family were murdered, all shot in the head with a .22 caliber rifle in their own home.

Sometime after the various area fireworks celebrations that evening, somebody walked into the Kunz home, a dilapidated old farmhouse, and murdered siblings Clarence Kunz, 76, Irene Kunz, 81, Marie Kunz, 72, and a nephew Randy Kunz, 30.  Another sibling, and Randy’s mother, Helen Kunz, 70, was missing from the home.

Suspicion quickly fell on the man who found the family and alerted police in the early morning hours of July 5th.  Kenneth Kunz, Randy’s brother and also Helen’s son, lived in a trailer on the property, but not in the home.  Police soon figured, however, that Kenneth was most likely not responsible.  They needed to find Helen.

The community, quite obviously, was shocked by the gruesome murders.  Also shocking, was how nobody seemed to know anything about this reclusive family.  No friends.  No real acquaintances.  Nobody seemed to have any answers.  Why were four elderly siblings all living in the same small house?

Sadly, the story about the Kunz murders became less to do with the actual murders than who this family was and how they lived.

The Kunzes lived on a 108-acre property 6 miles west of Athens.  The house was old, and in terrible shape.  It was horded.  There was no running water.  There was no furnace.  All food was seemingly cooked on an old wood-burning stove which also heated the house.  An outhouse was in the woods.  Old cars littered the property.  $22,000 in cash was found throughout the house, in drawers, boxes, and out in the open

Also littering the inside of the house was pornography.  Lots of pornography.  Mail-ordered VHS tapes and magazines were strewn about.   Clarence, Marie, and Irene all slept in the living room together.  Randy and his mother, Helen shared another room – and a bed.  Incest, it seems, was part of the Kunz family dynamic.  Kenneth was born to Helen when she was 15 years old.  A neighbor at the time was tried and convicted of impregnating her and was sent to prison.  Kenneth, however, didn’t believe that.  He stated he was told Clarence was his father.  He also believed Clarence was Randy’s father – but he didn’t really know for sure who either of their fathers were.  Kenneth talked about seeing Helen and Clarence engage in sexual activity when he was a child.

None of the siblings or Randy had any work history.  Kenneth did work at a local mill, the only member of the Kunz family to have a job.  Kenneth was of low IQ.  He had trouble answering questions from detectives and was painfully shy, even at 55 years of age.

All of the answers to the secrets of the Kunz family household were with Helen – and they also died with her.  Her body was found nine months later in a frozen creek several miles from the home, also shot in the head.

The murder investigation turned to a 22-year-old local car thief and all-around troublemaker named Chris Jacobs III.  Jacobs had purchased some old cars from the Kunzes in the recent past.   The police felt they had enough evidence against Jacobs based on a robbery motive and brought the case to trial.  The evidence, however, based on tire tracks and shell casings, was purely circumstantial and Jacobs III was acquitted on all five counts.

In a surprise twist in his case, a jilted ex-girlfriend later came forth to say that Jacobs confessed to her of the murders. He was then brought up on new charges.  He could not be brought up on murder charges, however, based on Double Jeopardy. He was therefore brought up on kidnapping charges regarding the alleged abduction of Helen Kunz.  For this, Jacobs was convicted and remains in the midst of a 31-year sentence.

He maintains his innocence and the Kunz murders are still officially unsolved.

In the only comprehensive study of the tragedy, author Crocker Stephenson was able to identify the lineage of the Kunz family in his book, Blood Relative: Portrait of a Mass Murder.  This lineage does shed a bit of light into this family and why they lived as they did.

The Kunzes were the children of Ignatz and Anna Kunz.  In December of 1905, Ignatz and Anna were living with Ignatz’s mother, Mary in her home in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.  Anna came home one evening, while Ignatz was away for work, and found her mother-in-law dead in her bed, bludgeoned to death by her other son who also lived in the home,  J. Wenzel Kunz.  Wenzel Kunz, lived out his days in an insane asylum, as did a third brother who was institutionalized before the murder of Mary occurred.

Soon after, Ignatz and Anna moved to Marathon County where Ignatz worked for a logging company.  Their children were raised in an 18 x 20 crudely built log cabin.  Isolated and poorly educated, with mental illness running pervasively in the family, the children only had themselves.

They stayed that way until a summer night in 1987, when their lives were brutally taken from them, together.

Scott Wittman is a professional Historical Landscape photographer, writer, researcher, and traveler. More of his work can be seen at

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  1. Laurie Juedes says:

    Thanks for keeping the memory of this family alive. I have studied this case because the killers were never identified and my brother, Ken Juedes, was murdered in his home in 2006 less than 10 miles away. Ken’s case also remains unsolved. Your summary is very well written and highly accurate. The only fact I questioned was whether Kenny worked at a mill. I had thought he worked at a cheese factory.
    I did some additional research on the case after reading Stephenson’s book. In fact, I called the Milwaukee office where he worked and talked to him about the case. I also talked with members of Jacobs’ family. There were a number of aspects of this case that made me question if all leads had been fully investigated by the detectives. At Jacobs’ trial, the defense brought forth a witness who claimed that he had purchased cocaine from Randy. This is plausible because the area was in the middle of a drug crises at the time. Unfortunately, the Kunz family was not the only family to have been murdered in their rural Central Wisconsin home during this period. Jacobs’ defense attorney tried, unsuccessfully, to highlight one of these other, similar, fatal home invasions just prior to the Kunz family murder in a pre-trial motion.
    The fact that there appeared to have been a meeting between Randy and the driver of another car in the isolated Kunz garden just prior to the murder added to that speculation. It was determined that money was stolen from the house at the time of the murder and that robbery could have been at least a partial motivator. The money referred to in your summary above was found during the crime scene investigation in the form of uncashed checks and small amounts of cash left, apparently forgotten, in the messy interior of the house. It was widely known that Helen kept a large roll of cash in a drawer and that horde of money was never located after the murder.
    There was also another fact that was never fully explored at trial. The Kunz farm was located near a rural intersection. On the night of the murder, and at about the time that it was estimated that the murders occurred, a woman driving home came to this intersection and she stopped, before continuing through the intersection and driving past the Kunz house. She noticed that there was a car parked by the side of the road across the intersection, facing away from the Kunz house. The car had a spotlight mounted on it and, if I remember correctly, it was mounted on the right side of the car. Although spotlighting deer is not unheard of, the spotlights used for this purpose are typically handheld and not mounted and then only during deer hunting season. This murder occurred in mid summer.
    The woman said she continued through the intersection and passed this parked car. When she came close to the car, a spotlight was shone in her face so that she could not identify who was in the car. She noticed in her mirror, however, that after passing the car it turned around and followed her as she passed the Kunz farm but then stopped when she got far enough past the Kunz home.
    I think these facts could present an interesting, albeit highly speculative, scenario for this crime.
    If testimony of the witness seems credible given the amount of drug activity in the area at the time and his lack of gain or relation to the defendant then the other facts support the possibility that this was a drug deal gone bad. Stephenson claimed that the witness was later convicted of perjury but I got a copy of the court records and he was actually convicted for writing a bad check.
    You are correct that Kenny was of low IQ, but Randy was of normal intelligence. If Randy began selling drugs, then his problem would be lack of contacts to sell too. Kenny, however, would have had a whole factory to sell too. So it seems plausible that Randy might have enlisted Kenny to sell some of his drugs to Kenny’s coworkers. The meeting in the garden may have been payment time when Randy’s supplier wanted payment for the drugs that Randy had sold.
    The problem would have been that Randy would have not have had all of the money if Kenny was selling at the factory and would have had to have waited for Kenny to arrive home from work to get the money necessary to pay off his supplier.
    But Kenny didn’t come home from work that night. From Kenny’s description of his activities that night, he bought an enormous amount of fireworks, which he never set off, and then went to a bar and bought more. Kenny never explained where the money he used to buy the fireworks and the money he spent at the bar came from. After leaving the bar, then Kenny chose not to go home but went back to his factory and slept in his car that night.
    Again, this is highly speculative, but if Kenny had sold some of Randy’s drugs and gotten cash from the deals, he may not have been responsible enough to understand the consequences of spending it. People described him as being “childlike.” Like a kid in a candy store, Kenny may have gone to buy some fireworks and gotten swindled into buying the remaining inventory, which the sellers would have been anxious to unload. After spending more at the bar, Kenny would no longer have the money he needed to give to Randy and, knowing that Randy would be upset, may have chosen not to face the music until the following morning.
    Meanwhile, Randy would have waited with Helen and the killers for Kenny to come home – which he never did. Probably after the woman drove past and the killers became impatient, they would have decided to get payment from the “wad” of cash that these people had so religiously saved. There is no doubt that a fight broke out inside the house because Randy’s body showed evidence of it. If the Kunz family tried to protect themselves, it may have ended up in gunfire and all witnesses would have had to have been eliminated.
    Why would Helen have been singled out for additional pain and punishment? The Kunz family, and Helen specifically, were spurned by a number of people in the area for an incident that happened when Helen was a young girl. Although she had two sons, she never married. The first son, Kenny, was born when she was quite young and she identified the father as a neighboring farmer and claimed that he had raped her. The father denied the accusation and there was never any evidence to support Helen’s claim. In spite of the lack of evidence, the father was convicted and the family was destroyed. No one in the area seemed to believe Helen’s story and thought that the father had been Helen’s sibling and that Helen had lied to protect her brother. Memories live long in that area and her added punishment on that night may have been considered retaliation. I believe that a cut in her shirt also suggested that she was stabbed at some point.
    Again, thanks for remembering the deaths of these poor people. I am on Facebook if you wish to contact me further about these homicides.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ashley Malone says:

      I find this case very interesting and sad. Do you have the area of this farmhouse so I can it? I would like to know everything about this case. Thank you!
      -Ashley Malone


      • It was bulldozed… Nothing is there and I have requested permission from the current property owner, to go out there and look around but he hasn’t gotten back to me. I don’t think he ever will.


  2. Lana Wilbur says:

    Shining deer at this time was done all year round. By Sept. 15th you could not go shining until after gun season,I believe. We used to shine all night, any time of year other than after the above stated date. Otherwise you post was very interesting.


  3. I remember this case well in the news. My boss at the time was from that part of the state and said that when he was home one weekend the TV show he was watching was interrupted with a news flash stating that several local law enforcement and government members had been implicated in the execution of the Kunz family. He said the news flash then was interrupted and there was just static. He said the show then came back on and there was no mention of the news flash again. Ever. It was like it never happened. Then Jacobs was arrested shortly thereafter. I have a hard time imagining that town could conspire to kill off a family because of their sexual behavior, get found out by the media, and then cover it up, getting someone else to take the fall for it. Maybe Jacobs was paid to do it or was allowed to keep the cash he found. Maybe it was a drug deal gone bad. Who knows. I’ve never seen this reported anywhere else, But my boss swore up and down that this happened. I don’t know the truth but this needs to be a Cohen brothers movie. It’s too bizarre for anything else.


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