Retired Detective Lieutenant Joe Kenda didn’t expect to have a second career as a true crime television star after leaving the police force.
Kenda spent 23 years with the Colorado Springs Police Department, serving as a homicide detective and major crimes unit commander, where he and his team solved 356 of the 387 homicide cases. But his deep voice, business stories and sense of humor eventually landed him the performance of ‘Homicide Hunter: Lt. Joe Kenda,” a true crime documentary series that ran for nine seasons from 2011-2020 on Investigation Discovery.
In each episode, Kenda recounted one of his cases in detail with the help of some of the victims’ families and others who were on the scene as a cast reenacted the crimes for television. It was a hit and gave Kenda the opportunity to write two books, including “I Will Find You: Solving Killer Cases from My Life Fighting Crime” in 2017, and his latest, “Killer Triggers”, which has just been released in paperback.
“It’s very therapeutic for me,” he said of writing the books and hosting TV appearances during a recent phone interview from his home in Virginia. “All the years I did that for a living, I didn’t talk much about it with anyone. Including my wife. When she watched the show when it first started, instead of watching the show, she looked at me. I said, ‘What are you looking at?’ She said, “I never knew you did that.” So it’s been good for me to let go of the emotion and it makes me feel a lot better.”
In “Killer Triggers”, Kenda goes deep into 10 of his cases and examines the triggers, or motives, behind each one. Those triggers include greed, fear, anger, revenge, drugs, lust, and in some cases multiple triggers all firing at once.
“The common thing about people is that they’re often dangerous,” said Kenda, who noted that it’s hard to say which trigger is most common. “It depends on the individual, because some people are more driven by certain things than others. But revenge, that’s a big one. The other is jealousy. It all depends on the personality involved and what sets that ball of violence in motion, because that ball of violence is inside all of us. Human nature never changes. Whatever you say, whatever you arrange, however much you complain; People are what they are.”
While discussing these cases, Kenda continued with what was happening to his home life at the time. His wife, Kathy, and two children, Kris and Dan, were with him on this wild ride. He writes about not being home as often as he’d like and about the real dangers his family faced as a result of his career.
“I think the reading public, or I hope the reading public, finds that interesting,” he said of his personal life along with true crime stories. “I thought it was important that they understood me a little. I am not one sided. I have multiple sides and I wanted to show that sometimes you have to juggle all this and keep all the balls in the air all the time; It is not easy.”
While writing, hosting and performing at true crime conventions keeps him busy now, Kenda said he’s happy to report that he’s still enjoying some of the benefits of his retirement.
“I can spend time with my kids and my wife and travel and we enjoy and don’t talk about this,” he said. “I also don’t have as much PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) as I did. The best way to describe PTSD is that you have a nightmare while awake. It’s very bizarre and sometimes it takes 15 or 20 seconds, but it’s intense.”
He said he does see an improvement in mental health treatment with police forces that have psychologists or psychologists on the payroll. The difficulty, he said, is getting those in the Corps to say, “Hey, I need help.”
“I would try all the time to advise people, some unsuccessfully and others successfully,” he said, pointing out that he clearly sees an advantage in talking to someone about some of the more stressful scenarios law enforcement faces on a daily basis.
“You need to talk to someone other than the mirror because whatever you say to yourself doesn’t seem to work,” Kenda said he would tell others. “You also have to have a different perspective to realize that the world isn’t just filled with animals.”
Kenda launched a new TV show last year, “American Detective with Lt. Joe Kenda”, which is currently streaming on Discovery+. Having shared so much of his cases in the first show, the new series throws the spotlight on other detectives across the country who have gone to great lengths to put killers behind bars.
“I wanted to show law enforcement because we get bad press, which is normal,” he said. “I want people to understand that I am not a lone ranger; many people do this for a living and they do it very well. Whether in a small town or a big city, it doesn’t matter. These people work like dogs for little or no money because they want to get the bad guy. It’s an honorable profession if you do it right. Now we have people in that business that shouldn’t be in that business and we’re trying to identify those people, but that’s also difficult. You must remember that we must recruit our members from the ranks of the human race. That is always a problem.”
“It always goes back to humans as the problem.”