God, Family, Bluegrass, & Murder: Inside the Life of the Stockdale Family Band
As soon as the news began to trickle out of northeast Ohio on Thursday evening, June 15th, about a double murder and attempted suicide by a member of a home schooled bluegrass family band against his own family members in a staunchly religious home where TV, video games, and other elements of the outside world were forbidden, the immediate speculation by many was that it was the repressive environment that led to the incident, or that the squeaky clean household was hiding a much more sinister story.
25-year-old Jacob Stockdale—the next to youngest son of the Stockdale Family and the Stockdale Family Band—took what is believed to be a 20-gauge shotgun from the family gun cache, and shot both his 54-year-old mother Kathryn Stockdale, and his 21-year-old brother James Stockdale, before turning the gun on himself just as the police arrived, inflicting a gunshot wound that currently has Jacob in critical condition at the MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland, OH. Jacob Stockdale’s two older brothers were not at home at the time of the murder, and no longer live in the area. The father and leader of the Stockdale Family Band, Timothy Stockdale, was also not home at the time of the killings.
But at the moment, we don’t have any motive, or any solid information on why Jacob Stockdale would decide to gun down two of his family members before attempting to take his own life. Though the public can surmise about repressed anger and other assumptions, according to Sheriff George T. Maier of the Stark County Sheriff’s Department, no prior calls had ever been made to or from the home. There was no criminal past for Jacob Stockdale or any of the family members, and no prior knowledge of mental issues with Jacob or any members of the family.
“It’s hard to, you know, kind of surmise what the motive may have been,” Sheriff Maier said in a press conference on Friday, June 16th. “There’s some speculation. Don’t really want to get into that part of it. But we will continue to investigate this case and try to determine if there is a motive. [We] just do not know at this time.”
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The Stockdale Family lives on a small, homestead-style family farm off a county road roughly 17 miles south and east of Canton, OH. When growing up, the four Stockdale sons were expected to do chores around the house. The family had an elaborate system where chores were rewarded by “tokens,” and had to be marked off of a chart. Once the boys earned enough tokens, they could turn them in for recreational privileges. 20 tokens would allow you to be able to listen to a family friendly-approved radio show, for example.
“[The chart also] addresses attitudes,” mother Kathryn Stockdale said in 2008. “Just because the job is done doesn’t necessarily mean it’s done in the right way … We don’t allow any cussing. I think that dating has physical dangers like pregnancy. It’s not worth it. It’s important we have control over their character and their education.”
The reason we have such deep insight into the family life of the otherwise walled-off Stockdale Family home was due to cameras being allowed into the home as part of the ABC series Wife Swap, which visited the Stockdale Farm in 2008 to tape an episode.
“It’s important that we instill in our children that you need to work and not expect a handout,” said father Timothy Stockdale in 2008. “We raise a lot of our own vegetables. We raise all of the meat that we eat.”
Though starring on a reality TV show—especially one with such a salacious-sounding name like Wife Swap—may seem like something completely opposite to the type of lifestyle the Stockdale Family lived, this is exactly what ABC producers were looking for when they contacted The Stockdales. They were searching for a bluegrass family band specifically, and one that held strong faith-based traditional values to contrast with the other family to swap with.
Despite mother Kathy, and father Tim being reluctant to want to participate in the show initially, the four boys were eager for the experience, and eventually the family decided it could be an interesting family adventure.
“Being a farm, homeschooling, bluegrass band family, we enjoy a lot of common experiences, but we have to chalk the ‘Wife Swap’ adventure as the grand family bonding experience for the Stockdales for which we will never be the same,” Kathy Stockdale told Bluegrass Today in 2008. “We relate differently in that we have even more and deeper collective experiences where we overcame obstacles and accomplished a giant task together. No one else will understand the ‘Wife Swap’ journey like we do and that is one of the things that will make our family unit different and special forever.”
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The Stockdale Family Band was not just a bluegrass family band in name. The family regularly competed in regional competitions and performed at bluegrass gatherings. They also used their music as ministry, and often told stories and utilized skits in their stage show.
The Stockdale Family Band began performing publicly around 2006, after regularly playing music inside the home during the early years of the family. James, the youngest son, played upright bass. Jacob, the second youngest, played the fiddle. Charles, the next to oldest, played mandolin, and the oldest brother Calvin played the banjo. Along with father Tim on guitar, they won four 1st place awards in regional bluegrass contests over the years, and also placed second in “Single Mic Championship” and “Youth in Bluegrass” competitions. The band released four albums on CD, and worked for a while as the house band for Amish Country Theater Comedy Shows in Walnut Creek, OH.
As the two eldest sons came of age and moved away from the Stockdale homestead, they left the band officially, though continued to play music with the family regularly while home. Oldest brother Calvin works at Hillsdale College in Michigan—a liberal arts school in the south central portion of the state. Second oldest brother Calvin is studying to be a doctor in Philadelphia. Joe Steiner, a banjo and harmonica player from Findlay, Ohio, recently began playing with the band for professional gigs in the absence of the two older brothers.
“Our dad was always the big inspiration behind us getting into this old-time acoustic music. We’d have great music nights where dad would play rhythm guitar and sometimes we’d pull out pots and pans and keep the rhythm,” Jacob Stockdale told the Canton Rep in November of 2016.
“I started playing the fiddle when I was 7,” Jacob continued. “I’ve probably had four fiddle teachers for short periods of time and spent a lot of time on my own practicing and figuring things out myself. I started out playing a lot of fiddle contests, at least seven a year, and that was a big inspiration for me. I’d have something to work for and learn new songs for. In 2012, I won the Ohio State Grand Champion Fiddle Contest for old-time fiddling at the Parade of the Hills Festival in Nelsonville, Ohio. Then I went out to Idaho for the national competition, and I got 12th in my age category.”
The Stockdale Family Band continued to be an active ensemble, even as the two remaining younger sons grew into their 20’s.
“We play all over, mostly in Ohio, but we also play in the surrounding states: Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky, Pennsylvania,” youngest son James told the Canton Rep in November 2016. “We play a lot of community concert series, churches, theaters, county fairs. We’ve had a great time as the house band at the Amish Country Theater in Walnut Creek. They mix us in with the comedy acts they have down there. Jacob and I also are singing as part of the Straight Tie A Capella Group at the theater this Christmas, and we’re throwing in some fiddle and bass and trick guitar work. It’s a fun, new experience for us.”
As can be expected, the producers of ABC’s Wife Swap played up the rigidity and traditional nature of the Stockdale Family home to create contrast and conflict with the other family participating in the swap. This is partly what has led many in the public and media to surmise that major repression of Jacob Stockdale was the reason for the killings. Yet in Ohio, many saw the story of The Stockdale Family as idyllic, and even inspirational before the tragedy. As the Canton Rep points out, “The boys were polite, funny, musically talented and visibly content with the simple life that didn’t involve the internet, television or cellphones.”
But this is in stark contrast to the scene the Stark County Sheriff’s deputes found Thursday (6-15-17) at the Stockdale family residence.
“At about 4:36 p.m., our office received a 911 call from the residence. It was a land line call, not a cell phone call. It was a hang up call,” Sheriff George T. Maier explained at a press conference. “At that time, after we receive the hang up call, which we do on a number of cases on a daily basis, we responded deputies to the residence. Upon arrival at the residence, the deputies noticed that the front door was open. As they approached the house, they [saw] what they believe to be someone laying on the floor. They gave verbal commands. There was no response. And at that time, there was a gun shot that went off. After the gun shot went off, they tactically approached the house. When some backup arrived, [they] discovered that the suspect, Jacob Stockdale, had attempted suicide, and shot himself when they arrived. They also discovered two victims in the home. Both were deceased as the result of a gun shot wound.”
Fueling speculation that the restrictive nature of the Stockdale household is what led to the double murder and suicide is Laurie Tonkovic—the Illinois wife that swapped swapped with Kathryn Stockdale for the 2008 Wife Swap episode.
“When I switched the rules, and I was going to let them have fun, and have television and video games and experience life a little bit, [Jacob] ran outside crying,” Tonkovic told TMZ after the killings. “And when I went out after him, I asked what was wrong, and he said that his mom and dad tell him that basically he would burn in hell. He lived in a very controlled environment … really wasn’t allowed to do anything. He worked, he worked, he worked, home schooled him, wouldn’t let him go out amongst society. They’re very religious … They weren’t allowed to make choices. I just think that it caught up to them.”
The incident with the Stockdale Family Band, including the reality TV tie-in, is also being connected with the issues with The Willis Clan—another devout Christian music performing family, whose father was arrested on child molestation charges in 2016. Both incidents are causing some to question just how wholesome the family band experience actually is, or speculating for the Stockdale Family held a secret.
However the legacy of the family bands in bluegrass and other genres when looking at the long history is one of not just excellent music and inspiring stories, it’s often one of raising model citizens. Though religion and home schooling sometimes come with the family band environment, it is not always the case.
The father, Timothy Stockdale, said in a statement after the killings, “Kathy has been my beloved wife of 32 years and a wonderful mother to our four sons. She loved nothing more than being a mother and grandmother. She had a strong love of learning and was passionate about her Christian faith, natural health, and organic farming.”
Eldest brother Calvin Stockdale also released a statement, saying, “James, our youngest brother, has always been a catalyst of family fun. Aside from being a gifted musician, James enjoyed dancing and had an innate love of people. James was working on a business degree and hoped to go into the business side of entertainment. He leaves behind many friends and a family that love 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.”
Soon, as all of the details surface and a motive comes together for the killings, we will know much more about what inspired Jacob Stockdale to perform such a heinous act that few of us can even fathom. But the lesson shouldn’t be that family bands or home schooling stimulates individuals to kill their families. There’s just too many examples of upright citizens and inspiring performers who were raised in bluegrass family bands to come to that conclusion. The conclusion should be that tragedy and mental illness can strike anywhere, at any time, and where you least suspect it, even in the most idyllic of environments.
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The service for Kathy Stockdale and James Stockdale will be held Saturday (6-24) at NewPointe Community Church in Dover,OH. A Go Fund Me page has been set up for the family.
June 21, 2017 @ 9:34 am
Hard to comment on this story, in a thoughtful and sensitive manner anyhow. I would lean towards repressed anger and urges all coming out at once.
June 21, 2017 @ 9:45 am
Nobody knows what really happened, and sometimes people snap for various reasons. I often wonder about parents that preach the dangers of dating, television, video games, etcetera, yet the open access to loaded guns in their homes is of no concern. I’m not saying that is what happened in this case, I just wonder
June 21, 2017 @ 9:49 am
We will most likely never know what caused this. I feel for the rest of the family.
June 21, 2017 @ 10:08 am
Just this morning I was reading a story on Billboard about Lillie Mae, who is a new artist signed to Jack White’s Third Man Records, and how she grew up in a bluegrass family band, and in a restrictive environment with no television, etc. She’s not out there murdering her family. She’s trying to put together a career in music. Bluegrass and country is full of artist that got their start in family bands, and some that grew up in very traditional homes. I have no opinion of how other people should raise their kids, but I have met many of these individuals and their families over the years and they are nothing but nice and hospitable people. They also find a specific set of certain challenges when they come of age and have to learn to adapt to the outside world. Sometimes they fly off the handle, but usually this involves smoking pot behind Dennys and spray painting walls, not murder/suicides. “Wife Swap” played up the restrictive environment for the cameras. We know this. I have been personally inspired by many of these family bands, and many artists from these bands, and find them way more interesting and inspirational than most. Perhaps the restrictive environment was the reason for Jacob Stockdale’s actions. We just don’t know yet. But what I don’t want to see is a stigma hang over bluegrass family bands, or family bands in general just because of this incident or any other.
June 21, 2017 @ 12:03 pm
I agree. I hang with at least one of the Rische’s if not all of them every chance I get.
(when they’re not on the road)
Such a great family, and very free spirited.
I, like you, hope that this doesn’t shift to a negative outlook on such family bands and/or communal type families.
My totally uneducated guess would be that there was some undigagnosed or otherwise ignored psychological instability. Whether caused by trauma, repression, or pure chemical composition it has nothing to do with the “family band” aspect of the situation.
My two cents, and thanks for another great article Trig.
June 21, 2017 @ 12:07 pm
Nobody knows what caused this, of course, however, repression is my guess. My Dad was raised in a strict Church of Christ household….no dancing, drinking, cussing, smoking, strict curfews, etc. What happened? My aunt snuck out of the house on more than one occasion, and got pregnant at the end of her junior year in high school. My Dad ended up being a lifelong alcoholic and gambler, as well as committing domestic violence against my mother on a few occasions.
True, nobody murdered anyone, and maybe their tendencies were caused by biology rather than upbringing, but IMHO, an overly strict upbringing can backfire….big time.
June 21, 2017 @ 12:25 pm
These families always look quaint and idyllic from the outside but a great number of them hide some dark secrets. Look at the Duggars. While mental illness could’ve been a factor being raised in such an u unrealistic and rigid manner I’m sure contributed to the son snapping.
June 21, 2017 @ 1:22 pm
It’ll be interesting to hear from Jacob.
June 21, 2017 @ 1:28 pm
Strict family upbringing.
I have been perfectly fine.
June 21, 2017 @ 1:51 pm
The Mormon and Amish communities have had some well-publicized scandals, but the vast majority of them turn out pretty well and they have very strict codes of conduct.
June 21, 2017 @ 2:06 pm
Well said, RD. As usual.
Let’s not forget that the few bad apples are blown up in magnitude due to the standards and stance that those people and communities take. Especially, because their beliefs are often directly inverse to the prevailing mainstream attitude.
Also, the world loves to see people that strive to do better to fall. It makes everyone feel better for their failures as well. That is why when an evangelist is ousted for an affair, it is a calamity in the news but Al Sharpton can screw over the people he is supposed to be serving without even a peep from the media.
June 21, 2017 @ 1:34 pm
Remember, you only hear about the very few families that went wrong not the million of families that didn’t.
June 21, 2017 @ 3:08 pm
Thank you for an accurate and factual account. The media seems to hype up everything and not even know if it is factual or not. The BOYS wanted to be on Wife Swap…pure and simple. Not for greed, not to promote the band… for an experience. They were homeschooled. They learned by experiences. They were not repressed…they came and went as they wanted and were really in charge of the band. They had internet and cellphones. They were not isolated from the rest of the world. It just infuriates me that people make callous comments and don’t even know the story. Again, thank you for your article.
June 21, 2017 @ 4:58 pm
Thanks for your reply and I agree with your assessment. My late husband and I were fans and attended a number of their concerts. The family seemed to work nicely together and respect one another. I so admired their work ethics and faith. I never thought of the kids as isolated, living under their parents thumb. Kathy and I chatted at the Wilderness Center before Charles began graduate work. She was so proud of his accomplishments (as with each of her boys) and happy to see him move on with his life.
Please don’t be critical of this family. They are hurting and need kindness and support, not derogatory remarks. We may never know why Jacob did what he did. Only he and God know what happened last Thursday afternoon. My sense is he may of had some unrecognized depression and not responsible at the time for his actions.
June 21, 2017 @ 4:17 pm
I’ll be honest, Trigger. I was getting angrier and angrier as I read this, until I got to the last paragraph where you let off the gas a little bit.
Still, I can’t wait to read a story about a Muslim Folk band, where the father beats his daughter to death for looking at a boy; and all the christophobic, white liberals start whining in the comments about how “that’s not true Islam”.
June 21, 2017 @ 5:29 pm
“Angrier and angrier” as you read this, Honky? Why, because Trigger is reporting on a tragedy relating to country music? If you would rather a story on ISIS killing Christians, move your ass onto Fox news or elsewhere, and Godspeed and good riddance
June 21, 2017 @ 7:22 pm
Yeah, I admittedly was getting angry because it felt like Trigger was hammering homeschooled, Christian kids. Like I said, I calmed down once I got to the last paragraph, and his ultimate point came full circle.
I’ll place my white “ass” wherever I please, but it sure won’t be on Fox News. It’s like their pundits are in a competition to see who can kiss Trump’s butt the most times in a show. I can’t stand it. It’s that zombie, herd mentality, just like the Obama worshippers were.
June 22, 2017 @ 11:22 am
“It’s that zombie, herd-like mentality. The same as the Obama worshipers were.” Damn, Honky. That’s the truest thing I’ve read all day
June 21, 2017 @ 5:34 pm
So, in your opinion, beating your daughter to death is true Islam? I’ll just say I’m disappointed to read that here and leave it at that.
June 21, 2017 @ 7:09 pm
See? There’s not even a story yet, and you’re already whining.
June 21, 2017 @ 7:58 pm
Wow, if my comment is considered whining, you’re initial frustration you noted is damn near an emotional breakdown. I’m glad you were able to compose yourself by the time you got to the end.
June 22, 2017 @ 7:40 am
Dude, I did the exact opposite of whining. I internally overreacted, and then openly admitted it.
June 21, 2017 @ 5:39 pm
Good luck with that. If the world hasn’t figured out the plague that started conquering in the 630s by now, it never will.
June 23, 2017 @ 7:27 am
That’s just as ridiculous as extrapolating speculation about this family to make comments on all Christians.
June 21, 2017 @ 4:45 pm
I’ll speak up for the disciplined, tight-knit families out there. I am not from one but my wife is. She is the middle of five kids and they are all well-adjusted, contributing members of society. Her parents came out of what was essentially a hippie commune and did a total 180 degree reversal into a highly organized, home-schooled family. My wife is a veterinarian, her older sister is married to the vice-president of one of the top Catholic universities in the U.S, her younger sister is a diplomat stationed overseas with the State Department, one brother is an organic food developer and another is in the Army. All that to say, the majority of families like that (and there are more than you might think) turn out excellent, productive members of society. In my case, that is knowledge that is more than anecdotal. There are a few, as there are in all walks of life and in all lifestyles, that result in scandal and tragedy.
To say that this incident was because of the upbringing and lifestyle of these kids is highly prejudicial and reeks of jumping to conclusions before any facts are known. Perhaps these did contribute to the unfortunate events, perhaps they did not. Even if they did, that does not invalidate raising families that are organized and disciplined, or even those that might insulate themselves.
June 21, 2017 @ 5:27 pm
I can’t help but wonder….. I was wondering why this family, the mother and father, who were so strict about the boys would then allow someone to come into their home who is so very liberal and exact the opposite of them? As soon as I heard they had been on Wife Swap, I thought, “uh oh.. that just does NOT make any sense in any way, shape or form, for them to have done this show.” I feel it was a VERY poor judgment call on the parents part. Yes, it does say the parents did not want to do the show but all 4 boys did. I would love to know the boys’ motives for wanting to do that show. Did the boys know how the show “worked”? In other words, did they know about some “mother” would be sent to them who would be the most exact opposite of their family the show’s producers could find? To take a chance of exposing your children to someone who does NOT believe anything like you do. Makes no sense to me. I also wonder… Jacob shot everyone who was at the home. If everyone would have been at the home, would he have tried to kill them all? Sorry, folks.. just wondering. This is just so very sad. My heart goes out to the whole family, including Jacob. I hope they all get some help.
June 21, 2017 @ 5:36 pm
It is basically like this. The amount of trouble that comes out of families like these is way less than the amount of trouble that stems from broken families. The nuclear family is the building block of society. Despite the praise that the single mom receives from society, it is not, overall, a good thing for a community if a majority of its people are raised by single moms or single parents.
June 21, 2017 @ 6:48 pm
Interesting that the older brother didn’t mention his mother in his statement.
Jim Bob Junior
June 22, 2017 @ 7:04 am
I’m an antitheist myself. That being said, who knows if a strict, religious upbringing lead to some sort of boiling point that ultimately ended in tragedy. Could that be the case? Sure. Could it also have been just a mental disorder? No doubt. Maybe it happened for a reason that has yet to receive speculation. And depending on if Jacob can recover from the self inflicted gun shot or not, and the privacy of the Stockdale family, we may never know.
June 22, 2017 @ 9:15 am
Really no one’s business but the Stockdale family’s. Jacob is very sick and I don’t believe he knew what he was doing at the time. Mental illness can cause one to decompensate very quickly.
June 22, 2017 @ 9:00 am
It’s always the youngest that gets stuck playing bass.
June 23, 2017 @ 8:21 am
Just another thought on this….I don’t know the answer so this is an honest question, don’t get angry, but if the brother that committed this crime DID have a mental illness, is that the kind of thing that devoutly religious communities don’t much like to acknowledge? Is it a “pray about it, everything will be fine” kind of mentality? Something tells me that might be a possibility, which I would say might have a huge contribution to this incident…amongst other things I’m sure…anyways, just a thought….
Jim Bob Junior
June 23, 2017 @ 10:34 am
That’s how my brother-in-law’s parents are. His mom has some serious mental health problems but his parents are very religious and every time he and his siblings bring it up to their father about getting her help the father always says “we just need to pray for her and be patient”. They’ve never attempted to seek professional help. I’m not saying that’s the case here but I’ve seen exactly what you’re talking about.
June 23, 2017 @ 6:21 pm
See…that’s what I suspected. So someone with mental health issues that go ignored and unacknowledged would have a much greater risk of experiencing a breakdown that could lead to violent or unpredictable behavior…the devout religious upbringing might definitely be a factor in all this, but maybe not for the reasons people immediately assume.
June 26, 2017 @ 6:11 am
i agree with that
June 25, 2017 @ 6:23 pm
Let’s not judge . No one knows why it happened.
June 26, 2017 @ 6:09 am
That could easily be what happened. Because people think it’s the devil and not praying hard enough. People that never dealt with mental illness are the first ones to think they know all about it and don’t know what they’re talking about. YEAH. I think mental illness like schzophrenia could easily mde him do that no one in there healthy mind could shoot his own
June 30, 2017 @ 12:47 pm
Sometimes beliefs like that go along with anti-science or anti-modern medicine views. Perhaps a psychological condition was going untreated. I hope the young man survives. If there is a mental health problem it may be his only shot at lenity.
July 16, 2017 @ 9:21 pm
Well, we raised our kids in a similar manner and from my stand point and I am positive at least our 3 older kids’ standpoints, the repression was a huge factor. I am saying that from the view of the oppressor, not the oppressed. I am forever grateful that we saw how damaging this is. This is NOT your normal “strict, disciplined family” type thing. It is over the top. I spoke with Kathy at a festival for a while (this was at Silver Dollar City when all of the boys were still in the band) and micromanaging does not even come close to describing. And I was of her type of mindset at the time! I do not think there is an English word to describe the micromanaging and oppression. I do not say any of this to harm this family – oh my goodness, there is enough hurt and harm for 6 lifetimes. I say this to show the divide between well disciplined homes and over the top homes. We had one.
October 23, 2018 @ 9:21 am
I think it was guilt. He was taught that a lot of things from today’s modern world would instantly doom him to hell, example video games. When your being held to high standards something as simple as being exposed to a video game can trigger immense guilt once you’ve exposed your extremely protected Christian Conscious to something your parents have told you from birth that would send you to hell, to that person there’s probably no going back after that. To them they have failed themselves & there parents. As much as they would probably like to engage in the Outside World, they couldn’t deal with it because of the constant guilt & fear that they are failing their parents. It sounds like the parents did a great job raising there kid’s in following Christ, but unfortunately they forgot that they are not the ones to make the call on who goes to heaven & hell. God makes that call. All you can do as a parent, regardless of what youe teaching them,is teach them the unconditional love of Jesus Christ, and eventually your child will have to make their own decisions and all a parent can do is step back & hope they make good decisions &have the capacity to cope with challenging ones. Nobody’s perfect,we have to learn to laugh & forgive ourselves & try to make it through each new day & figure out how we can adjust & deal with tough situations & make life’s challenges better. Prayers for the family.
February 9, 2022 @ 9:45 pm
I’m not buying the whole strict upbringing as being a cause for such a heinous act. The Stockdales were not the only family to have rules or chores. Calvin was on Facebook back when they were playing together. So what was that I hear about no internet activities? Some people have no rules, guidance or morals at all and they can have problems too. I had the privilege to attend some of the performances of the Stockdale Family Band when they played in my area. I was always impressed with their talents and musical abilities. I wonder if they remember the time performing in McConnelsville and there was a bat in the theater? I’m certain they could see the crowds of happy people and hear the applause. People enjoyed them and thought they were good. I’m saddened to hear of such a tragedy. Their bluegrass music is what brought me here. I had lost track of them, and figured they stopped playing as the boys were getting older. I had no idea something like this occurred.