Lt. Joe Kenda on Homicide Hunter: Never Give Up, Euphoric Feeling of Solving a Case After 34 Years


Lt. Joe Kenda has been fighting crime for decades, including one sharing his thoughts on his years of detective work in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

After nine years as ID’s Homicide Hunter, Kenda continued with American Detective, bringing light to cases across the nation, and highlighting the work of homicide detectives everywhere.

Now, Kenda is back with more from his career, as he shares three cases with viewers that were still unsolved at the time of his retirement.

When you hold the record for the number of cases solved, leaving any behind is a heavy burden.

When I remarked that I never realized how dangerous it was to live in Colorado Springs, Kenda reminded me that a lot goes into the murder rates in any area.

“If you put that many people in a place, then a certain number of people get killed. It’s the way it is. A lot of things impact the homicide rate. The biggest thing is the skill of modern doctors. Healthcare has improved enormously,” Kenda said.

“When they used to write people off as at ‘death’s door’ and goodbye, they don’t do that anymore. They have trauma surgeons; they have helicopters; they have the golden hour; they have IVs; they have all this. So people who should have died, and it was the intention of the perpetrator that they did die, survive.”

Kenda said the more important statistic in his line of work is the assault rate, as it’s indicative of the number of times someone intends to kill the victim.

“They just don’t get it done. They don’t shoot them enough or stab them in the right place. That rate is out of control in this country, always has been. We’re a violent country. One born in violence.”

While I lamented that thought, Kenda didn’t because we also need people to solve crimes, and he’s a crime solver. “Yes. Yes, I am. And people need to live in a box, and I put a lot of people in there,” he said.

Now that we understand the scope of criminal statistics relating to assaults and murders, his 92% rate of arrests for murders under his purview is even more impressive. Even when celebrating that accomplishment, Kenda remains stoic.

“Not that that means anything. Well, it’s the old story. You can make numbers say anything you want. You can say 92% of my cases are resolved by arrest and say, ‘Boy, that’s a really smart guy,’ or I’m a dumb shit who doesn’t know who killed 8% of the people. It all depends on how you look at it.”

Kenda says that getting the opportunity to revisit some that fell in that eight percent is remarkable. “I spent my adult life in court, of course, and then I retired, and I never returned to a courtroom because there was no need for me to do so.

“And then, all of a sudden last year, in June of 2021, I go back to court. The difference being that this time, I have a certain amount of notoriety. So when I walked in that courtroom, you could hear a pin drop. Everybody’s staring at me like, ‘That’s that guy.’ Yes, it is. And even the jury sat up straight, so it was interesting.”

If you’ve wondered why we know so little about those cases Kenda didn’t solve, Colorado law forbids anyone from discussing unsolved cases in the public arena, and Kenda wasn’t eager to find himself on the other side of the law.

Now, his case statistics have gone from 31 to 28 unsolved, and Kenda is very excited to bring the details to viewers with the Homicide Hunter: Never Give Up trilogy. And he was eager to discuss the first case, airing tonight at 10/9c on ID. He was not going to share any details on the two upcoming events.

“There’s this first one, and then there are two others, which we’re not going to discuss, of course, because I would have to kill you and your family. It would be murder on an industrial scale. We don’t want to go there,” Kenda quipped.

“And, oddly enough, it would be the Homicide Hunter to Homicide Hunter,” I replied.

Kenda may not get goofy on screen or by phone, but he’s got a sharp sense of humor, which no doubt helps explain why he’s such a successful TV personality.

They’re bringing these three recently solved cases to screen in the feature-length format because Kenda trusts the executive producers and the network he’s worked with for so long. He knows they work hard and deliver only the very best to viewers.

We are certainly excited to spend a little more with Kenda on these critical cases. To begin with, Kenda will present the case of young G.I. Darlene Krashoc, who was raped, murdered, and left naked in the snow on St. Patrick’s Day, 1997.

Of the crime, Kenda says, “It’s apparent that this is not where this crime occurred; it’s where the victim was left, discarded in this alley. Discovered by two uniform patrol officers on routine activity at 5:30 in the morning. ‘Who are you, and how did you come to be in this alley?’

“Now, in this period of time, in 1987, there are no cellphones, there are no surveillance cameras, there’s no social media, none of that exists. It’s old-fashioned gumshoe detective work to find out who is responsible for this crime.

“When you kill someone, you are a ghost. We don’t know who you are. We need to turn that ghost into a first, middle, last name, and a date of birth. It’s very challenging work.”

Kenda continued, “This case report wound up being over 2000 pages long, before, finally, technology advances because science is a living, breathing thing. In 1987, there was a rumor that there was a doctor in England who devised a way to uniquely identify individuals based on their DNA sequencing.

“No one knew if it was going to work, no one knew how effective it would be, but it showed promise at the time. We were in the United States, not in England. And we said, ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could someday use that?’

So when I gathered the evidence in this murder case, I was aware of this process in England. And I argued that we need to preserve this in a very specific way, so it can be examined decades from now and maybe lead to the identity of someone involved if we don’t solve this.

“And everybody said, ‘Well that’s … it’s kind of … that’s …’ It’s expensive. You have to freeze the samples in liquid nitrogen. It’s not a simple thing. And it’s pricey. ‘But I said, ‘Hang on, maybe it’ll come to nothing, but maybe it will come to everything.’ And here we are.

“We fast forward to 2017. Technology has advanced remarkably in DNA technology, and they developed a new method, and they develop more and more testing and more and more ability to discover people based on their genealogy, based on their DNA profile, and how it matches against people who have responded to the various companies that offer you a genetic test.

“That you could submit your DNA, and they’ll tell you if you’re Irish or not. Okay, lots of people did that. They tend not to read the fine print.

“The fine print says, quite clearly, that you are surrendering your fourth amendment rights. That this is now public record. The police are part of the public, so we can examine those records to see if we can find a match.

“And because of the methods we used to preserve that evidence in 1987, they said, ‘Look at this. This is a third cousin of unknown individual number one. And one of which is the perpetrator.’ And one thing led to another, and it led us into a courtroom.

“And when that guy murdered that girl, he was 24 years old. When I walked past him at the defendant’s table, he is 58 years old, and he won’t look at me. I looked at him, and I said, ‘Well, hello, Michael. I’ve been looking for you for 34 years.’

It’s the kind of thing that gives you chills, that out there, lurking, are people living ordinary lives who committed atrocious crimes and were never caught. Cases like this give many people hope that their loved ones might get the justice they so richly deserve.

Finding justice for victims is important to Kenda for many reasons, one of which is that he knows firsthand the toll living without answers takes on those who need them.

“I suffer from an inability to sleep,” Kenda said. “I have recurring nightmares, a river of death flows by me at night, and my victims raise their arms, ‘Why didn’t you find out who did this to me?’ and on and on. It’s a price you pay for the work. The price is worth it, but it’s a price you pay. You never get over that. You never ever do.

“What did I not see? What did I not do? What question did I fail to ask that resulted in this never being resolved? And sometimes, in some cases, not because a criminal is a genius — that’s the furthest thing from the truth.

“He’s just lucky. Nobody sees him, nobody hears him, and he leaves no evidence of his passing. And the result is, who is he? He’s a ghost. In this particular case that this movie presents, the suspect’s name never appears in the 2000 pages plus of that report. Nobody knew who he was. Nobody did. Science found him the hard way.”

It’s extraordinary to imagine that not a single shred of evidence ever pointed Kenda and his team toward the man who murdered Ms. Kraschoc.

Now, after this case and the other two have been solved, Kenda says the feeling is euphoric.

“It’s like, ‘Well done.’ And also, the discovery in this first case, which is what we’re talking about, his discovery was meaningful to me because he’d never been discovered.

“It’s not someone we had overlooked; it’s not someone we had talked to six times and disregarded. He was a complete and total stranger to the victim and a complete and total stranger to us.

“In some ways, that’s gratifying, that at least it’s not because of some mistake that we made during the process of that investigation because we never, ever heard of this guy. But he’s the guy. And a jury of his peers determined he was.”

Adding to the difficulty of Ms. Krashoc’s case are the statistics surrounding the percentage of murders perpetrated on complete strangers.

Kenda explained. “It’s very low. Stranger killings are 2% to 5% of the homicides in this country. Homicide occurs between people that know each other for any number of reasons.

“They’re connected romantically; they’re in business together; they’re in illegal activity together; they confront each other in a bar; it’s because everybody knows everybody else.

“Two to five percent of killings are stranger killings. That’s where serial killers come into play. They don’t know who the victim is, and they don’t care. They get off on killing people, whoever that is. Men, women, kids, it doesn’t make any difference to them.

“So that’s why they’re so rare and why everybody tends to know their names, the ones that have been discovered, the serial killers. But stranger murders are very, very difficult because there’s no place to go. Normally, when you find a victim, your first thought is, ‘Tell me about this victim.’

“Where do they buy their gas? Where do they get their dry cleaning done? Where do they buy groceries? Where do they work? Who do they hang out with? Do they have a secret life? Do they use narcotics? Are they bisexual? Are they homosexual? Do they cheat on their wife or their husband? What is going on here?’

“Because somewhere in that circle, they met somebody that makes them look like this. And that’s 97% of the time. So you can’t think about what’s possible. You have to consider what is likely. Anything is possible. But let’s go with what’s likely, and see where this takes us. And that’s the key. That is the key.”

Even more extraordinary is that this guy (who lived in the same town that I eventually did in Colorado!) seemingly never committed another crime. “He was a senior communications engineer for a company, working in their IT department. Mr. Suburbia, except he happened to be a violent criminal.” Kenda called the murder a one-off.

“He has got one parking ticket in his life. Now you could argue a lot of different reasons why it was a one-off.

“During his interrogation, he said this girl reminded him of his ex-wife. Is his hatred for his ex-wife focused on this girl producing this violent crime? Maybe. Can you prove that? No. But it certainly wants to make you wonder. Why her? And why no one else?

“Could it be that he frightened himself when he saw what he was capable of and didn’t want to see that part of him anymore? That’s possible as well. But all of that is speculation.

“There is no evidence of him being involved in any sexual crime in the United States from 1987 to the moment he was arrested in his house in Thornton, Colorado.”

The first Homicide Hunter: Never Give Up, featuring the case of Ms. Krashoc’s murder, is riveting. It goes into great detail, and we are with the detectives as they solve the case every step of the way.

When programs like this are done well, it’s impossible not to identify with victims and demand justice for them. Ms. Krashoc was doing everything right in her life, but it just didn’t matter.

“No, it doesn’t matter,” Kenda agreed. “It doesn’t matter, huh? It just doesn’t. When people say that parents get closure with an arrest, that’s nonsense. There’s no such thing as closure. The loss of a loved one is a hole in your heart that never heals, ever, no matter what happens.

“It’s probably somewhat feeling better knowing the details, perhaps. No longer Mr. X, now it’s Michael David White, but still, that never stops. It never stops. There’s something fundamentally wrong with having to bury your child.”

You can catch the entire story on Homicide Hunter: Never Give Up tonight with Lt. Joe Kenda, who is currently putting the polishing touches on his first novel, on ID at 9/8c and again at midnight.

You don’t want to miss it!

Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.

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