SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – The Feeney family murders remains a mystery in the Ozarks for over 20-years. One weekend in February 1995 Jon Feeney, a science teacher at Glendale High School, was at a work conference in the Lake of the Ozarks. That same weekend, his family including his wife Cheryl, 6-year-old son Tyler, and 18-month-old daughter were murdered at their home in Springfield
On that following Monday, news broke about the death of the three family members. The victims were discovered by Jon’s mother, Ola, and a coworker of Cheryl. Police said Cheryl and Tyler died from multiple wounds to the face and neck likely caused by a metal pipe, and baby Jennifer was found with a cord from a curtain rod tied around her neck.
“I went to the crime scene. Went out there and just remember, you know, it was a nice neighborhood so that immediately struck me as odd. It was a nice neighborhood in southwest Springfield, so that was a little different,” said former Springfield News-Leader reporter, Robert Keyes.
Jon Feeney learned of the murders from a Missouri State Highway Patrolman who found him at the conference. The South-Central Missouri Major Case Squad was asked to help with the investigation.
A spokesperson with the squad said in March 1995 that Feeney could be a potential witness. However, nearly one week after the killings no one was arrested. Nearly 30 investigators from several law enforcement agencies worked that week to track down leads and contact friends and coworkers of the Feeney’s. While the investigation at his home continued, Jon stayed with relatives.
Jon Feeney was indicted for murder after a year-long investigation.
On September 24, 1996, the trial of Jon Feeney began with jury selection that lasted three days. Prosecutors told jurors on the night of February 26, 1995, Jon Feeney drove to Springfield from the teacher’s convention at Lake of the Ozarks and murdered his family.
“I was kind of struck by how the prosecution’s case just wasn’t overwhelming,” said Keyes. ” I mean, it was a very strong circumstantial case against so many layers, so many different layers.”
Those layers include a game Feeney played called Vampires of the Masquerade. Investigators found game sheets in Feeney’s classroom desk at Glendale High School. Prosecutors said Feeney took the vampire game to the extreme and used it to assume the role of a killer and then wiped out his family.
A friend of Feeney’s, Matt Fairleigh, engaged in role-playing games with Feeney for more than a decade. He told the court he never saw Feeney play the vampire game and Feeney steered clear of murderer roles.
Prosecutors also brought up Feeney’s sexual involvement with other teachers, Tyler Feeney having Hepatitis B, and Feeney taking out an additional $250,000 life insurance policy on his wife just five months before the murders.
KOLR 10 Reporter Cheryl Matthews reported on the day prosecutors talked about the murder victims:
“The day began with a look at the murder victims. Prosecutors showed the jury pictures taken the day Cheryl, Tyler Jennifer Feeney’s bodies were found. The evidence brought Jon Feeney to tears. Feeney became emotional once again when prosecutors played back the family’s answering machine tape. Prosecutors say there’s three calls from Jon Feeney on the answering machine, two on Sunday the 26th. On Monday the 27th, there’s nine messages from concerned friends and family members the tenth call on the machine is from Jon.. “Cheryl, Cheryl and Jon pick up if anybody is in the house, please pick the phone up we need to find out what’s going on. This is your brother Doug Cheryl. What’s going on? “Cheryl, this is Jon I’m really getting freaked out, can you call me back,” said Matthews.
Prosecutors say Feeney was the last to check on his family because he already knew they were dead. During the trial, the defense called more than a dozen witnesses to testify on Jon Feeney’s character and demeanor at the Lake of the Ozarks the weekend of the murders. The defense witnesses told the court Feeney was a good husband and father, didn’t act preoccupied or different the weekend of the murders, and acted sincerely shaken when he found out what happened to his family.
On October 5, 1996, an eight-man, four-woman jury found Jon Feeney not guilty of murdering his wife and two young children.
Feeney was not completely in the clear at this point. The following November, his in-laws filed a wrongful death suit against him. Cheryl Feeney’s parents had sued to prevent Jon from recovering any financial gain from the deaths of his family.
That lawsuit did not last long. Cheryl’s parents dropped the filing at the end of November. By then the story of Jon Feeney and who murdered his family had started to fade away.