The Stockdale family appeared on season four of ABC’s hit show Wife Swap. Timothy and Kathryn Stockdale raised their four sons in a strict household that outlawed any outside influences. The parents homeschooled the boys and banned TV, video games, dating, and cussing. The boys could earn monitored radio time by accumulating enough chore tokens.
The family unwinded by playing music. Timothy and his sons each played a part in the successful bluegrass and gospel band dubbed the Stockdale band. Jacob played the fiddle, James was a pro on upright bass, none could match Calvin on the banjo, Charles handled the mandolin expertly, and Timothy played the guitar.
Jacob was sentenced to thirty years in prison in 2021 for murdering Kathryn and James Stockdale
On 15th June 2017, Beach City residents alerted police to gunshot sounds heard near the Stockdale family farm. As police approached the residence, they heard a single gun blast.
Upon rushing inside, police found Jacob Stockdale strewn on the floor with a gunshot wound to the head. He was bleeding profusely but was still alive.
Kathryn and James were not as lucky. Police found the pair dead from gunshot wounds. Jacob needed specialized care to survive what looked like a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Calvin Stockdale released a statement on behalf of the family, saying:
“James, our youngest brother, has always been a catalyst of family fun. He leaves behind many friends and a family that loved him dearly. My brother, Jacob, is still in critical condition and we are praying for his physical recovery as our family makes funeral plans and begins the healing process.”
“She [Kathryn] had a strong love of learning and was passionate about her Christian faith, natural health, and organic farming,” Timothy Stockdale said. Authorities waited for Jacob to heal from his extensive injuries before charging him with two murder counts.
In October 2018, Jacob submitted himself to the Stark County Sheriff’s office after learning of his indictment by a grand jury. “It is our hope that this arrest offers some closure to the Stockdale family and the entire family,” Sheriff George Maier said.
It would take more than two years before Jacob’s trial began. He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and was placed in a mental hospital for observation. Jacob tried to escape twice from the hospital: First in November 2019 by hiding between book stacks and second in December 2019 by trying to blend with people walking out of the institution.
Dr. Arcangela Wood eventually found Jacob to have been clinically sane at the time of the murders. His trial was set to start in early 2021 but was pushed to May 2021 due to COVID-related delays.
Jacob Stockdale pleaded guilty to the murders a week before the trial date. The family declined to speak during the sentencing but requested the judge to be lenient. “My sons and I continue to love Jacob,” Timothy had previously said.
The judge sentenced Jacob to fifteen years for each murder to run consecutively.
Wife Swap participant Laurie Tonkovic claims that Jacob’ snapped’ due to the pressures of his strict upbringing
Authorities didn’t provide a motive for Jacob’s assassination of his mother and brother. “It’s hard to surmise what the motive may have been,” Sheriff George Maier said after the murders. “There’s some speculation… We’ll continue to investigate this case and try to determine the motive.”
However, Laurie Tonkovic, the woman who swapped with Kathryn Stockdale on Wife Swap, opines that the pressures of Jacob’s strict upbringing pushed him over the edge.
“I have never been on a date,” the then-16-year-old Jacob said on Wife Swap. “There’s better ways to find out about girls than dating.”
Laurie Tonkovic’s attempts to give Jacob and his brothers more freedom met fierce resistance. She told TMZ that Jacob believed he would ‘burn in hell’ if he watched television or played video games. Tonkovic told TMZ:
“When I switched the rules and I was going to let them have fun, let them have a television and video games, and experience life a little bit, [Jacob] ran outside crying. And when I went out after him, I asked him what was wrong, and he said that his mom and dad would tell him that he would ‘burn in hell.’”
Tonkovic believes that the extreme strictness of the Stockdale household pushed Jacob to murder. “God gives you free will – free will, they didn’t have,” Laurie continued. “They weren’t allowed to make choices. I think it just caught up to him.”