Lt. Joe Kenda is one of TV’s most unlikely standouts. He has gray hair parted at the side, a sheepish grin, and hound-like eyes; he’s also modest and humble. But that’s exactly why the 23-year veteran of the Colorado Springs Police Department’s homicide unit, and the face behind Investigation Discovery’s Homicide Hunter, is a bona fide star.
In each episode, more than two million enthralled viewers watch as he re-opens his “murder books” and narrates re-enactments of the crimes he covered while working in Colorado Springs. Below are 11 facts every fan of Homicide Hunter should know.
#1 – Joe Kenda Grew up in a Coal-Mining Town But It Wasn’t for Him
Joe Kenda was born on August 28, 1946 in Herminie, Pennsylvania, a small coal-mining town about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh. Not surprisingly, coal mining is in his family’s blood; his father, uncle, and grandfather were all coal miners.
Tragically, his grandfather died in a mining incident 13 years before Kenda was even born. Seeing the daily grind the local coal miners had to endure left a lasting impression on Kenda.
“My grandfather was killed in a coal mine in 1933,” he said. “I decided as a young man that was not for me.”
#2 – Kenda Became Fascinated with Crime after Seeing the Most Dangerous Animal on Earth
Joe Kenda has always been fascinated with crime. “I thought that murder must be the worst crime,” he said. “Because the worst thing can happen to you if you do it.”
But seeing the most dangerous animal on earth solidified Kenda’s interest in crime and punishment.
When Kenda was nine, his parents took him to the Pittsburgh Zoo. When they approached the primate house, he saw a sign that said, “Around this corner is the most dangerous animal on earth.”
“And I think, this I need to see. So I walked around the corner, and there was a mirror. A big mirror—floor to ceiling—reflecting the image [of] all the people walking around the zoo. I stood and looked at that mirror for a long, long time. I stood there for so long, my mother started yelling that we needed to leave,” he recounted.
It was then that Kenda questioned if this was in fact true. Could humans be that dangerous?
“Animals kill because they have to survive,” he said. “Humans kill because they want to. Once you’ve killed then it is just numbers. It is a dangerous thing to do and that was what was intriguing to me.”
#3 – Kenda Started Out Life in Trucking
Despite the strange encounter with the most dangerous animal on earth and all its implications, Kenda did not become a police officer right away.
After graduating from Greensburg Central Catholic High School in 1964, Kenda went to the University of Pittsburgh.
After graduating with a degree in political science, Kenda went to Ohio State University where he graduated in 1970 with a master’s degree in international relations.
He married his high school sweetheart Martha Kathleen “Kathy” Mohler in 1967.
By the time Kenda graduated, the couple had two kids, a girl and a boy. So Kenda took a job working for his father’s trucking business. After struggling financially, a frustrated Kathy gave her husband an ultimatum.
“I couldn’t make ends meet, and I’m really good at making ends meet,” said Kathy, a nurse. “If he wasn’t working, he was with the boys, golfing and stuff, and I was stuck with the two kids. So he came home, and I was drunk one night, and I said: ‘This has got to change. I never see you. You never see the kids.’
“He said, ‘OK, I’ve always wanted to be a policeman.’”
Kenda applied and became a police officer.
#4 – Kenda Solved His First Homicide During His First Year on the Force
In 1973, Joe Kenda, Kathy, and their two children moved to Colorado Springs where he joined the the Colorado Springs Police Department.
Why Colorado Springs? Kenda’s mother was originally from Colorado Springs and he used to spend his summers there visiting his grandmother.
“I always said to myself, ‘If you ever get old enough and smart enough, you’ll live here.’”
That same year, Kenda solved his first homicide.
Sam Melena, an 83-year-old grocer, and his 78-year-old wife Rose were generous people who would help out anyone. They took in a struggling couple, Lawrence Eugene Todd and Vicki Lynn Locklin, both 19 years of age.
The younger couple, wanting to go to California to see their son, needed money. Their solution was to rob the kind, elderly couple. They went to the Melenas’ grocery store at 720 S. Conejos St. to get the money.
A struggle ensued. Sam was stabbed and killed. His wife was also stabbed, but she survived.
“Here are people that no one cares about and somebody kills them and steals their $32.00? No. You are not going to get away with this,” Kenda said. “I’ll never forget, their son putting his arms around me, and saying, ‘Please find who did this.’ I told him I would. And I did.
“(We locked up) Lawrence Eugene Todd and Vicki Lynn Locklin. They are both still in the can.”
#5 – Kenda Had a 92% Solve Rate
Kenda worked his way up the ranks to detective and then became the commander of the homicide department. He spent 23 years with the police department, 19 working in homicide.
“I loved the work,” he said. “My wife—not so much.”
During Kenda’s time on the force, his team solved 356 of his 387 homicide cases. This translates into a solve rate of 92%, one of the highest in the country.
Despite this amazing solve rate, Kenda remains modest.
“I was involved in 387 homicide investigations. I solved 92% of them. So, you can say I’m the guy who did a good job on those 92%, or the idiot who couldn’t figure out the eight percent.
#6 – Kenda Says You Can Tell Who’s Guilty by their Eyes
When asked about what visual clues he notices during an interview, Kenda pointed to the eyes.
“The eyes are the window of the soul,” Kenda philosophized.
In interviews, Kenda played the part of both good cop and bad cop. He’d start by looking into someone’s eyes and asking friendly questions.
“’Tell me about yourself. Do you have a wife, do you have a dog?’” I let him tell me about himself to make him comfortable. And, once he’s comfortable, then hit him with something that hurts and look right into his eyes and see how he reacts,” he said.
“If you hit him with something that hurts, he will react—the pupils will become little pinpoints. As far as his reaction, it is not about what he says, it’s about what his eyes say. Ultimately it’s the eyes. This might take a while, but the eyes will always tell the truth.”
#7 – Kenda Believes the Most Effective Liar Is a Psychopath
Out of all the murderous eyes Joe Kenda has peered into, the most deceptive ones belonged to a psychopath. The problem, or one of the many, is that a psychopath does not have empathy, sympathy, compassion, or remorse. The only emotion a psychopath is good at showing is rage.
Here’s your reminder that there’s no use in lying to a trained investigator. And your reminder to catch up on last night’s #HomicideHunter on ID GO ➡️ https://t.co/p8rccWY8Pb pic.twitter.com/TdLJogPtA3
— Joe Kenda (@LtJoeKenda) January 4, 2018
Kenda said he has only met one truly psychopathic murderer during his storied career: Ronald Lee White.
“He is a monster. Handsome guy; he looked like a movie star. Women would drop their groceries to follow him down the street. He sold tanning beds for a living,” Kenda recalled.
White was found guilty of three murders, but told the court he had committed 15 more, which may or may not be true.
The story of White was actually featured in season one, episode five of Homicide Hunter.
At the end of the episode, there is footage of White inside the courtroom. There is no audio. White can be seen sneering and yelling, telling the judge and jury he was going to kill them, too.
#8 – Kathy Was Convinced Kenda Was Going to Be Killed on the Job
As Kenda’s career was winding down, his wife Kathy was certain he was going to be killed on the job. He came home late one night to find all the lights on and Kathy waiting up for him.
“I walk in the door, and she is on the sofa and she is in tears,” he said. “And I said, ‘What is the matter?’ And when she is really angry she calls me by my last name, and she said, ‘Kenda, I cannot wait for you anymore.’”
In 1993, Kenda and Kathy moved to Falcon, Colorado. Three years later, Kenda retired.
#9 – Joe Kenda Drove a Special-Needs Bus When He Retired
Joe Kenda did not go quietly into retirement.
“I went through two years of withdrawal,” he said. “And I had to lose the ‘venom.’ And I had a lot of that.”
After mellowing out a little, Kenda got a job driving a special-needs bus until 2008.
#10 – Kenda Is Surprised by the Success of Homicide Hunter
Kenda was approached to pitch a TV show on his career as a successful homicide detective in 2009. It didn’t take long for that show, Homicide Hunter, to take off. And it caught Joe Kenda off guard.
“I’m surprised at how this has been received,” he said. “I’m very surprised that it is as successful as it is. I would have never believed it. I still don’t believe it, but it is true.”
Part of that success is due to the fact that Investigation Discovery took a chance on Kenda, who had no prior TV experience.
Kenda called Investigation Discovery “one of the most successful media businesses on the planet,” with operations in 220 countries and territories, 1.8 billion customers, and broadcasts in 400 languages.
“They are enormous,” Kenda said. “And I’m part of that.”
#11 – Kenda and Kathy Like to Travel in Their Spare Time
In their spare time, Joe and Kathy Kenda like to travel.
Kenda recounted how he once spent two weeks in Ireland: “It was wonderful. I drank about 30 gallons of Guinness and 10 gallons of Jameson.
“We have been able to go all over the world. We just love to travel.”
But just because the Kendas like to travel to far-off places, that doesn’t mean they can avoid the fame and recognition that comes with Homicide Hunter.
Kenda was once recognized on a train traveling from New York to Virginia. He was approached to sign one autograph, which he was happy to do. Before he knew it, word had spread through the coaches that he was on board and he ended up signing 49 more autographs.
Homicide Hunter airs in France, so not surprisingly, Joe Kenda was also recognized while eating at a Paris restaurant.
How does it feel to be famous? “Odd” is how Kenda described it.
“I’m always nice to people because I would be offended if somebody wasn’t nice to me. I pose for pictures, give autographs, pet the dog, do whatever we have to do. I don’t see myself as famous,” he mused.
“I’m a policeman, I’m not an actor. I’m just like anybody else. At the moment I just have a different job. It doesn’t make me famous; it makes me recognizable, I suppose, but I don’t equate that with fame.”