The Unexpected True Story of the Wife Swap Murders

In 2004 ABC launched an American version of a popular British series: Wife Swap. The premise of the series was that two families would swap wives/mothers for two weeks, usually from families with different lifestyles or socioeconomic statuses. 

In the first week the women would have to operate under the family’s usual rules, while in the second week, they ran the household as they saw fit. 

The showrunner intended to introduce people to a variety of different family types and hopefully introduce some new rules that could be implemented within each home. The popular show ran for six seasons

It produced some memorable episodes, but none of the families in the show were more infamous than the Stockdale family. Their notoriety comes not from their time on the show, but from what happened after they were in the public eye. 

The Stockdale Family Band. Jacob, second from left, went to trial for murdering his family members.

Stockdale/Tankovic Episode

The Stockdale/Tankovic episode of Wife Swap featured two polar opposite families, as it usually did.

There was the Tankovics, who were an easy-going family from Illinois. Their goal was to enjoy the luxuries of life.

Then there was the Stockdales, who were a religious family from Ohio that was sheltered from any potential negative influence of the outside world. The children were all homeschooled. Small luxuries such as television, video games, and other forms of entertainment were all forbidden. 

For the Stockdales, the epitome of fun was performing together in their family bluegrass band. The band consisted of parents Tim and Kathy, and children 19-year-old Calvin, 16-year-old Charles, 15-year-old Jacob, and 11-year-old James. 

It was quite a shock for Laurie Tankovic to enter a home as strict as the Stockdales’.  

During her two weeks in the home, Laurie did her best to provide the children with a sense of freedom that they were normally lacking. Oddly enough, not all of the children were excited about the opportunity. 

While most of them embraced the opportunity for television and video games, young Jacob ran from the house crying when offered the chance. 

When Laurie followed him to ask what was wrong, he shared that his parents told him that he would burn in hell for indulging in such activities, which is why he did not want to. This shocked Laurie, who led her family in a much more laissez-faire manner, but she understood Jacob’s hesitation. 

After the two weeks, Laurie returned to her family and likely did not consider what would become of them. But, she would later share this moment in reflection of the tragedy that would eventually strike the Stockdale family. 

Jacob Stockdale. The Stockdale Family Band

The Dark Turn

The tragic twist in the Stockdale family saga unfolded on the afternoon of June 15, 2017. In a small farmhouse near Beach City, Ohio, law enforcement responded to a 911 call that would reveal a devastating scene. 

As they entered the home, law enforcement saw Jacob Stockdale with a gunshot wound to his head. They rapidly called emergency medical services and had him transported to the hospital. 

As officers made their way further into the house, they eventually found the bodies of his mother Kathryn, then 54, and his younger brother James, then 21. It seemed that Jacob shot his mother and brother, and then attempted to kill himself as well. 

EMTs arrived on the scene in time to transport James and Jacob to the hospital, but Kathryn passed away before help could arrive. James would survive a few days before passing away. But doctors would be able to save Jacob from his self-inflicted wound. 

The tragedy became widely known since the family had been televised nationally, and hundreds of thousands of people were able to see the family dynamics that potentially contributed to Jacob’s actions. 

Almost a decade after the episode that they were in aired, Laurie Tankovic was approached by the media. They wanted her insight into the family she had spent two weeks being a part of. 

While she was not a real member of the family, she posited that the restrictive upbringing of the family likely influenced Jacob’s mental break and the decision to kill his family

Calvin, the oldest son of the Stockdale family, released a statement mourning James. He said that he was the light of the family and the source of their fun and that he would be very missed. 

Tim, the patriarch of the family, released a similar statement about his wife saying that she had been a wonderful mother, wife, and grandmother along with being a talented woman. 

When asked why Jacob would have done this, Laurie was the only person who had an answer: his family and the police had no statement rationalizing the decision. 

The Legal Proceedings

After Jacob’s recovery, he was charged with the murder of his brother and mother. In October 2018, he pleaded insanity and spent the next two years in psychiatric hospitals, from which he attempted to escape twice. 

After it was found that he was sane at the time of the murders, his trial was scheduled for May 2021. Just weeks before, Jacob pled guilty and was given two 15-year sentences for the murders. 

Jacob’s mugshot from the Stark County Sheriff’s Office

The leniency of thirty years for two murders is likely due to the Stockdale family privately asking the judge to go easy on Jacob. However, they have said little publicly about the tragedy.

The Stockdale family, once known for their strict upbringing and family band, now bears the weight of an indescribable tragedy. Jacob Stockdale stands as a haunting reminder of the negative influence familial upbringing can have on a person, even if they are from a seemingly loving and happy family. 

Wife Swap may have been about the benefits of seeing new family models, but in the case of the Stockdale’s, it may have done more harm than good.  


Harris, Chris. “’Wife Swap’ Killings: Son Charged with Killing Mom, Brother Before Shooting Himself in Head“ People, October 22, 2018. 

“Wife Swap star Jacob Stockdale charged with family murders” New Zealand Herald, September 29, 2018.

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