When a homicide detective gets to the end of their career, they normally look forward to days spent whiling away their time fly fishing, playing golf and looking after their grandchildren. Decades of staring into a murderous abyss tend to make a person want to forget the horrors they’ve witnessed.
Not so for retired Colorado Springs Police Department detective Lt. Joe Kenda. This grizzled ex-cop will always live and breathe homicide investigation. It’s part of what made him such a good cop. For some two decades, Kenda worked on 387 murder cases, solving 356 of them. That's an enviable - and almost unheard of - case closure rate of 92%.
After he hung up his trenchcoat, Kenda spent some time as a bus driver for a special needs school before a chance meeting saw him thrust into the limelight. Soon he would thrill television audiences fronting Homicide Hunter. With his craggy features, dry humour and characteristically deadpan delivery, Kenda gripped millions with his incredibly vivid recollections of the murder cases he worked on.
In his 19 years on the job, Lt. Joe saw it all. Few people on the planet have experienced the psychology of murder quite as intensely as he has. As you’d imagine, the man’s learned some seriously fascinating but twisted things about the killer side of the human psyche.
Here are some of the more grimly intriguing:
There are 3 main reasons why people are driven to kill
Years of tracking down killers taught Lt. Kenda that there are a very limited number of overarching motives for murder…
There’s money, of course. It makes the world go round, after all. Folk will do almost anything to get rich. Then there’s sex. Love, lust and jealousy can cause even the most reasonable person to lose control. Finally, there’s revenge. A feeling of righteousness is powerful and can drive someone to take another’s life.
Joe says: ‘When people get involved in violence, they have a reason. It might be a completely insane reason, but it's a reason. And they fall into three general headline categories: money first, sex next and revenge last. There are many, many subheadings under each of those headlines.’
‘Money for nonpayment, money for believed debt on and on and on. It goes on and on. Sex, the triangle, the sexual assault candidate who likes to kill his victims, huge list there. Revenge, over what? Over lost love, lost money, lost property, something.’
‘Insanity’ is rarely a legitimate murder plea
It could be argued by some that anyone who kills another human being is insane to one degree or another and it makes for an interesting concept. However, the degree of insanity often proffered by criminal defence attorneys is often at odds with what it takes to plan and execute such a crime.
According to Kenda, the forethought and implementation of such a heinous act generally require a fairly level head.
Joe says: ‘People who are insane cannot hold something together for longer than a few minutes. They can't execute a plan, they can't create one. They may have a moment when they consider hurting someone. The moment passes quickly, or they forget about it, or they don't remember who it is they hate, and so on. So there they live in a state of common and total confusion and it never results in action. It results in conversation, it results in emotional things, but it rarely results in pulling any triggers or picking up any knives or crystal ashtrays.'
Sociopaths are the most dangerous murderers of all
Of all the different categories of killers, with all the various different drivers, motives, triggers and mental health issues, they may endure, those with sociopathy are the most dangerous of all.
Kenda has been up close and personal with plenty of psychopaths and sociopaths and says that their total lack of empathy means that they can rarely be rehabilitated. Sociopaths, especially.
Joe says: ‘When you encounter one, you have to put him in a cage. Because he kills and likes it. I met a guy, the first guy I ever encountered who killed multiple victims, was devoid of all emotion. Just devoid. He is under arrest for three counts of murder in another jurisdiction. I have him brought to my location because I want to talk to him about my killing. Now you would think he’d be pretty distressed having come into another police department about another murder. He’s sitting in an interview room in handcuffs and belly chains and County Jail coveralls and he’s asleep on his forearm because he’s bored.’
Drugs are a huge trigger for murder
Across the world, narcotics are a blight. There’s the growing of it all in South America, Asia and beyond and the exploitation that comes with their production. Then there’s the criminality involved in the logistics and distribution throughout the rest of the world. And, of course, the damage done to the health of users. But it goes even deeper than that.
Lt. Kenda says that a good two-thirds of all murders in the western world are because of drugs in some respect.
Joe says: ‘Paying for them, attempting to buy them, attempting to steal them and mistakenly not paying for them. People who sell drugs often get high on their own supply. They shoot the wrong guy because they think he owes them money and he doesn't.’
Victims almost always know their killer
Serial killers get a lot of attention because of the sheer brutality and the seemingly random nature of their victim selections. The truth is though, they’re extremely rare. Most murders have very real motives. Homicides are usually the result of anger, spite, jealousy, revenge or a deal gone bad. The killer knows their victim and wants to see them die.
Joe says: 'There's only 5% of homicides that occur for strangers. So you have a 95% chance of being killed by someone you know well. Five per cent of murders are committed by people who just like to kill people and those are the serial killers, there're very few of those.’
Lt. Joe Kenda. Homicide Hunter. Law enforcement legend.