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Who is Lieutenant Joe Kenda? | 10 little known facts about Homicide Hunter

He has solved almost all of the 400 cases he has come across in his career, with an astonishing 92% solve rate.

A 23-year veteran of the Colorado Springs Police Department detective, Lieutenant Joseph Kenda worked in homicide for over 19 years. He has solved almost all of the 400 cases he has come across in his career, with an astonishing 92% solve rate. In Homicide Hunter, he looks back over his career and the cases he has worked on.Joseph Kenda was born in Pennsylvania on 28 August, 1946. He was fascinated with true crime from a young age and talks about a trip he made to Pittsburgh Zoo, when he saw a sign pointing the way to “the most dangerous animal on earth.” When Kenda followed the sign, he found himself looking into a mirror. He realised that “Animals kill for need. Humans kill for pleasure.”

Originally looking to pursue a career in the Foreign Service, Kenda studied political science at university and did a Master’s in international relations at Ohio State University in 1970. However, he changed his mind after he attended a classified briefing.In 1973, Kenda moved with his wife—his high school girlfriend Mary Mohler— and two children to Colorado Springs, where he joined the police department. Kenda spent over 19 years working in homicide. Over time, he was promoted to detective and eventually put in charge of the homicide unit. During the course of his tenure, he worked on some of the department’s most high-profile homicide cases.

One of the most prominent cases Kenda worked on was the murder of Dianne Hood in 1990, a case known as the ‘Fatal Attraction’ killing that Kenda said, “met the standard for a Hollywood plot”. Hood was shot twice on her way out of a Lupis support meeting in what was dressed up to look like a mugging gone wrong.

Police later found out that Hood had actually been at the centre of a love triangle and had been killed by her husband’s mistress, Jennifer Reali. Reali and Brian Hood were sentenced to life and 37 years in prison respectively.The brutal 1995 murder of pregnant woman Yvonne Sisneros and her two children is what Kenda cites as his most memorable case. Sisneros and her children were stabbed multiple times with different objects and their heads crushed with free weights. James Joseph Perry was arrested and went to trial for the crime, but was acquitted by the jury. He was later found dead after being thrown from a ten storey window.

Kenda also has ties to one of Colorado’s most notorious unsolved cases: the murder of JonBenet Ramsey. Although he was retired at the time of the murder, he was brought in to consult. Kenda blames deficiencies that occurred at the beginning of the investigation for the fact that the murderer has never been found.

Kenda’s wife always worried that he’d be killed on the job and in 1996, he retired from the force. Retirement didn’t suit him though, and when he was approached about revisiting his past cases for a television programme, he accepted.

Joe Kenda
Joe Kenda | Image: Homicide Hunter

10 little known facts about 'Homicide Hunter'

A true crime favourite, Homicide Hunter sees Lieutenant Joe Kenda, a retired former detective, discuss how he and his team at Colorado Springs Police Department solved their murder investigations. Dig a little deeper into the programme with these facts about the show and its lead detective.

1. Its star had a top solve rate for cases

Joe Kenda worked for the Colorado Springs Police Department for 23 years. During his time as a detective and commander of the major crimes unit, his team’s solve rate was 92%, one of the highest in the country with the national average being not much over 50%. Kenda attributes this to being ‘stubborner’ than anyone else, but he’s still bothered by the ones he didn’t manage to solve.

2. Kenda’s first case appeared in the show

Kenda was working in a different division of the force, in burglary, but his interest was always in homicide. He saw his chance when he volunteered to take on an attempted murder case that other detectives had deemed unsolvable. He solved it and was moved to the homicide division. The case is the focus of the season four finale.

3. Homicide Hunter became therapy

With each episode narrated by Kenda, the former detective has discussed hundreds of cases over the nine series - something he hadn’t ever done before. While he was working, he chose to protect his family from the atrocities he had seen by refusing to discuss his work with them. But bottling up his experiences led to PTSD. It was one of the reasons he first agreed to do the programme, using it to work through the trauma incurred after years of exposure to terrible crimes. In fact, Kenda has said he has opened up more to the camera than he even told his wife and that it was quite therapeutic for him.

4. Kenda almost didn’t make the television show

Homicide Hunter came to be after a television series editor, Patrick Bryant, contacted Kenda about working on a programme. Bryant had seen Kenda on television during press conferences as part of his work as a detective. Bryant wrote two letters to Kenda about his idea, both of which Kenda threw away. It was only after the third letter that Kenda agreed to talk to him.

5. It isn’t scripted

Kenda refused to read a script, choosing instead to narrate everything from memory. Kenda would talk for four to five hours about each case, usually covering two cases for two separate episodes, each time. The interviews would then be transcribed and used for the re-enactments, as well as being cut and edited for the episode. With Kenda choosing the case to focus on at the start of each interview, the entire episode began there.

6. Real homicide hunters are fans

Homicide Hunter is a popular show with millions of fans tuning in for Kenda’s insights into his old cases, but possibly even more impressively, those fans include other police officers. As Kenda said, it’s ‘because it’s real’.

7. There are cases the show won’t cover

Homicide Hunters might have nine series, but some cases never appeared on it. Kenda refused to talk about cases involving very young victims, as well as the cases that were too simple and therefore, not interesting enough.

8. There are over 100 episodes

Not every television series hits 100 episodes, but Homicide Hunters reached this important milestone in season seven. It continued to run for an extra two seasons and 44 more episodes after this. That’s a lot of solved cases!

9. It inspired a wine

He might be retired from the police force, but since appearing on the programme, Kenda has found plenty of new challenges to take on. As well as a book deal, the detective has his own signature wine inspired by a catchphrase on the programme, ‘My my my’.

10. Kenda’s toughest case appears

The case that ultimately prompted Kenda to retire from the police force is covered in Homicide Hunter’s final episode.

Seasons 1-8 of Homicide Hunter are available to watch now on Crime + Investigation Play.