March 9th, 2021
Killer Triggers by Joe Kenda is a true crime story. It delves into what he considers the most common triggers for homicide: fear, rage, revenge, money, lust, and sheer madness.
The book offers his memories of homicide cases that he investigated and how the triggers led to murder. In addition to writing books, Detective Kendra also has a TV show on the Discovery Channel, “Homicide Hunter.”
Elise Cooper: Why did you write the book?
Joe Kenda: In all the years I investigated homicide we were able to answer the questions who, what, when, where, and how. But the why becomes a juror question. I always wondered why a person who seems reasonably normal has an emotional trigger resulting in a decision to set a moment of violence in motion. I started looking into the cases I investigated to see what those triggers were, hence, the title of the book. When humans allow emotions to overcome their judgement they revert to their worst possible instincts. There is only the thrill of the bloodletting that prevails.
EC: What about the TV show?
JK: They came to me. A press reporter who had interviewed me in the past when he was a crime reporter wanted a show about homicides. My wife, who has a PhD in nagging, told me to call him. I did. The next thing I am in front of a camera with this show, “Homicide Hunter”, streaming on the Discovery Channel.
EC: Do you feel you speak for the victims?
JK: Violent death is a horrible thing that cannot be fully portrayed in movies or on TV. Only the one who experiences it understands it. So, all the cases haunt me. Detectives must stand in the victim’s shoes to protect their interests because no one else is going to. It is my duty to find the person responsible for taking a life. When I do that, I have done my job. The person deceased has some level of justice.
EC: Do you think there is closure?
JK: When someone loses a loved one there is a hole in someone’s heart that never heals. There is no such thing as closure. This will never go away because the loved one is never coming back.
EC: You describe a homicide investigation like a symphony?
JK: The detective is presented with a blank sheet of music that has only the title, the name of the victim. How did this song begin? I try to find something in the crime scene, the victim’s life, or the manner that gives some drift of a melody. As facts are established, notes are added to the page. Eventually it turns into a symphony.
EC: Do you think there is a similarity between the notification to families by the military and the police?
JK: For the military, a casualty assistance officer is someone who is assigned to notify the family of a death of a service member. They turn their heel and leave, the end of their involvement. The police who give someone the notification of a death will live with the family for nearly two years, the amount of time it takes to solve the case through court. It is a totally different experience.
EC: Do you think police are getting a bad rap?
JK: We have to recruit police from the ranks of the human race. We try to be careful. But at the end of the day that individual has a pocket full of bullets and a gun. It is not always the case they will do the right thing. Living in the information age, it is immediately reported what the police do to the masses. There are almost ten million contacts per year between the police and the public. Of all those ten million contacts less than 1% end in violence. To me it does not exhibit what the attitude of the media tries to show, a horrible cop syndrome.
EC: Could dogs be a deterrent to having a suspect flee?
JK: A dog can potentially be lethal. When released it will attack. Once that dog is engaged it is an animal. People have two natural fears, fire and animals. Both can kill a person. If a dog is presented to a group of 300 angry individuals, say a mob, they will flee. A dog goes up on its hind legs and is now six feet tall. They are nothing but teeth. Everyone of those 300 believe if the dog is let off its lead it will bite, not the 299, but me. The dog can disperse the crowd in less than two minutes. Yes, it can be a deterrent.
EC: You explain about interrogation techniques in your book?
JK: Detectives need to develop an interrogation technique that works for them. I was always very quiet and polite. I never used profanity. I liked to play with someone’s head. People suffer from diarrhea of the mouth. I just let them talk. They usually incriminate themselves and are caught in lies.
EC: What do you want the reader to get out of the book?
JK: A little understanding of how people behave. I disagree that there is good in everyone. People are capable of violent behavior. Some have enough judgement to overcome it. This book offers warning signs of how people behave. For example, in chapter three I talk about a dementia woman who was turned into an aggressive person. If she is strong and ambulatory, she is a risk. She needs to be locked up and away from the family environment and weaponry. I used real stories with events that actually took place although names were changed. I picked these cases because they had emotional triggers.
EC: Next project?
JK: “American Detective” is a new show on the network Discovery Plus. I go around the country to find murder cases the public knows little about, cases that did not receive national attention. I wanted to showcase the work of other homicide detectives. I comment on the process of the investigation. I take a case that has been solved and go through it.