American Detective is back for season two, and host Lt. Joe Kenda—a true crime legend—has no shortage of perplexing cases brought to him by the country’s best detectives.
Kenda is a career lawman and a Colorado Springs native who began his television career on the Investigation Discovery network show Homicide Hunter in 2011. The series put a human face on the people behind the scenes, as they covered gruesome and gripping cases until it came to an end in 2019.
The series made a star of Kenda, known for his dry humor, and complete respect for law enforcement binds every episode.
His compassion for victims and the detectives who solve the cases reflect the wisdom of his 23-year Colorado Springs Police Department veteran, where he spent 21 years chasing killers as a homicide detective and commander of the major crimes unit.
By numbers, Kenda’s track record is impressive. In his career, he had a 92 percent solve rate—one of the highest in the country.
After retiring from law enforcement, and Homicide Hunter: Lt. Joe Kenda, and with two books under his belt, I Will Find You and Killer Triggers, his returning series American Detective with Lt. Joe Kenda is back today and streaming on discovery+.
Exclusive interview with Lt. Joe Kenda
Monsters & Critics: Do the detectives reach out and contact you directly pitching their interesting cases? Or do you have a team of producers out there scouring and looking for these cases?Watch the Latest on our YouTube Channel
Lt. Joe Kenda: A team of producers looks for these. And then when they find one and they find cooperative departments and cooperative detectives, then I personally speak to the detectives involved by phone to discuss their case with them and so on. And then we do the show.
M&C: Curious to know if detectives who were fans of yours reached out to you personally?
Lt. Joe Kenda: No, but they are fans. I mean, everybody I spoke to mentioned that. The greatest compliment to me is that I have tremendous fans. Because they know what I have to say is legitimate. It’s not Hollywood.
M&C: You’ve frequently said that the most common triggers for homicide are money, sex, and revenge. And then there are subheadings: Fear. Rage. Madness. How many career cases in percentages involved juveniles in your career?
Lt. Joe Kenda: A pretty small number, actually. But some juveniles get involved in homicide. It is not as frequent as adults.
M&C: And stories involving children. Are they still off-limits as they were in Homicide Hunter?
Lt. Joe Kenda: Yes. I don’t do babies.
M&C: Is humor a common coping and survival mechanism for any lawman or woman?
Lt. Joe Kenda: Oh, it is a common mechanism. And the reason it is is you have two options. When your emotions get paid on the meter, you can cry or laugh. Laughing is much better than crying. It’s a release.
And you develop a gallows sense of humor. For example, I had a homicide once with a headless corpse. I didn’t even find the head. It’s obviously a female’s body.
And one of my guys says, ‘So, Lieutenant, why do you think the cause of death is?’ And my response? ‘Well, I’m not a doctor, but it seems to me, we don’t have all of her here.’ It’s just the way things go, you know? It’s the only protection you have from the emotion of the moment.
M&C: What do you wish people not in law enforcement knew about your job?
Lt. Joe Kenda: How dedicated the people are who do the work and that they have something in short supply these days in society at large: They have character and integrity.
M&C: You’ve also stated in other interviews that you don’t believe in closure, and in your opinion and your estimation, what’s the best thing for victim families to hope?
Lt. Joe Kenda: The truth. To find the truth and to find out why their loved one was taken away from them. And to know who is responsible for them, and to some degree justice, but it is not closure.
You cannot heal a hole in your heart. It will never go away.
M&C: How do detective develop their interrogation styles? How did you do it? And what was the most effective technique, in your opinion?
Lt. Joe Kenda: In my case, you have to find something that fits your personality. You can’t be somebody else when you’re interrogating. You have to be you. There are schools that teach interrogation techniques, which have been around forever, and that teach different things and talk about human nature and all this sort of thing.
But ultimately, you have to deal with it based on what works for you. And you learn that the hard way by mistakes you make by pushing too hard at the wrong moment, by getting angry with someone.
So I finally developed a technique to where I was unfailingly nice. I never raised my voice. I never used profanity. I would approach them as if we were friends having a conversation at a bar, and it worked very well for me. Did I get confessions? A few.
Did I get a lot? No. No one does. Confessions are not easy to come by. You get parts of the truth, pieces of the truth, but never the entire truth.
M&C: You are often called the human lie detector. What are some of the tricks to the arm, a liar in an interrogation? What are some of the biggest tells and tricks of any detective to catch someone lying or confirm that they are?
Lt. Joe Kenda: You ask them a question, and you know the answer to it, and you can prove the answer. See if he will lie to you? In an interrogation, I was looking for the first lie.
Tell me a lie. Because if you lie to me, I’m talking to the right guy.
Innocent people don’t have to lie. I asked the guy once if he knew a girl by a particular name, and I not only knew that he knew her, but they were having a torrid affair, and I could prove it.
But I asked him, ‘Do you know a girl by this name?’ And he said, no. And the pupils of his eyes went to pinpoints when he said that. And my immediate thought was, ‘well, now. And who might you be?’ You’re the guy I’m looking for, and he was.
It took a while to put all that together. There he is. Tell me a lie. I look for the first lie.
M&C: There’s an uptick in violent crimes committed by homeless people who have mental health conditions. New York saw two people shoved off a subway train platform. That’s a different kind of crime rooted in severe mental illness. Do you feel that the homeless issue is ramping up crime?
Lt. Joe Kenda: Of course, it is. It’s everywhere because the mental health system in this country collapsed 30 years ago.
We as a people are not into [funding] a long-term expensive problem. We live in a microwave world. We expect things to go away in 30 seconds because, after all, everything does.
It’s a quick look at my phone. Thinking, ‘It’s not 4G; it’s 5G! I can’t wait until they have 27G. And I can see the future five years from today by pushing a red button on my phone.’
Please. So, where are the institutions? Gone. Where are the public health issues for mental case people? Gone. Because it’s pricey, and we [Americans] don’t do pricey.
So we are reaping the harvest of our frugality with the flock of people wandering around the streets, wearing a football helmet, pushing a shopping cart, and announcing they are Moses.
And if you provide them with drugs on an interim basis, they sell them on the street and go right back to pushing their shopping cart. It’s not a problem anyone wants to solve. And the politicians shrug their shoulders. It is unfortunate.
M&C: And this problem is foisted upon the police to be the first line?
Lt. Joe Kenda: Everything is! You’re not trained to be a psychiatrist, psychologist, boxer, or marksman. To some degree, you are a boxer and a marksman, but not the other stuff.
You’re supposed to be a marriage counselor, a priest, a confident, all the things we demand and expect from our police officers, for which we pay them starvation wages and expect them to solve these problems that we’re unwilling or unable to address.
M&C: You have previously said when humans allow emotions to overcome their judgments, they revert to their worst possible instincts. Let’s talk about your feelings about America and the rise of hate groups and their counterpoint, the Antifas, Q people, and politicians stirring the pots of these worst instincts for expediency and their political careers.
Lt. Joe Kenda: Well, some of that is a function of the fact that we produce a brand-new news outlet every ten minutes. And the new news outlet feels compelled to outdistance the others by saying something outrageous.
This constant drumbeat of news and noise is what keeps this thing alive. Hate groups have been with us always. However, no one cared about them, except for the lunatics that belonged to them. They are minimal numbers. They don’t anticipate doing anything other than what they claim [they say] and can do to try to spread civil disorder, resulting in a civil war and all that.
You can’t get a crowd to show up for anything in this country unless it’s convenient. And it’s on a Sunday afternoon when the weather is nice, and nobody’s working. Oh, they may show up and wave a sign around, but they don’t mean it.
In World War II, the Ku Klux Klan had three million members. Today have less than 2000. The [German] American Bund, the Nazi version of American politics [in 1936], had several thousand members. Today they have a few hundred and maybe less than that.
Put those numbers up against 330 million people in this country. And where is the risk? Doesn’t work for me. But of course, I’m not in the headline business.
M&C: Are there detectives that you know of professionally that are experts in that kind of specialized crime where crimes are committed up from hate or stem from an organized group?
Lt. Joe Kenda: No, because those kinds of crimes don’t happen. These supposed groups that everybody’s so terrified of don’t kill anybody. They run their mouth. That’s all they do.
There was a day when biker gangs, the Hells Angels, Bandidos, and a few others were in the business of contract homicide.
They killed federal judge John Wood. The only federal judge ever murdered was murdered by the Bandidos for a contract put together by a cartel.
But even those days are gone, they don’t kill anybody.
The press would like to think they do because it gives them something to talk about, but they don’t.
So it’s like, please, you have got to stop. You know? Some of these people watch too many late movies, and they begin to believe this crap that there is this hyper-competent government engaged in a vast conspiracy.
It is my experience that three people can keep a secret if two of them are dead. So there are no conspiracies, okay?
People love to run their mouths. That’s the reality. To say otherwise is insane. ‘Well, the government, this and the government that…’
The government runs the DMV! Have you ever been to a DMV? There are nine stations and one person working because the other eight have days off they’re on a break.
This is the government! It’s imperfect by design. It’s not some evil entity that these [conspiracists] people like to say because it feeds their theory about why things are the way they are.
I’ve never run across anything like that ever. And there are no specialized detectives in those areas because there doesn’t need to be.
They monitor intelligence from those people and what they talk about, but it’s all just chatter. They’re not serious at all. They’re all a bunch of Walter Mittys. An overweight guy in army surplus gear. Come on.
American Detective with Lt. Joe Kenda (season two) begins streaming on discovery+ on Wednesday, January 26