BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) -- Homicide Hunter Joe Kenda appeared at the South Central Kentucky Crime Stoppers annual breakfast for the second straight year Wednesday.
Joe and Kathy Kenda
Joe was an intense investigator whose determination and ability to read people made him the perfect person to solve murders for the Colorado Springs Police Department for 19 years. Hard to believe his successful career in law enforcement started with a childhood visit to the Pittsburgh Zoo.
"And the primate house has a sign in front of it that says 'Around this corner is the most dangerous animal on Earth,'" said Joe, "and I, like everyone else, ran around that corner. And it was a mirror from ceiling to floor. And the adults were all disappointed and complaining. And it transfixed me. I thought 'Well there's a sign, the sign said. Are these people the most dangerous?' And the answer is 'Yes they are.' That's why animals run from us. They know what we are." And the Homicide Hunter was born.
To Joe Kenda, solving murders as a Colorado Springs Police detective was more than a job, it was a mission. He cleared an unheard of 92% of the cases he worked.
How good is he? He knew Chris Watts, the Colorado man now serving a life sentence for killing his pregnant wife and two daughters, was guilty the first time he saw him on TV.
"And I told her, I said, 'He killed 'em. All three of 'em,'" Joe said. "When he's standing there talking to that press person what was he doing? He had his arms folded. He's protecting himself. He's pacing. He's looking back and forth. He won't look at the camera. He won't look at the reporter. He doesn't want to make eye contact. He's being supposedly distraught, but his body says he's guilty as sin. And two days later they arrested him."
Joe had a passion for solving murders. He threw himself into his work, which meant his wife, Kathy, had to manage their family of four alone. "He's a very determined person," Kathy told me. "He's very intense. And I did all the rest of the stuff in the house. I raised the kids, I cut the grass, I worked. He was gone most of the time."
But what about the stress of being a police officer's spouse?
"And you get people that work in offices who are very intense," said Kathy. "it's the same thing. There's not a whole lot of difference. The difference is military and us, they have a gun stuck in their face every once-in-a-while. And that's different. But the rest of it's the same."
But after more than 19 years of waiting and worrying if Joe was going to come home in one piece, Kathy had had enough.
"He called me I think at about six o'clock in the morning," Kathy recalls, "and said he was going to go out and arrest somebody. He is now a lieutenant. He can send the sergeant and patrol to go out and arrest somebody. But not him. He has to go."
"But the problem was that he never called me back to say that they had done the arrest, and this was a bad guy."
Kathy still hadn't heard from Joe at 5:00 p.m., or at 8:00 p.m. She's seen nothing on the news about the arrest, so she's understandably concerned.
"One o'clock in the morning he came in," Kathy said. "Now he could have picked up the phone and called me. But he didn't. And that was it. And I said, 'That's it. You're done. Either you retire or you send the troops out to do this arresting'. I said 'You are too old and you are too slow. And I want you coming home every night.'"
"When she's really angry with me," Joe revealed, "she calls me by my last name. And she pointed at me and said, 'Kenda, I can't wait for you to come home any more.' Yes, ma'am. And that was the end of that. I was there on Friday and I wasn't there on Monday. No ceremony, no nothin'. Good-by."
And that is how Joe Kenda's career as a Colorado Springs Police detective ended. But not one to sit back and do nothing, Joe's about to start taping his ninth season of the Homicide Hunter on the Investigation Discovery channel. He's a terrific story teller, and he has a lot more stories to tell.