A woman is found shot dead in her car. Her child is missing. As police investigate, the heart-wrenching tragedy unfolds. In this special episode, legendary homicide detective Lt. Joe Kenda walks us through one of his early, unforgettable cases.
Special Guest: Retired Lieutenant Joe Kenda
Joe Kenda retired at the rank of Lieutenant from the Colorado Springs Police Department, where he conducted criminal investigations involving violent crimes for over 23 years. Joe served as a Detective, Detective Sergeant, Detective Lieutenant, and finally Commander of the Major Crimes Unit, and achieved a solution rate of 92% of the 387 homicide cases assigned to him and his unit. Joe has a television series called “American Detective” that launched this year on discovery+ – season 1 is available to stream now. His previous show, ”Homicide Hunter”, ran for 9 seasons on ID.Read Transcript
Yeardley [00:00:05] Hey, Small Town Fam, Happy New Year. Listen, at least it’s the next year. Anyway, today even though our regular season has ended, we have a fabulous bonus episode for you. Are you sitting down? We have Detective Joe Kenda.
Dan [00:00:24] The man’s a legend.
Yeardley [00:00:24] The man’s a legend says detective Dan and he is not wrong. We recorded with Kenda over Zoom. So, you know, the usual disclaimers in case there might be garbage trucks, pets, lawnmowers, things. So, without further ado, please settle in for The List.
Joe [00:00:48] Irrespective of the size community you live in, there are other humans there. Humans are violent by nature. They are. That’s why wild animals run from us. They know what we are. We’re the most dangerous animal on this planet.
Yeardley [00:01:06] When a serious crime is committed in a small town, a handful of detectives are charged with solving the case. I’m Yeardley, and I’m fascinated by these stories. I invited my friends, detectives Dan and Dave, to help me gather the best true crime cases from around the country and have the men and women who investigated them, tell us how it happened.
Dan [00:01:32] I’m Dan.
Dave [00:01:32] And I’m Dave. We’re identical twins from Small Town USA.
Dan [00:01:36] Dave investigated sex crimes and crimes against children. He’s now a patrol sergeant at his police department.
Dave [00:01:42] Dan investigated violent crimes. He’s now retired. Together, we have more than two decades’ experience and have worked hundreds of cases. We’ve altered names, places, relationships, and certain details in these cases to maintain the privacy of the victims and their families.
Dan [00:01:58] We ask you to join us in protecting their true identities, as well as the locations of these crimes out of respect for everyone involved. Thank you.
Yeardley [00:02:13] Today on Small Town Dicks, we have the usual suspects. We have Detective Dan.
Dan [00:02:19] Good morning.
Yeardley [00:02:20] Good morning. And I have Detective Dave.
Dave [00:02:22] Good morning, Yeardley.
Yeardley [00:02:25] Good morning, David. So good to see you.
Dave [00:02:28] I’m excited for our guest today.
Yeardley [00:02:30] Small Town Fam, uh, take a deep breath, sit down, because today is a huge day. We are so thrilled and honored to welcome the one and only Joe Kenda to the podcast.
Joe [00:02:45] And good morning to you.
Yeardley [00:02:49] Joe, you’re so great. I love how understated you are. You, of course, you have had your own show, “The Homicide Hunter,” what’s the title of the new one?
Joe [00:03:00] The new one is titled American Detective with Lieutenant Joe Kenda. The principle of the show is we move around the country to very small places. For example, in Vermont, a town of 7000, violent crime still happens. If there are people, there is crime, no matter how many people, there’s violent crime. We’re looking for and able to establish the skill and the dedication of the detectives involved from the small places who make little or no money, who suffer the slings and arrows of the media and everything else, and they do the work because they love it, because they’re good at it. That is the principle of the show. I’m on each show, as a commentator, and sort of a host, that leads you through the case. They’re all mysteries, they’re all incredibly violent, and they’re all cases that nobody’s ever heard of because they occurred in little places. So that’s what it’s about. It’s very cool.
Yeardley [00:04:04] Fantastic. Joe, let’s back up for a second, for people who might not know. Tell us a little bit about your history.
Joe [00:04:14] I got a job in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where my mother was born and raised and where I had traveled when I was a kid, so I was attracted to the place. I applied for the PD and I was accepted. I was one of the first people to work here who had a college education. Everybody harass me and call me College Boy, which I always thought was very funny. They all say, “You think you’re smarter than,” “Well, actually I am smarter than you, which is why they call me College Boy.” I reveled in it. It was a fun thing. I worked very hard on the street and patrol in uniform, until I got an opportunity to apply for investigations, which I did. I was accepted. I was a burglary detective, which I consider to be trivial pursuit to people’s properties protected by insurance. I didn’t think it was important enough for me. I was interested in murder.
Murder must be the worst crime because we’ll do the worst to you if you committed. We’ll put you in a cage for the rest of your life or we’ll kill you. I want to get involved in that. I had an opportunity to do that when a case came along that nobody else seemed to want. I volunteered for it. I laid my life on the line. I thought I either will solve this or I’ll die in the attempt. In five days, I had the bad guy. I was in homicide the next day, and I stayed there for 20 years.
I was a detective, I was a sergeant, I was a lieutenant and I’d be when I retired as a commander in major crimes. I spent almost my entire career in investigation of violent crimes, both homicide, assault, sexual assault against children and adults, gangs, and fugitives from justice, all that fun stuff, and that’s what I did. And I loved every minute of it.
Yeardley [00:06:02] That’s incredible. You have a lovely wife, Kathy.
Joe [00:06:06] I do.
Yeardley [00:06:08] I’m always curious to know, if that was your everyday investigating homicide for 20 years, where do you put that in order to, then come home and be a husband and have a like a regular life?
Joe [00:06:20] It’s very, very difficult to do. Kathy will tell you that she would know when things were bad. If I’d walk in the door, and grab my kids and hug them and not let them go. Like all little kids, “What are you doing, Dad? Let me go, Dad.” “No, I don’t want to let you go.” She would know, she’d say, “You kids need to go to your rooms.” Man, we just wouldn’t talk very much. We had a ritual on Friday nights. She’s a nurse, I’m a policeman, both work like dogs and raising two kids. We’d have this little thing where we’d sit at the kitchen table and the kids went to bed. We’ll have a drink and we discuss the events for these last few days. I would tell her details of some of the cases I had, not all the details, but some, she was well aware of what was going on. It helped. It really did help, but I’ll tell you a funny story when I retired. It’s worth a few minutes.
Yeardley [00:07:21] Totally.
Joe [00:07:23] Kathy’s a nurse. Bachelor Science degree in nursing with an emphasis in psychiatry, “So, you shouldn’t mess with me. Would you have feelings about that, Joe?” “Stop that. Stop talking to me like a psychiatrist.”
Yeardley [00:07:36] Don’t therapize me.
Joe [00:07:37] Correct, yeah. It was really funny. Anyway, I retired, and she said, “You need professional help. You have PTSD to the max and you need to talk to somebody.” I resisted that for a while. I finally decided she was right. So, identified a guy who was supposed to be the best psychiatrist in Colorado for PTSD issues. He’s in Denver. I’m a retired policeman. I have crappy health insurance and no money. They don’t pay for mental health because how long are you going to be crazy? If you break your leg, you’re in a cast for eight weeks. How long are you going to be nuts? Well, nobody seems to know that so we don’t pay for that.
I go to Denver, I talked to his nurse. 400 bucks an hour is his fee, and the first hour $400 upfront. To me, that was a lot of money, but I thought, “All right. Mrs. Kenda said. Mrs. Kenda said.” Okay, fine. So, I paid the 400 bucks. I go meet this guy. Nice enough guy. We sit down. He says, “Do you have recurring nightmares?” I said, “I do.” “Are they the same?” “Five of them are.” “Could you describe them to me?” “Sure.” So, I do it. It took about 20 minutes. He is in tears by the time I’m done describing these nightmares. I am comforting him because he’s so upset. I’m thinking two things. I’m thinking, “What is wrong with this picture? Who do I speak to about my 400 goddamn dollars?” I left him sobbing on the sofa and I went back out to the nurses, said, “I’m not leaving here, even if you call a SWAT team without my money.” She just looked at me and gave me the check back, and I went home.
Yeardley [00:09:32] Oh, Joe!
Joe [00:09:34] So Kathy is all sweetness and light and I walk in the door, and she said, “Well, how’d everything go?” I said, “Don’t you ever suggest that to me again!”
Dave [00:09:42] You gave that doctor PTSD.
Joe [00:09:44] Yes, I did. And he was welcome to it, I might add.
Dan [00:09:48] Yeah.
Dave [00:09:50] Talking to your brothers and sisters and people who have been in critical incidents carries a lot more weight with me than talking to somebody who’s not been immunized to the stress.
Joe [00:10:02] Absolutely. They tell you to a picture of leaf floating down a stream.
Dave [00:10:07] I needed to talk to people that had been there, that had been through similar situations and stresses and been in “Don’t shoot” situations, those are the people that I needed to talk to. It was peer support that pulled me out of the funk that I was in.
Joe [00:10:22] Oh, I know. I was the same way. I am the same way. I can talk to cops, but I don’t want to talk to anybody else about that sort of thing because no one else understands it.
Yeardley [00:10:31] We hear that a lot.
Joe [00:10:33] It’s true. Dan, I think you know, when you pull a gun, you never think about pulling a gun. It’s just in your hand, because you know instinctively you need it.
Dan [00:10:41] Yeah.
Joe [00:10:41] And at that moment, everything slows down. You get a taste a metal in your mouth, and you can hear your heartbeat. That’s when you know you’re in the moment.
Dan [00:10:53] Absolutely. I think the general public doesn’t really understand how often officers have to pull their gun. You’re put in situations where pulling your gun is the appropriate thing to do. Clearing a business that’s been burglarized, a house that’s been burglarized, you’re on a high-risk felony stop with a dangerous felon who might be armed, you have your gun out. So, if you think about that, all these times that officers have their gun out for our safety and the safety of our coworkers and other people, and how many times that we don’t pull the trigger. We don’t decide to shoot.
Joe [00:11:28] Yeah. Which is fortunately for me was every time. I never shot anybody. Not that I wouldn’t have, but I never did.
Dan [00:11:34] Neither did I and I’m so fortunate that I was able to survive my career without having to make that decision.
Joe [00:11:40] The closest I ever came down is I kicked the door in a motel to arrest a guy for first-degree murder. He’s a convict, bad guy, been around the block. I’ve got a Remington 870 pump 12 gauge with double aught buck in it. On his nightstand is a 45 auto cocked and locked. He sat bolt upright in bed. He wasn’t frightened. He’ll look at me and look at the gun, look at me, look at his gun. He’s thinking, “Can I get that gun?” Before he said anything, I looked at him and I said, “You won’t hear this go off.” And he just sat there, and that was the end of that. But that was the closest I came to actually pulling the trigger.
The other policy I always had and always worked, it always worked. I never raised my voice. It scares people if you don’t raise your voice. They expect you to yell at them, “Put your hands up in the air,” go crazy and everything. I look at him very quietly. I’d have a gun in one hand and a badge in the other. I didn’t want you to play the game, I didn’t know as a policeman because I’m wearing a cheap suit. Hold the badge up, hold the gun up. And I would say this the same every time. “My name is Kenda, I’m with a police department. You’re under arrest for first-degree murder. If you don’t do what I say, I’m going to kill you right here and right now.” And everybody would raise their hands. Even if they had a gun in their waistband. See, this guy means it. Yeah, I do. I’m going home tonight. I don’t care where you go, but I’m going home.
Dan [00:13:22] Absolutely.
Yeardley [00:13:44] Joe, we are so thrilled to have you, but I want to be respectful of your time. We are eager to hear this case that you have for us today. I’m just going to hand it over to you, and let you tell us how this case came to you.
Joe [00:14:00] It’s interesting people don’t know this, because they don’t think about it and probably just as well that they don’t, but irrespective of the size of community you live in, there are other humans there. Humans are violent by nature. They are. That’s why wild animals run from us. They know what we are. We’re the most dangerous animal on this planet, and everybody knows that. Different things cause different reactions in people. It could be medical, it could be emotional, it could be any number of things. But it causes people to reach for weapons and start to do harm to others. It doesn’t matter what time of day it is. It doesn’t matter what kind of neighborhood it’s in. It doesn’t matter if anybody’s ever been arrested or even ever gotten a ticket, and may be involved in these things.
I’m in my office 7:30 in the morning. I don’t start till 8 but I’d get there early to read what happened during the night if I wasn’t called and read the FBI summaries of what dead people they found somewhere that they can identify and all the things you do in homicide. Comm center call and say, “We’ve got a shooting,” gives me an address. “What’s going on?” “Well, we don’t know. There were shots fired call and report of a woman down to the parking lot.” Officer say, “She’s not going to make it.” “Okay. We’re on our way.” Round up some guys, we run up into this apartment. Here’s a woman in the parking lot 30-ish years old. Single entry gunshot wound back of the head, execution-style. She is dead. Who is she? And why is she in this parking lot?
We get in her car, her purse is there, it’s intact. Wallet’s there, undisturbed. Keys in the ignition, undisturbed. Get her name, get her address. It’s not this address. We started checking the witnesses, “Anybody recognize this person or is this car?” “Well, I’ve seen that car here before. She visits someone here.” “Do you know who that is?” “No.” Finally, we get a person who says, “You know, I think her parents live here. I think they live in apartment D.” “Her mom and dad?” “Uh-huh. She comes here once in a while. She has a child with her.” “Did you see her come here today?” “No. But she usually has a child. A little boy, five or six years old.” Well, he’s not in this car. He’s is not lying next to mom. We go to apartment D, door’s closed. We knock. We announce. Nothing. Unlocked. Try the knob, it’s open. We draw.
Yeardley [00:16:59] When you say draw, does that mean you draw your guns?
Joe [00:17:02] Pull a gun, yeah, sure. What’s on the other side of that door? I don’t know. We come in, we announce again in a loud voice, “Police.” So, yeah, we go inside. The table is set for five people. There are five glasses of orange juice poured, plates, knives, forks, napkins. Where’s the people? We don’t find any people. We find a place setting for five. We find what is apparently the daughter in the parking lot with a large-caliber gunshot wound to the base of the skull. That’s one. Where is the other four? We go in the first bedroom. There’s a woman in the bed who’s been dead for six or seven hours. Has 17 stab wounds in the chest with a small narrow thing, something like an icepick, something that’s round, not a knife, but concentrated woman’s central chest. Cool to the touch. Okay, breakfast guest number two.
Back down the bedroom hallway, there is a 72-year-old man laying next to the bed with a pressure contact gunshot wound to the right side of the head. That’s where you push a gun against the skin and push. You make sure that their contact is there. They call it pressure contact because you’re in contact with the skin, but you push the muzzle into the flesh causing an explosive entry wound as opposed to an explosive exit wound because you’re confining all the gas and all the unburned powder and so on into the actual entrance point in the head. Plus, in the head, it’s all bone. So, you’re going to get a star-shaped entrance wound from a large-caliber gun. He has that. His arm is loosely around a seven-year-old boy who also has a contact gunshot wound to the skull. Large caliber. On the floor, next to the two of them, is a model 19 Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum four-inch barrel revolver, blue steel with blood, brain, and bone tissue on the muzzle. Obviously, the weapon that was used. Now, we have four people. Where’s number five?
We start asking around, we talk to people that know them. The 72-year-old man is the manager of this apartment building, lives there with his wife, who’s dead from the multiple stab wounds in the bedroom. We determine that they are devoted parents to their daughter. They sold their home to their daughter at a very reduced price so that her daughter, their grandson, and her daughter’s husband would have a home to live in that they could afford. They then got this job as managers of this apartment to have a free apartment in exchange for their effort of running the place. This is a complex where crime never occurs. Never been an incident there in 20 years. Quiet, working-class neighborhood. Cops didn’t know where the place was till somebody looked at the address. They never go there because there’s nothing ever happening there.
We kind of sort of know the players a little, not a lot. So, now my concern is, where’s husband? How come he’s not here? Where is he? And what does he have to do with this? Did he shoot these people? Did he come in here and there’s a confrontation, and he kills everybody? Kills the wife first and apparently comes back and kills everybody else? Maybe. Maybe not. But where is he? More background investigation, we determined he’s a respiratory therapist at a local hospital. We call the hospital.
Yeardley [00:21:07] What’s a respiratory therapist?
Joe [00:21:09] That’s a guy that assist doctors who are– if you’re a doctor, and you’re a respiratory doctor, you are a pulmonologist. You check people’s breathing abilities. You give them medication for breathing issues. Respiratory therapist is a guy that administers those treatments. He puts the oxygen on the person and he gives them instructions on how to do this and so on and so on. That’s what he does. He’s not there. So, he’s not here. They say, “He’s not at work.” “Is he supposed to be at work?” “Well, yes, he’s scheduled to work today, but he’s not here.” Hmm. If[?] you’re supposed to be somewhere and you’re not, and everyone expects you to be there, but you’re not. “Is he often do this?” “Oh, no, he’s never done this.” “He didn’t call in sick. He doesn’t show up.” “Oh, no. He’s an excellent employee.” “He’s not there today, is he?” “No.” Hmm. Now the question is, find him. Find him. Where is he? I sent two guys off to do that.
Dan [00:22:11] There’s also a possibility that he’s a victim here also.
Joe [00:22:16] Of course. You never ever decide who did what to whom, until you know the facts. Let the facts drive the theory, not the other way around. Okay, don’t let the theory drive the fact.
Yeardley [00:22:43] Hey, Small Town Super Fam, guess what I want to talk about? Patreon. I know we’re on this hiatus, which means no main episodes until the beginning of March. But if you really miss us, you can catch us pretty much every week for delicious snacketty snacks on Patreon.
Dan [00:23:00] Always blame Dave for the hiatus.
Yeardley [00:23:02] [laughs] Your $5 monthly contribution goes to put gas in the podcast car and the kind of content you get on Patreon, it’s often quite funny and different from our main episode. So, we would love to see you there. And if not, we’ll see in the spring.
Dan [00:23:20] #BlameDave.
Yeardley [00:23:20] [chuckles] #BlameDave.
Yeardley [00:23:49] About how old is the husband that we’re looking for?
Joe [00:23:51] 34 years old, wife is 30, and child is 7. Father is 72, mother is 68.
Dan [00:23:59] How many years ago, are we talking decades ago?
Joe [00:24:01] Yeah, no, we are late 1980s, early 90s.
Dan [00:24:04] Okay, so we didn’t have cell phone technology and GPS and all that stuff.
Joe [00:24:08] We didn’t have anything. I did have a cell phone and a bag, the old Motorola brick that everyone was so impressed by. It weighed about the same as your car, and you drag the thing around and you could talk to somebody on the moon. It had 5 watts of power, it’s incredible. It was $10 a minute or something to use it. First time I ever used at a crime scene, somebody from the press said, “What is that?” I say, “It’s a phone.” “What do you mean, it’s a phone?” I said, “It’s a phone. It’s called a cell phone.” “Really? Wow.”
Dan [00:24:40] That had the big battery pack and the man purse bag?
Joe [00:24:43] Oh, yeah. Oh, of course. Yeah. You couldn’t pick it up. You need to help to pick it up. You pick that battery up, I’ll pick up the phone. Yeah, okay. And now, an eight-year-old kid has two of them in his back pocket. Time marches on. Now we’re at the stage of the world where not much of that’s available. Who knows where this guy is? There’s no GPS in his car. There’s none of this stuff you could play with it. No social media. What is that? Nobody even has a computer, unless you work in a place that happens to have one. It’s remarkable in terms of the effort it takes just to find a simple thing. Like, where’s this guy? Now, it’s quite easy comparatively to what it was then.
Anyway, somebody said to me, one of my guys, “Was he our shooter?” “I don’t know, but he needs an explanation as to why he’s not here, and why is he not at work where he always goes on a day when everyone else he knows seems to be dead?” That seems to be a problem to me. We’re going to find out what the answer is. We started poking around, and the more things lead on, the press shows up, a mess. This is multiple homicide. CNN has a van parked there with the antennas up on the top of the truck to get to the satellite. Everybody’s there. They want to be able to say the usual thing, “The police are baffled.” We’re always baffled at these things, which I tend to ignore the press, when I’m at these crime scenes, I have more important things to do than their job. So, I do my own.
My question was always, “Who else is in this family? Is there other members of the family? Does the husband have a brother or sister?” We start looking around in the apartment, we find an address book. There is a name of a girl, same last name as the family, and she’s in New Mexico, and it has an address, and it has her work phone number. I call the work number for this girl. It’s a hospital. I say, “Do you have an employee named this? “Yeah, she’s a nurse here in the hospital.” “Let me speak to the Director of Nursing.” So, the Director of Nursing gets on the line and I told her my name, told her what I was doing, and told her where I was. I said, “So far from what I can determine, her sister, her nephew, her mother and her father are victims of homicide at this location. My concern is there is national press here. CNN, NBC News. She’s in a hospital working today?” “Yes, she’s working.” “I don’t want her walking into a room and see her parents’ house on television. I want you to identify her best friend in the hospital. Have her best friend ring her to your office and put her on the phone.”
She said, “Well, I can’t tell her that.” I said, “I’m not asking you to tell her, I’m going to tell her. Go get her and bring her to the phone.” They did. I told her what I knew. She was nearly hysterical on the phone, as I understood that she would be. I told her why I did that. I said, “I don’t want you to find that out by accident. I want you to know, we’re making every effort here to determine what’s happened. So far, we don’t know what’s happened. What can you tell me about the husband’s family?” He also is an only child, his parents live out of state. They get along fine. No issues, she says, between husband and wife or sister, no issues whatsoever. “Okay, thank you.” So, we’re back to square one. We know now that we’ve located pretty much everybody we can reasonably look at. Except for the husband. Where is he?
My guys call me from the hospital, say, “He’s here.” “He’s where?” “He’s at work. When we told you he wasn’t here, he was at work.”
Yeardley [00:28:42] So he made it to work?
Joe [00:28:44] He was at work when this happened. The person we talked to on the phone at the hospital thought he wasn’t there, but he was. We find 10 witnesses and this hospital says, “He’s been all morning.”
Yeardley [00:28:56] Such as simple, but critical mistake.
Joe [00:29:00] Yes, it is. But that’s why you don’t want to let yourself fly off the handle about who’s responsible for what. Okay, now we’re back to this. We go talk to him. I tell him what’s happened, and he’s, of course, in a horrible situation like that. I said, “Tell me what you know about these people. What’s her family about?” “Well, her mother has MS, and is in the late stages of multiple sclerosis and she’s wheelchair-bound, but her husband is devoted to her. He takes care of her. He takes her to doctor’s appointments and watches her every move. They’ve been married forever. But my father-in-law has been acting strange lately.” “What do you mean?” “Well, he’s had a series of mini-strokes.” “Really?” “Yes. Small strokes that haven’t affected him that much, but he’s suddenly become very angry at simple things and bitter about things. And he was never like that. He was never ever like that. And my wife has seen this change in him and her mother has said to her, ‘Your dad is getting pretty wild,’ I mean he’s talking about killing people.’”
Yeardley [00:30:18] So, the guy who is in fact working at the hospital where he’s supposed to be, he says her mother, he’s talking about his wife’s mother has MS?
Joe [00:30:27] Yes. The dead mother has MS. He begins to tell me this story about how then he’s gone off his rocker a little bit. So, we have to take that into consideration. “What else can you tell me?” Well, this victim’s mother had gone to her minister to talk to him about this problem. We go see him this minister immediately. “Tell me about this. Tell me about her coming to you about her husband.” “Well, she called me and I went over because she’s in a wheelchair.” I said, “We know.” “I went over there and her husband wasn’t home. And I sat and talked to her for a couple of hours. And she showed me some things.” “What does she show you?” “Well, she called them death lists.” “Death lists?” “Yeah.” “He apparently wrote down names of people that should die.” “Oh, really?” “Do you have those?” “No, she had them. She kept them there at the house.” “So, who was on these lists?” “Well, the President and the Governor and those kinds of people. Politicians, reporters, that sort of thing.” “So, what did you tell her?” “Well, I told her it was just a phase.” “You told her it was just a phase?” “Well, yes. And God will straighten all this out.” “I see. So, you were anticipating that God would step in and take his pen away, or exactly what were your thoughts there?” He just looked at me. I say, “Goodbye, Reverend. Goodbye.”
We go back to the apartment. We’re still surrounded by the press, of course. We need to find these lists. We start tearing the place apart. And we find them in magazines, next to the chair where he sits. Every few pages, there’s a list, there’s a piece of paper that you’d use for a shopping list, narrow and long. Stuffed in the pages of the magazine, every few pages, there’s a new list.
Yeardley [00:32:43] And are there different names on each of the list?
Joe [00:32:46] Yes, exactly. It begins as the Reverend said. The President’s name is there, the Vice President, Congressman, the Governor, local officials, what have you. The next list has people he works with, coworkers. But then the last list has his son-in-law at the top of the list, with a note next to it said, “Must die,” and “must die” is underlined. His wife is on the list. Next to that, “must die” underlined. All the way down to his grandson, he’s seven years old, also must die after his name. We run the gun, serial number. And it’s owned by the City of Colorado Springs. Why does he have a city gun in his possession? Well, it turns out, this guy was a teacher in a junior high school for 30 some years. Taught math and science, loved by his students. Because he was a teacher, he had a summer job. There’s a highway up Pikes Peak, the mountain west of the city of Colorado Springs, is owned and operated by the City of Colorado Springs. They own the road and they maintain the road. And they have Pikes Peak highway patrol officers who they employ in the summer to help tourists who get lost, tourists who run out of gas, tourists who get too frightened to continue to drive up or down the highway because it’s a mountain highway, and he was employed as a Pikes Peak highway patrol officer and issued a handgun by the police department because they were armed, and that’s the gun that was in that apartment.
A city police gun because that was the same gun carried by officers at the time. So, that’s the source of the firearm, the city is the source. We talked to his coworkers in the highway. They say he is the nicest guy they ever knew. Wonderful man. Very helpful, got awards from the city for saving tourists’ lives, and on one occasion, used his patrol car to stop a car that brakes had burned out and got it to a stop and saved the family. It’s remarkable. But they said in the last few months, he’s become different. “Different how?” “Dark, quiet, nothing to say, come to work, leave immediately, not talk to anybody.” “So, you saw a real change in him?” “Oh, yeah, it’s change. It was an amazing change.” Everybody said, “What’s wrong with him?” What’s wrong with him are the mini strokes. They’ve altered his ability to think. They’ve changed his personality and they’ve made it into something that he isn’t. They made him homicidal, and no one understood that. Or if they did, they chose to ignore. But they chose not to believe it.
Yeardley [00:35:59] I don’t know a lot about strokes, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard mini strokes making someone homicidal or psychotic like that. Had you ever heard of that?
Joe [00:36:09] The doctors we talked to said, “Yes, it happens. It’s not relatively common, but it does occur.” I had never encountered that either. Talked to neurologists, said, “Yeah, it alters the thought process,” and this and that. They’re called TIAs. TIA is transient ischemic attack. They said he had a series of TIAs, which are these small strokes, that lead to blockages in the brain and changes of thought process and so on that nobody really understands, but they’ve seen the results of it. It happens fairly commonly in people as they age. The brain is a very complicated piece of machinery. People love to understand, but nobody really does. But they know that certain things cause people to change their personalities, change their thought processes, change everything.
When we go back through this case with all this new information and reexamine our crime scene, again, it is clear to me that our man, dear old dad, takes an awl which we discovered in his toolbox. Awl is a leather tool for making holes in leather, a punch more or less. It’s a long, narrow round shaft with a point. His wife’s blood’s on that shaft in his toolbox. He used that to kill her, probably for the idea of keeping it quiet. No gunfire and wake up the neighbors. By the time the gunfire begins, he no longer cares if the neighbors are awake because he’s in the process of doing what he thinks he needs to do. He confronts his daughter in the parking lot. Shoots her in the back of the head, drops her right next to her own car. Goes back inside, mama’s already done, grabs that kid, drags him back to the bedroom, kills him, and then kills himself. And all this gets unraveled over a period of about 16 hours of work to get to the truth of it.
Yeardley [00:38:09] Did you solve this case in 16 hours?
Joe [00:38:11] Yes. Begins with maybe a husband being a suspect, to a victim being a perpetrator. So, it’s a murder-suicide.
Joe [00:38:48] When the case was clear, I get a call from a church, a Methodist Church in the Springs from the Reverend. The sister from New Mexico was there to bury her family. Her parents went to that Methodist Church for a time but hadn’t been there in a long time, but when she was a kid, she used to go to that church. She went to speak to that minister, the Methodist minister, to conduct a service for the family, because she knew him when she was younger. He said to me on the phone, he said, “I’d like you to come to the church tonight and speak to her about this incident.” “Okay, I’ll do that.”
I go to the church at 7, and he’s waiting for me in the parking lot, and he said, “Now, there’s some other people here, friends and–” “All right.” We walk in this room, there are– I counted them, as I was curious. There were 39 people in this room. I walked in and you could hear a pin drop. There’s this young woman sitting in the front row. She sees me and the minister says, “This is” at the time “Sergeant Kenda from the police department.” She walks up to me in tears, puts our arms around me and hugs me alone and won’t let me go. And I say, “Are you, Ruth Ann?” “Yes, the nurse from New Mexico.” She said, “I want to thank you for telling me, because after I hung up, and I got kind of recovered, sort of, I walked down the hall, I looked in a room, and on the TV was my parents’ apartment. It would have been worse if that’s all I saw.” I said, “I’m sorry you had to go through this.”
And I told her what I’ve often told people in situations like that, the person who did this is not the father you knew and loved. He was somebody else entirely. Through no fault of his own, through no choice he made, through the unfortunate thing of a medical emergency that he wasn’t even aware of, that altered his thought process that made him into what he became, but never what he was. Keep some comfort in you knowing him as he was, and not in these last few minutes of his life. It was not him. Who did that is not your father. Remember all those good times before that. It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing.
I walked out of that church, and I sat down in my car. I was almost literally shaking, after going through all that with all these people. I’m sitting there, and my radio callsign at the time was 1X-Ray7. And the dispatcher is calling 1X-Ray7. When you don’t answer, they start to sound like a wife that’s annoyed. Then you hear them say, 1X-Ray7. [chuckles] I answered him, 1X-Ray7. “The uniforms on a scene of a shooting at 5200 El Camino Drive. They say homicide, can you respond?” “1 X-Ray7 is en route.”
Dave [00:42:29] Clocking back in.
Yeardley [00:42:30] Just from one to the other.
Joe Yeah. Hang up the mic. The moment about PTSD, Dan, that you’ll understand. I was sitting in my house, minding my own business, or watching the evening news, my wife and I. There’s always the fluff piece at the end of the news. Always go to the Garden Show after we talk about all the dead people, we will go to the Garden Show now. We’re doing that. And here’s this woman, she’s a police officer in Syracuse, New York. She devotes her spare time to teaching needy children how to read who don’t learn it well in school. She wants to introduce her best student, and she has this little kid come over and the camera focuses on him. I got hit with a lightning bolt and I said, “I’ve got to go outside.” And I left. I went outside. Kathy is just looking at me as I walked out. I stayed outside for like 30 minutes.
I finally came back and she said, “What is the matter?” I said, “That was a moment.” And what I mean by that, Dan, and you’ve experienced, the PTSD is having a nightmare when you’re awake. It’s bizarre. I saw that little kid, and I had a gun in my hand and there was smoke, and people yelling and screaming, and I was right back in it. We had arrested a guy about two years before this for the LAPD wanted for multiple counts of first-degree murder, gangbanger from East LA, whose street name was BamBam. They call him BamBam because he shoots people all the time. He had a girlfriend in Colorado Springs. We find out he’s there, in this apartment. We confirm he’s in the apartment. We hit the place with a SWAT team. We hit it hard. We hit it with the flashbangs and the laser sights and the whole deal. We got him down on the floor, and we were handcuffing him. I look up and through the smoke. There’s a little boy who’s standing on a staircase. He’s wet his pants and he’s shaking uncontrollably.
I went over to him and I grabbed him and I said, “Nobody’s going to hurt your baby. Nobody’s going to hurt you. This is over.” He grabbed me like an adult, and he wouldn’t let go. Two years later, I’m watching the ABC News fluff piece and there is that kid. I saw him as the kid, it wasn’t the kid, but he just looked like him. He looked just like him.
Dan [00:45:08] I totally know what you’re talking about. Just little fleeting moments that transport you right back to a situation that you were in and the smells, everything is there, and it’s so real. It’s remarkable. It’s frightening too.
Joe [00:45:23] Oh, it is. It’s absolutely startling. It takes you a while to calm down from it, and you don’t think about it at the time. You think about it later, but you think, “God, am I losing it?” And then I’m like, “This is the end? Am I crazy?” No, I just think you’re human. And if you don’t feel that way, you’ve lost your humanity. If you don’t feel compassion for people, and so on.
Dave [00:45:49] Absolutely.
Yeardley [00:45:50] So the day that you investigated this murder, where the man who’d had mini strokes kills his whole family, is that one of the days that you go home and hug your kids?
Joe [00:46:00] Yep. Yes. The thing I never, ever could deal with, never, is the death of a child. They look so small. They look so small.
Yeardley [00:46:16] All the detectives say that, that we’ve interviewed.
Joe [00:46:19] It’s true. It’s absolutely true. The worst is an autopsy. They open like a flower. That’ll make you hug any kid. It doesn’t even have to be yours.
Yeardley [00:46:33] Sure. Can I borrow your kid?
Joe [00:46:35] I want to borrow your kid. I just want to hug him for a minute. Hug him, I promise.
Joe [00:46:41] Sure.
Yeardley [00:46:42] What an incredible story. Honestly, I feel if you just had one of those cases, one day like that in your career, it would stick with you forever, and that would be enough.
Joe [00:46:54] I’ve had many, unfortunately.
Yeardley [00:46:56] Yes, you just continue to go forward.
Joe [00:46:58] You do. I had a total of 387 homicides that I was in responsible for, either as a detective or a supervisor or boss or whatever. Then 356, I cleared by arrest, that’s a rate of solution 92%.
Yeardley [00:47:14] Good Lord! That seems very high.
Joe [00:47:16] It is.
Dave [00:47:17] It’s pretty good.
Dan [00:47:19] You think about this particular case that Joe just discussed, and why cops have to compartmentalize. Joe is trying to process what he just dealt with. And 1X-Ray7, and he’s off to another case. You have to bottle it up, stuff it somewhere, and deal with it later. That’s part of the problem. Cops have a very high suicide rate, and it’s because you have police officers that don’t ever go back and open that bottle up and deal with that. They’ve got a bunch of bottles that rattle around. All of a sudden, the pressure, they open up and cops kill themselves at an astonishingly high rate. That’s what we have to get over within police departments is that stigma of, “Hey, it’s okay to talk about this stuff that it’s bothering you,” because if it’s not bothering you, it makes me question, like Joe said, your humanity. If that doesn’t bother you, you’ve got problems.
Joe [00:48:22] Oh, absolutely.
Dan [00:48:23] That’s why we have to compartmentalize because it’s on to the next case. You get a very short time to deal with some of this stuff. I had an infant die while I was working on him. Ran with this infant out to the medics, handed it off, but I was doing CPR on this infant while I was moving this child from this apartment down to the medics, and the medics take this child off. And detectives come out to the scene, right after the detectives get there, they send me to another call. And it’s like, “Are you serious? Right now? Give me a minute. Just give me a minute.”
Joe [00:49:01] There is no minute.
Dave [00:49:02] Yeah, it’s on to the next call.
Yeardley [00:49:05] That seems counterintuitive in every way.
Joe [00:49:08] It is in every way, but that was the greatest thing about me doing that TV show, is therapeutic for me.
Yeardley [00:49:14] The Homicide Hunter?
Joe [00:49:16] Oh, absolutely. I’d never had discussed cases to the depth that I had, either just now with you or as I did on that television show. And I felt better after that. As the years went on, that show was on for nine seasons, and I felt immensely better, because as Dan says, I had to keep some of those bottles, and the rattling wasn’t quite as loud.
Yeardley [00:49:41] That’s well said. Well, Joe, thank you so much for that. What an extraordinary story.
Joe [00:49:49] Oh, there’s more, my dear. [laughs]
Yeardley [00:49:53] [chuckles] We’ll take all you got. You– I mean, I can’t even say enough about you. We’re so happy that you’re here. Thank you.
Joe [00:50:01] Oh, you’re welcome.
Dan [00:50:01] Great to have you, Joe.
Dave [00:50:02] Absolutely.
Joe [00:50:03] Thanks for having me.
Yeardley [00:50:09] Small Town Dicks is produced by Gary Scott and Yeardley Smith, and co-produced by detectives, Dan and Dave. This episode was edited by Logan Heftel, Gary Scott, and me, Yeardley Smith. Our associate produces are Erin Gaynor and The Real Nick Smitty. Our music is composed by John Forest. Our editors extraordinaire are Logan Heftel and Soren Begin. And our books are cooked and cats wrangled by Ben Cornwell.
Dan [00:50:37] If you like what you hear and want to stay up to date with the show, visit us on our website at smalltowndicks.com.
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Yeardley [00:51:22] That’s right. Your subscription also makes it possible for us to keep going to Small Towns across the country.
Dan [00:51:28] In search of the finest rare true crime cases told, as always, by the detectives who investigated them.
Dave [00:51:35] So, thanks for listening, Small Town Fam.
Yeardley [00:51:37] Nobody’s better than you.