It’s May 2018 in Winfield, Illinois, and 50-year-old Karl Clinkenbeard is at the home of his elderly folks. All his life, he’s been in and out of trouble with the law, and it seems his mom and dad have finally had enough of putting their son up. But one morning, a concerned neighbor stumbles upon a horrifying sight.
The son of Clyde and Nancy Clinkenbeard, Karl had been troubled from an early age. In fact, according to court records, he started smoking marijuana when he was just 14 years old. By the following year, he was drinking alcohol, and by the time that he was 17 he was known to consume an entire case of beer every day.
Apparently, it wasn’t just substance abuse that marred Karl’s younger years. In 1988 he was convicted for burglary, and two years later he found himself facing felony charges once more – this time in relation to a loaded pistol that was discovered in his possession. And sadly, the problems didn’t stop there.
According to reports, Karl also amassed a number of convictions for misdemeanor over the years. These included instances of driving under the influence, possession of narcotics and domestic battery. Furthermore, he was using recreational drugs such as PCP and cocaine. And soon, his mental health began to suffer.
In 1989 Karl was diagnosed with bipolar disorder – a condition that affects sufferers’ moods. And his substance abuse was likely making the problem worse. In fact, the following year he was ordered to undergo treatment at Elgin Mental Health Center in Elgin, Illinois.
One year later, Karl was admitted to the Tinley Park Mental Health Center, an hour’s drive away in Tinley Park, IL. It seems he had grown depressed and tried to take his own life. The clinic prescribed Karl medication to help with his condition, but it is unclear whether or not he found any relief.
By this point, Karl’s parents were living on Jefferson Street in Winfield, a small town located some 35 miles west of Chicago, IL. A bustling community with friendly neighborhoods and plenty of cultural attractions, the vibrant suburb is generally considered a desirable place to live. However, an unthinkable nightmare was about to descend on the town and its residents.
Clyde, who was known as Tom to his friends, had been a farmer earlier in life before taking a job as a maintenance engineer in the Community Unit School District 200 in Wheaton. He had a son, Tom, from another relationship, although he was now living over a thousand miles away in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Nancy, meanwhile, had spent her career teaching elementary school in different locations across Illinois. Eventually, she ended up working in the same district as her husband. As well as Karl the couple had another son, Keith, and a grandchild, Joshua. And by May 2018 they had both left work, likely hoping to enjoy a quiet retirement.
However, all that changed on May 20, 2018, when the peace of the Clinkenbeards’ neighborhood was shattered by a domestic disturbance. That day, police arrived at the family home to deal with a violent argument involving Karl, who was living with his parents at the time.
It seems Karl had gotten into a disagreement with his brother Keith and nephew Joshua, and the argument had escalated into a fight. However, it appears that police were able to calm the situation down. No arrests were made, and neighbors claim it was the first time they’d noticed any trouble in the home.
But the next day, a neighbor noticed something amiss at the Clinkbeards’ home. At about 5:30 a.m., Katie Earls was walking home after a morning stroll when she spotted one of Clyde and Nancy’s dogs outside their property. Moreover, the lights inside the building were still switched on.
Concerned, Katie tried to rouse Clyde, 76, and Nancy, 77. “I started banging on the door, ringing the doorbell,” she told local news station NBC Chicago. “All the lights were on in the house. I didn’t see anything. I was banging.” Eventually, her husband stepped in to see if he could shed some light on what had happened inside the Clinkenbeards’ home.
However, when Katie’s husband peered through the window into Clyde and Nancy’s kitchen, he was met by a horrific sight. Inside lay the lifeless bodies of two men. “He saw Tom who lives in the house and his son Karl on the floor and he said, ‘They’re dead, they’re dead. Call 911,’” Katie explained.
Soon, the authorities arrived and made another shocking discovery: Nancy was also dead. But how could three members of the same family have met such a violent end in small-town Illinois? And did the earlier argument between Karl and Keith have anything to do with the tragedy?
On May 29, eight days after the bodies of the Clinkenbeard family were discovered, police announced some breakthroughs. The authorities claimed that the disagreement between the two brothers was unrelated to the mysterious deaths. So what had happened on that fateful day?
Word from the DuPage County Coroner’s office was that Clyde, Nancy and Karl all died from “multiple sharp force injuries.” But despite the seemingly random violence, investigators believed that they had identified the culprit. They said Karl, then 50, had attacked his parents before killing himself in a murder-suicide that shocked the tight-knit community.
According to police, Karl launched his attack at some point between midday and 1:15 p.m. on the day before the bodies were discovered. Then, he appeared to have taken his own life. But what could have caused the troubled son to suddenly flip, murdering his parents in the home that they had shared for 30 years?
In a statement made on behalf of Winfield PD, Police Chief David Schar speculated on what might have happened. “Information obtained from multiple sources indicates the incident most likely began after Karl learned that Clyde and Nancy intended to remove him from the Jefferson Street residence,” he said.
For decades, Clyde and Nancy coped with a son hooked on alcohol and drugs. They even opened their home to him well into his adult life. Was their only thanks a quick and gruesome murder in cold blood? Likely, the whole truth died with the Clinkenbeards. And as the community mourns, it must also come to terms with a tragedy so senseless it is difficult to comprehend.