Episode 139:

A Hundred Feelings

The Kunz Family Murders


The Murder of Joan Dawley


Episode 139: A Hundred Feelings

Karen and Georgia cover the Kunz Family Murders and the murder of Joan Dawley.

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The Kunz Family Murders

The Kunz Family Murders Notes:

Header Image Source: Photo by MILKOVÍ on Unsplash

Chris Jacobs photo and mugshot from WSAW.com

"“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..."

— Source: Mysterious Heartland

The Murder of Joan Dawley

The Murder of Joan Dawley Notes:

Header Image Source: Photo by Burst from Pexels

Other Image Sources: InvestigationDiscovery.com article 

"A former Sylmar resident and his prostitute mistress were ordered Monday to stand trial for soliciting the murder of the man's wife, and when that plot failed, bludgeoning her to death themselves.

Dennis Dawley, 59, and Brandita Taliano, 39, will be arraigned in Superior Court on Oct. 2 on solicitation of murder, conspiracy to commit murder and murder charges in the April 17, 1991, attack on Joan Dawley.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Robert B. Foltz has alleged special circumstances that could lead to the death penalty or life without the possibility of parole if the pair are convicted.

The ruling by Municipal Judge Lloyd M. Nash capped a five-day preliminary hearing that featured the testimony of two incarcerated felons allegedly hired by Dennis Dawley.

The pair, both from the Oakwood section of Venice, testified that Dawley took them on a tour of the couple's Sylmar home, showing them entrances, exits and the floor plan.

Dawley then popped open the microwave oven and took out a foil-wrapped stack of $50 bills--$9,000--and handed it to them as a down payment on the murder contract, the men testified.

"He told me he wanted me to kill his wife," said Gary Lee Ware, 32, at the preliminary hearing. "He said he didn't care how I did it. I could rape her if I wanted to as long as she was dead when it was over."

The plan was foiled because Ware was arrested on a parole violation before the hit could take place.

Joan Dawley, 55, a supervisor at a Mission Hills Hallmark store, was slain sometime after returning home from a night of bowling with her husband and 10 a.m. the next morning when her boss and friend discovered her body.

As a starter at Encino-Balboa Municipal Golf Course, Dennis Dawley had been at work for more than four hours when the body was found.

The motive for the crime, Foltz alleges, was money. With Joan Dawley dead, her husband could retire from his second career as a golf course starter with two pensions, two houses and $70,000 in cash left to Joan by her mother.

Though Dawley came under suspicion after taking Taliano, a convicted prostitute and heroin addict, to Las Vegas two days after his wife's funeral, the case didn't jell until a new DNA technique linked Taliano to the murder scene. She was identified by an expert as being the source of scrapings found under the victim's fingernails.

Foltz also linked the defendants together--and linked Dawley with one of the prospective hit men--through phone records. Other records seized from Dawley's home showed his co-defendant had been listed as co-owner of his new house in Big Bear City, as well as a dependent on his income tax forms..."

— Source: LA Times

Fucking Hoorays!


I did a lot of meditation. I’ve been doing really nice, 10 minutes, I just need to come back to reality and be present and realize how lucky we are.


I started working with a personal trainer Sarah Olive (her Instagram is @This_Fit_Mom) and she is the most lovely woman ever, and I did the thing where I just stopped. She kept checking in with me, but then one day she saw I posted something depressing on Twitter and was like “Okay, I’m coming over and we’re gonna go for a walk today” and we now hangout and go hike together now. She’s really fucking sweet and lovely and my depression is just so much better when I’m working out and moving a sore.