The crown jewel of Investigation Discovery’s slate of true crime hit series is Lt. Joe Kenda and Homicide Hunter, a reenacted dramatic retelling of Kenda’s most notable cases.
The series is back Wednesday for the final ninth season, but fans breathed a sigh of relief at the last IDCon back in May in New York City when Kenda revealed ID would be fashioning another project for him after the Dangerous Minds panel.
He was the marquee closer of the day-long event that saw all the top talent of the network rub shoulders with fans who got an intimate, immersive experience and reveled in their love of the true-crime genre with like-minded folks.
The series is based on the career of the retired Colorado Springs, Colorado, Police Department Lt. Joe Kenda and his murder files are brought to life in scenes re-creating the events by producers Jupiter Entertainment.
Kenda’s rationale expressed at IDCon was to end Homicide Hunters while at the top of his game.
By the numbers, he is an efficient law enforcement professional. He has investigated 387 homicide cases, solving 356, a closure rate of 92%. He has been married only once — to his high school sweetheart, Kathy, formally known as Mary Kathleen Mohler Kenda, since 1967 and together they have two accomplished grown children.
The premiere of the new season sees Kenda investigate what turns out to be a serial killer as he tries to solve a cold case, the murder of a young mother Cynthia McLuen, found frozen in a deserted cemetery.
Unquestionably, Kenda’s long-running series has entertained the true-crime addicts, or #IDaddicts as they are known, but he is keenly aware of the enlightenment he has given many who found themselves in abusive and potentially lethal relationships to better inform them on how to take precautions in this dangerous world in which we live.
Monsters and Critics spoke to Lt. Joe Kenda today and covered a lot of ground:
Monsters and Critics: I haven’t seen or talked with you since IDCON in May…
Joe Kenda: I know. I’ve been hiding.
M&C: You’re in the ID protection program. Senior VP of production Sara Kozak, she’s got plans for you, I understand.
Joe Kenda: Oh yeah. There’s a new series that will start in the fall of 2020.
M&C: Sara had mentioned that ID just won’t quit you…
Joe Kenda: [laughs] Apparently not. Yes. Well, I could tell you [more] if I knew, but I really don’t. It’s still in the development stage, and they haven’t even named it yet. All they know for certain is I’m going to star in it, so I suppose, at some point, they have to tell me.
But, they haven’t told me anything as of yet. It’s supposed to premiere in the fall of 2020. Season nine will premiere tomorrow night, and it will run from now until probably the second week of February. Then, there will be a break, and then there will be a new show, whatever that new show is. They’ve had several working titles, all of which they’ve thrown away. Right now it doesn’t have one.
I recommended they call it ‘Hey You,’ but they didn’t like that.
M&C: I’m sure Henry [Schleiff, group president of Investigation Discovery, Travel Channel, American Heroes Channel, and Destination America] and Sara [Kozak] both keep you on speed dial on the phone because they love what you do for the network.
Joe Kenda: I’ve spent a lifetime talking to the press, long before I became part of ID, and I’m very good at having nothing to say, you know? We had one occasion, I’ll put somebody in a police car. “Is he a suspect?” And my response would be, “No. He’s assisting us with our inquiries.” Whatever that means. You figure out what that means. You know?
M&C: Funny. So, for your birthday, I understand, they’re having the premiere. Was that coincidental?
Joe Kenda: It’s coincidental, total accident. I don’t think they knew that at all, but it is on my birthday. Yeah. Tomorrow. Yeah. Happy birthday to me. Although, anymore, I don’t celebrate them. I’m too old. You know?
M&C: Your wife is delightful. She had the audience at IDCON wrapped around her finger.
Joe Kenda: Oh, she always does. She does that in airports. I mean, she can do that with perfect strangers. She’s remarkable.
M&C: Do you think that your new ID effort might even include any kind of insight from the wife of someone who served in law enforcement for so long?
Joe Kenda: I don’t know. It possibly could, but I really don’t know. But, I would think yes. They could do that. But I don’t know whether they would or not.
M&C: Would she be open to it?
Joe Kenda: Of course…she likes it. We just finished the last episode of season nine, and it’s an episode that will have Kathy interviewed, and my children interviewed a second time.
So, everybody has their chance to offer their say for the final episode of season nine. Yeah, she enjoys it. She likes to do it.
Plus, she gets the full Hollywood war paint makeup. She kind of likes that, too. You know?
M&C: Okay, well, one of the things you said in a past interview was that Homicide Hunter was probably the most accurate portrayal of what happens in a homicide investigation.
Joe Kenda: I think so, yeah.
M&C: You’re not trying to fill the shoes of Homicide Hunter for the new show, I would imagine then.
Joe Kenda: No…No, it’s not going to be anything close to that. I’m even not going to wear the blue shirt or the gray suit, for God’s sake. I’ll be wearing something different. How about that? There’s a shocking piece of news. That the uniform is going away finally, my 14,000 blue shirts and my 900 gray suits are being put out to pasture.
M&C: You have a great laugh, and you have a wonderful sense of humor. Is that a survival technique?
Joe Kenda: Yes. Well, it is. It’s a defense mechanism. There are two options when you see what I’ve seen. You can cry all the time, or you can laugh, and crying gets very old. Laughing is a much better way to go. It just is.
I, unfortunately, have seen humanity at its worst and that’s unfortunate. And I’d love to be able to forget that, but I can’t because I have an excellent memory, unfortunately.
M&C: You said something very interesting to me at IDCON. You said there aren’t enough jails and there aren’t enough prisons for the people that need to be in them. Can you elaborate on that?
Joe Kenda: That’s true. There are many, many people who are never discovered, are never found, are never identified who go through life committing one crime after another. If they’re awake, they’re doing something criminal, and they don’t get discovered. They don’t get found by luck, by chance, by whatever, and they’re out there wandering around doing what they do, and that’s unfortunate.
That’s the difficulty with a democracy, we have freedom in this country, and that has its problems. Freedom is messy. People get killed. Bad things happen in the name of freedom.
Winston Churchill said, “A democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others.” He’s probably right.
M&C: Another question that I asked you at IDCON, and I want you to elaborate on what you said, there’s this huge push right now in the media with Jay-Z, and Van Jones, and the Redemption Project and REFORM Alliance…How do you feel about that?
Joe Kenda: Well, I object to people who have opinions about the criminal justice system who are not a participant. If you’re not a participant in this system and you don’t really understand it, you have an opinion that you want to offer and you have the notoriety to do so, well that’s fine. You’re certainly entitled to it.
But you’re not really a person that can speak to the real core issue, which is how this system works. Is it perfect? Of course not. It’s designed and operated by humans. It can’t be perfect.
There are mistakes that get made. People go to jail who shouldn’t be in jail, all that sort of thing happens. It happens in relatively small numbers, but it does happen. And to say that it doesn’t happen, you’d be a fool to believe that this system is so well managed that it doesn’t make mistakes because it does.
But that doesn’t mean that we have to throw the system away because of the mistakes that were made. It means those mistakes have to be corrected when they’re discovered. It’s pretty simple.
So, to make an announcement that we’re just going to forgive everybody and turn them loose, well now wait a minute. You know? Why don’t we identify the problems you describe and resolve those rather than a blanket amnesty for everybody that’s ever been arrested? You can’t do that either.
M&C: I don’t think that they’re offering that. I think that they feel a lot of people on drug issues or non-violent charges are thrown away for too long because of their poverty…
Joe Kenda: Well, laws are written and passed by the legislatures and states. It is states’ rights. It’s not the position of the federal government or even the ability to interfere with that.
And states respond to the criminal activity by, on occasion, establishing Draconian sentencing rules where the judge is placed in a position of having to use the rule as it’s written.
So, if you’re convicted of a particular crime that the location decides is horrible, like armed robbery or burglary of an occupied home or something like that, then they have this serious penalty against someone who is convicted of that crime.
And they’re put in jail for an extended period of time. When, maybe that same person in another state who committed that same crime, would not be sentenced to that level of years. But that’s based upon how the law is written and not how it’s enforced.
The judge has no option. Sentencing laws are sentencing laws, as the name implies. So, if his body of law in the state where he resides says, “This guy is going to do 40 years for armed robbery,” Well then, he’s going to do 40 years for armed robbery.
And maybe a guy, a state next door, is going to do two years. The same crime and everybody says, unfair. Well, no it isn’t. It’s based upon state by state by state.
M&C: Yes, I think people can’t wrap their heads around that kind of discrepancy.
Joe Kenda: No.
M&C: Well, in your new season, is there a particular case that you’re most anxious for your fans to dive into? Is there one that sticks out?
Joe Kenda: Oh, I think they’re all very good. People often ask me, what’s the worst case you’ve ever seen? My answer is always the same — every one of them.
Violent death is violent death. There is no better or worse level of violent death. It’s all absolutely horrible. And every one is very much the same. To me, they’re all the same.
People have their favorites. They watch them. It’s entertainment from that perspective. Actually doing the work was not entertainment. It was the work.
So, I never had that position to be able to say this is more important than that. No, no it isn’t. Every case is important. Every human life is. If someone has lost them to a senseless act of violence, we have to do something about that. And that’s the job I had.
M&C: Well, to your point, what you said at the very beginning of this interview was that so many are never caught. It seems like the people that murder, the cases that you are involved in. The victim and perp are related somehow…
Joe Kenda: Well, 95% of all homicides occur between people who know each other for some reason. They’re emotionally involved, they’re financially involved, they’re business partners, co-workers, operators of an illegal business, operators of a narcotics cartel, whatever.
They’re people who have knowledge of each other and, therefore, a motive has developed. Right? Because they’re in contact.
Only 5% of murders are stranger killings. And that’s where a serial killer can get lost in the shuffle, when there’s no connection between his murder that he just committed and five others that have been committed, say, in three other states. How do we find this guy?
Well, this first episode of the new season is precisely that. We pursue a guy in our murder case assuming all he did was kill our girl and, oh boy, were we wrong.
Yeah, so, of course. That’s how people wander around. They don’t do similar offenses, and they don’t do it in the same place. Most people who commit those offenses do so because they live there, they work there, they’re connected to the victim, which is how they develop the hatred for the victim because they’re connected to them.
Serial killer kills because he likes it. He doesn’t care who he kills. Men, women…You know? So, it’s a whole different thing, and that’s why those people often escape attention.
There was a guy in Houston, in Texas, whose name was Dean Corll, who received very little press coverage, he killed over 30 people. And when he was discovered, his teenage assistant [Elmer Wayne Henley] who had helped him get victims, shot him to death in his home. When the police arrived, a policeman very wisely asked the kid, who is there with a gun in his hand, “What happened here?” Rather than making any accusations, “What happened here?”
And this kid says, “I knew I’d be next.”
“What do you mean next?”
And then he took them to the gravesites, where they were burying all these missing children they’d been murdering.
People get discovered inadvertently, sometimes. But, they’re still out there, still wandering around doing what they do. That’s what makes them so dangerous. The only saving grace is there are very few of those people. You have to be totally sociopathic, and there’s very few of those.
Homicide Hunter begins its final and ninth season on Investigation Discovery at 9 PM on Aug. 28.