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Wisconsin Man Killed Wife And Staged The Crime To Look Like A Freak Car Accident
La Crosse County investigators immeditsuspect a man is lying about the way his wife died. Find out what detectives discovered.
After a rural road became the scene of a fatality, detectives questioned if it was a freak accident — or foul play.
On the morning of September 16, 2016, Todd Kendhammer called 911 in La Crosse, Wisconsin. He told the dispatcher that as he was driving his car, a pipe crashed through his windshield and struck his wife.
Emergency responders arrived and worked to save Barbara Kendhammer, 46, who’d suffered “significant injuries,” Fritz Leinfelder, an investigator with La Crosse County Sheriff’s Office, told “Accident, Suicide or Murder,” airing Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen.
Barbara was rushed to the hospital. Todd appeared to be very concerned about her condition as he spoke with officers. He said that the pipe had flown off a truck that was traveling in the opposite direction, and he had pulled the pipe from the windshield. It was on the ground near his car. He gave just a vague description of the truck involved in the incident.
Investigators learned that Todd worked in glass and windshield repair while Barbara worked in a local school lunchroom. He said that he was on his way to pick up a vehicle he was repairing and Barbara was going to head to work after that. His wife worked flexible hours, which enabled her to accompany him when he went to pick up the vehicle with a cracked windshield.
Police searched for the truck that Todd said caused the incident and issued a release to the media to help find it.
The Kendhammer car was sent to the Wisconsin Crime Lab for analysis. Detectives focused their attention on the crash site and Todd’s injuries. They took pictures of his hands, shirt, and scratches that he had on his neck and across his chest.
“Todd told us that he had some of these cuts or scrapes on his body because he works in glass,” said John Siegel, Capt. of Investigations, La Crosse County. He also blamed extensive wounds on his knuckles on the accident.
To investigators, Todd’s story wasn’t adding up. The only person who could confirm his account was Barbara, who died at the hospital.
They learned that the Kendhammers, who had two children, met as teenagers and married when they were 21. Friends described the couple as happy and “almost ridiculously in love.” Barbara’s work space was filled with family pictures.
“It was like losing a family member,” said Kerri Mallicoat, her friend and co-worker. “She brought the sunshine and roses to the room.”
As family, friends, and the community grieved, investigators continued to search for the truck and its driver as well as witnesses. One man told sheriffs that he had seen the Kendhammer car in the ditch and that there was no damage to the windshield.
“He also stated that he didn’t see anybody at the scene as he drove by,” said Leinfelder. “Nobody was calling for help.”
Was Todd in the ditch trying to help his wife? Was he in the car? Was he hiding? Had the witness made an error? Investigators considered all the possible explanations as Todd’s account kept getting shakier.
A potential break in the case came thanks to a security camera along the route the Kendhammers traveled. It confirmed that Todd and Barbara were going in the direction he had said. But there was no sight of a flatbed truck.
Detectives grew more suspicious of Todd’s account of the accident and the scratches on his body. They spoke with his employer, who explained that Todd didn’t actually handle glass.
On September 20, four days after the incident, the Dane County Deputy medical examiner performed the autopsy on Barbara. The findings further contradicted Todd’s account.
There were signs of strangulation around her neck, along with scratch marks. Two of her fingernails were broken. They were swabbed for DNA.
“We knew after the autopsy that the injuries and the death were not likely caused by impact from a pipe through the windshield,” said Siegel.
At that point, Barbara’s cause of death was ruled as undetermined.
Detectives interviewed the Kendhammer children, who were adamant that their father would never harm their mother. But other witnesses said that Todd had a temper and was more controlling than doting when it came to Barbara.
Investigators attempted to replicate the accident as Todd had described it by dropping a pipe off a truck. In simulations the pipe never reacted as it had in Todd’s account.
The Wisconsin Crime Lab’s analysis of the Kendhammer car came back, and glass fragment findings didn’t support Todd’s account of the accident. Dirt on the pipe that matched soil in the trunk of the car further added to investigators' suspicion.
The pipe may have been “something of a convenience at the time to put through the windshield and make it look like it was a crash,” said Siegel. Moreover, there was no blood on the pipe.
Investigators reached out to Barbara’s supervisor who told them that Barbara didn’t work flexible hours. Yet another hole tore into Todd’s account.
Todd was brought in for a more formal interview. Police pointed out inconsistencies in his story, including that Justin Heim, who owned the car Todd said he was going to pick up on the morning of the accident, knew nothing about it.
Todd insisted he did nothing to hurt Barbara. After a nearly four-hour interview, investigators were unable to get a confession and let Todd go.
However, lab results showed that Todd’s DNA was under Barbara’s fingernails. There was enough forensic evidence to classify her death as a homicide. Investigators now believed that Barbara had been beaten multiple times and that she wasn’t sitting in the car when the pipe came through the windshield.
Todd Kendhammer was arrested and charged with murder. The trial began December 5, 2017. The defense team made the case that Todd was telling the truth, and his inconsistencies were tied to the stress of losing his wife.
But the jury didn't buy it. At the conclusion of the trial, Todd Kendhammer was convicted of first-degree intentional homicide. In Wisconsin that carries an automatic life sentence.