Jurors in La Crosse, Wisconsin, watched a three-and-a-half-hour interrogation recording between sheriff’s investigators and Todd Kendhammer, a defendant accused of murdering his wife and staging a freak car accident to cover it up. Kendhammer maintained at the scene and in the interrogation that a pipe came off a passing truck, crashed through his windshield, and injured his wife. Investigators maintain that the scope of the wife’s injuries suggests that the defendant’s story is bogus, though the defense did refute many of the state’s medical examiner’s claims during cross-examination and ripped into interrogators for “badgering” the defendant in the recorded interview, which occurred just one day before his wife’s funeral.
Here is our list of takeaways from the interrogation recording:
(1) Kendhammer Said He Was Panicked.
In the several-hours-long interrogation video, Kendhammer says he takes Alprazolam, a medication for anxiety and panic, but didn’t take his medication the morning of the incident after which his wife died.
Kendhammer later talked about how the mind races at five hundred miles an hour during accident and that he can’t remember every detail because of that.
(2) Kendhammer’s Version Of Events Remained Consistent.
The defendant’s story appears to have never changed in earnest during any of his statements to the authorities.
During the interrogation, Kendhammer again went through the chain of events he described earlier at the scene of the incident: an object flew toward the windshield. For a split second, he thought it was a bird. He reached out at it to protect his wife, first with his right hand, then with both hands. The object struck the windshield; his wife was thrashing around; he pulled onto a side road. He somehow put the car into reverse. He pulled his wife from the car in a panic (or not too nicely, as he put it), but isn’t sure precisely how; he tried to clean up the blood coming from her ears, mouth, and nose; he started CPR; and he called 911.
Investigators found the Kendhammer sedan pulled over and partially in a ditch around the corner from where Kendhammer claimed the pipe hit his windshield.
Kendhammer repeated that he was traveling with his wife to talk to a man he worked with about doing windshield work on a vehicle. He also says that he and his wife go to a festival call Cranfest every year and that he was planning to pick his wife up from work at 2:00 p.m. to go to the festival with family.
Kendhammer said he believed his wife lost consciousness when he turned onto Bergum Coulee Road from County Road M and that she may have hit her head when he made the turn. She may have tipped toward him and he seemed to think he stopped her with his hand as she came over while he was turning the corner. Though Kendhammer said his wife generally always wears a seatbelt, he doesn’t remember taking it off of her and wasn’t certain she was wearing it this day. In describing how he extracted his wife from the car, Kendhammer said, “I think maybe she was against the door when I opened it . . . that’s when I tried to push her back . . . she kind of rolled out” of the door. He said he tried to close it to keep her from hitting the ground and wound up hitting her. He then tried to get her out: “I don’t know if her foot was caught or something was caught.” After he got his wife out of the car, he went back to see what hit her and to get his phone to call 911. That’s when he pulled the pipe out of the windshield. He couldn’t remember during the interrogation what he did with the pipe. (First responders testified finding it behind the car on the passenger side.)
(3) Kendhammer Could Not Piece Together All Of His Own Injuries.
At various points, Kendhammer told his interrogators that he wasn’t sure how he suffered a number of cuts and scrapes. He speculated that cuts or scratches on his hands may have occurred when he lunged forward toward the windshield to block the object coming at him. Kendhammer denied struggling with his wife, despite scratches on his neck. He also didn’t know what caused scratches on his chest and body.
(4) Kendhammer Could Not Make Sense Of His Wife’s Purported Injuries.
Kendhammer said he didn’t recall seeing injuries on Barbara before the incident, but does recall a few cuts on her face.
The investigators later told Kendhammer that his wife suffered injuries that are not consistent with his story about a pipe hitting their car. They told him they “need to know the state, before the pipe came through, of Barbara.”
Investigators asked Kendhammer to tell them what he thinks injuries would look like if a pipe came through a windshield and hit someone.
They then ask if he would like to hear a list of his wife’s injuries. When he agreed, they told him she suffered a fractured nose, which Kendhammer supposed could have been from an impact with her mug. They also told him she suffered bruised lips, lacerations on the skull, a fractured skull, “massive wounds” on the back of her head, a broken bone in the throat, crushing and bruising on her neck, a bruise on the jaw, and an injury on the leg. Kendhammer said he didn’t know exactly how she suffered those injuries.
Police told Kendhammer they were sending samples of his wife’s fingernail scrapings to the lab. He said he did not want to keep spinning scenarios, that he did not know how everything happened, but that he tried to tell the authorities what he knew.
The investigators told Kendhammer they found drops of blood in his garage. He told them he didn’t know what they were from. It is unclear at this point what the drops of blood were from.
(5) The Interrogators Kept Pushing Kendhammer For Details, So He Started Speculating.
The interrogators asked Kendhammer the same questions over and over again. For many questions, Kendhammer said he wasn’t sure of the answer, but later appeared to go on to speculate in an attempt to placate the investigators who kept asking him what happened.
At one point later on, after both Kendhammer and the investigators said they were just after the truth, Kendhammer said he was trying to give a scenario that could have happened, but that he didn’t remember all of it because he was in a panic during the incident.
(5) Kendhammer Almost, But Didn’t, Invoke The Right To Counsel.
At one point, Kendhammer asked, “are you insinuating that I did this to my wife?” The investigators assured him that they were just trying to clear up some questions that they have.
Later, he said he was getting nervous and asked if he needed to get someone in there to help him. He said he doesn’t think he needed to, but stopped his thought-midstream when the investigators told him that was his decision to make.
It is well-settled constitutional law that the invocation of the right to counsel shuts down a custodial interrogation. Though Kendhammer was told he could take calls and was free to leave, he danced around the idea of asking for an attorney and ultimately ruled against it.
(6) Kendhammer Never Confessed To Anything Criminal.
When asked if he was telling the truth, he said he was giving “my truth.” He also said, “I don’t care how much somebody pushes me, I will not snap.”
(7) Kendhammer Discussed His Family’s Finances.
Kendhammer told interrogators that since he was the family’s primary breadwinner, he had large life insurance policies, but his wife only had a small one. The couple had purchased a $65,000 camper. (At one point, investigators asked him why he didn’t use a credit card to buy it so that he could get points; he told them it was a private party sale.) Kendhammer flipped homes with money he borrowed from his wife’s mother and didn’t feel his family was under financial distress. They had recently sold a house but didn’t make a lot of money off of it. Barbara took care of the finances. They had about $150k in unpaid bills. They were able to do what they wanted. He had just been promoted at work. Barbara was happy they were making progress paying off their house. He said he and his wife were married 25 years and never had a heated argument. He said his wife had suffered from depression.
The interrogators said they routinely find trouble with all sorts of married couples by examining phones and computers. Kendhammer told them they wouldn’t find anything against him there.
(8) Kendhammer Was Incorrect About His Wife’s Work Schedule
Kendhammer said his wife didn’t need to be at work until 8:30 a.m. (Her co-workers and supervisors said her shift started at 8:00 a.m., but they conflicted when asked about flexible start and end times.) Kendhammer said that if his wife was going to be in later than 8:30 a.m., she’d have to call.
(10) What Was Up With The Pipe?
Kendhammer denied that the pipe was at his house. At one point, he rhetorically asked, “why, why, why would I have a pipe?” in his sedan.
Investigators then ask Todd what the likelihood is that a pipe could have rolled off a truck and come through the windshield. The investigators at one point told him that his wife’s injuries didn’t happen in their car and “you know it.”
They ask how blood got on outside of windshield. He didn’t know, but said he pulled pipe out of the car.
(11) Kendhammer Was Going to Call In Sick to Work.
The investigators said Kendhammer was late to work. Kendhammer said he was going to call in to work to prepare to take his wife to a festival and to go camping with her. He said he hadn’t packed and needed time to do so.
(12) Police Didn’t Buy His Story.
The investigators told Kendhammer that the totality of the information didn’t make sense and that Kendhammer did not have a rational explanation for what happened. Kendhammer said he was trying to give them the truth and was becoming frustrated. Investigators admitted on the witness stand that they approached the interrogation from the presumption Kendhammer was lying.
Kendhammer said he didn’t understand the entire chain of events in the accident but that he was being honest about what he remembers and knows. He said, “I want to work with you guys . . . if I knew, I would say something . . . I do not know how the injuries happened.”