During his 20–year career as a detective with the Colorado Springs Police Department, Lieutenant Joe Kenda solved 356 out of 387 murders—five of them cold cases that had gone unsolved for decades—to end up with a staggering 92% success rate and a reputation as one of the most successful crime fighters in history.
And, as is obvious to anyone who's ever watched Homicide Hunter—the No. 1 Investigation Discovery show on which Kenda narrates the details of his cases—he’s also one of the most quotable tough guys to ever put on a badge. With lines like “You want sympathy? Look it up in the dictionary. It’s right between shit and syphilis,” it’s not surprising that Kenda quotes have turned into a meme.
In our exclusive interview, we spoke with Kenda about his incredible career as one of America's most dogged detectives. Here, in all their shocking detail, are his stories.
Joe Kenda Doesn't Need No Damn TV Script
On our first day of shooting, they handed me something. I looked at it and said, “What’s that?” They said it was a script. I said, “I’m not an actor. I’m a policeman. You want an actor? Go hire one. I’ll get on a plane and go back to Colorado.” “Well, you have to.” “No, I don’t.” So I told them, “I’ll tell you what, turn the camera on. I’ll tell you about this case for 15 minutes. You don’t like it, I’ll read that.” “All right.” So they turned it on. 15 minutes later, I said, “Well?” “We don’t need that.” There hasn’t been a script since. I do it out of my head. I say what I want.
They just take the profanity out—well, not all of it.
"Any Policeman Who Says He's Not Afraid Is Out of His Mind or Lying"
Fear is your body’s way of telling you you’re about to engage in something potentially fatal. Fear is a good thing. It alerts you, focuses the mind. Have you ever been really afraid? I’ve been so afraid I get a metal taste in my mouth. I can hear my heart beat. I can hear myself breathe. Everything around me suddenly goes into slow motion.
Those kinds of things happen all the time. You can be in situations where all of a sudden something is so dangerous you know that your life could end right here and right now, and you’d better do the right thing. Because if you don’t, you’ll never see anybody you know again because you’re going to be dead. But you swallow that fear and do your job, you proceed.
A Spring-Loaded Door Almost Got Him Killed
On one occasion, a bunch of us go to arrest someone for murder, a guy who’d strangled his ex-girlfriend. We beat on the door and he opens it, and I happen to be the guy in front, so I force my way in. But the door is spring-loaded—I’d never seen an apartment door that was spring-loaded, but this one was—so when I push in, the door slams shut, and all my guys are locked outside.
So I’m in there alone with this guy. He’s trying to pull something from behind his back—it turned out to be a knife—but I push him against the wall. I have him pinned against the wall, and I’m thinking it’s taking my guys a couple of weeks to break in this door. It takes like two seconds for them to do it, or less, but it seems like forever. While I have him pinned, he can’t get his hand out from behind his back because I have him crushed against the wall, and he’s yelling at me. Then I hear noise behind me, and I think, “Oh, shit,” because I can’t defend myself—If I let him go, he’s going to kill me.
I look over my shoulder, and it’s a dog. The dog just sits there. He knows whatever this is, it’s really bad. He doesn’t bark. He doesn’t do anything. He just sits there and looks at me and I think, “Thank God you’re a dog and not a guy with a gun.”