6 Lessons For Men From ‘Homicide Hunter’ Joe Kenda

6 Lessons For Men From ‘Homicide Hunter’ Joe Kenda

Retired homicide detective and TV star Lt. Joe Kenda is a portrait of man at his best. Here are six ways men can follow his example by using their God-given strengths to serve others.
Caroline D'Agati
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The “Me Too” movement. Gender-neutral Barbies. An epidemic of fatherlessness. America is in the midst of crisis of the sexes affecting every corner of our society. For decades we’ve struggled to define manhood and womanhood in a way that allows both men and women to thrive. Yet still, cultural confusion and personal unhappiness over the sexes is at a fever pitch.

But like a light in the darkness, there shines a beacon of hope for American manhood: retired homicide detective Lt. Joe Kenda. This former Colorado Springs cop has come to fame with the hit show “Homicide Hunter: Lt. Joe Kenda,” now in its ninth and final season. The show reenacts homicide cases, with Kenda providing its unscripted narration. With his bone-dry humor, allergy to bullsh-t, and incredible insight into human nature, Kenda flaunts a wry wisdom that’s as fascinating as it is unnerving.

I’ll admit, with no shame, that I have a straight-up crush on this 73-year-old man—and not just because the actor who portrays him is a babe. Seeing him confront evil, fight for justice, and protect the innocent is a portrait of man at his best. It should encourage us to foster these traits in our culture and equip men to use their God-given strengths to serve others. Here are just six lessons that every man can learn from Lt. Joe Kenda.

1. Every Life Has Value

With almost 400 cases under his belt, Kenda saw victims of every age and walk of life. Some came from wealthy, important families. Others didn’t. But there was no such thing as a “nobody” to Kenda and his team.

One young female victim—a ward of the state, murdered by her only friends—had no mourners at her funeral except Kenda and his men. Since she had no family, they all chipped in to buy her a headstone to make sure she was remembered. Her life mattered to him, even if it didn’t matter to anyone else.

2. Don’t Suffer Fools

There’s a masculine charm to Kenda’s no-nonsense attitude; it comes from unflinching self-confidence and dedication to his mission. He has zero patience for anything that stands in his way.

As Kenda puts it, “People have often asked me, ‘Well don’t you have sympathy for these people [that you interrogate]?’ And my answer is always the same: You’re looking for sympathy? Look it up in the dictionary. It’s between ‘shit’ and ‘syphilis.’ No, I don’t have any sympathy.”

3. Use Your Strength to Defend the Weak

In one episode, Kenda tells the story of Eric Stanley Houston, a mentally handicapped man whose murder took years to solve. Two men entered his hotel room to rob him, killed him when he had no money, then went on and lived their lives for years as if nothing happened.

As Kenda explains, “It’s these two guys who killed Eric Stanley Houston for the standard reason: no reason at all. For [his murderer], it was nothing more than a chapter in that week’s activities. The same with [his accomplice]. It ended Eric’s life, but it meant nothing to the people that took it from him. It meant something to me. And you’re not gonna take a life and walk away. Not if I can help it.”

4. Don’t Harbor Illusions About Evil

If one thing is for certain, Kenda doesn’t pull any punches about what people are capable of. He’s seen sons murder their mothers for giving them a curfew. He’s seen innocent bystanders get struck down by a gangbanger’s stray bullet. There’s no convincing Kenda that we control our own fates or that people are fundamentally good.

“Evil things are going on in this world,” says Kenda. “We all believe that if we’re not part of that process, we will never suffer. But evil is pervasive. It’s like water; it washes over everything.” If a man does not accept the existence of evil, he can’t possibly protect anyone from it.

5. Know Your Adversary

What makes Kenda so brilliant (and so entertaining) is his uncanny ability to read and understand other people. He can sit in an interrogation room with a person and size her up in an instant—and it’s not always flattering. “Looking at this individual,” says Kenda, “I’m speaking to someone who has the IQ of a turnip.”

Nuance is key to this process; judging someone’s personality and someone’s character are not always the same thing. As Kenda so eloquently explains of one suspect, “Jerry is a jerk, but being an -sshole is not against the law. If it were, we’d have to erect a fence around the state of Colorado and inform everyone they’re in custody.” Touché, Joe. Touché.

6. Bear Your Burdens With Honor

Time and again, the show depicts Kenda being awoken at 2 a.m., interrupted during Christmas dinner, working on Sunday afternoons to report to crime scenes. Kathy, his wife of more than 50 years, deserves sainthood for sacrificing alongside him. In essence, Kenda suspended everything in his life when duty called—and he did it without grumbling or complaining.

What’s more, he immersed himself in brutal crime scenes—sadly, often involving children—to bring killers to justice. For Kenda, that pain lasts even today. “You can never get accustomed to the death of a child. They stay with me—every one of them. And they are still with me now.”

Kenda took the weight of the world on his shoulders to serve those who could not help themselves. It doesn’t get any manlier than that.

The final season of “Homicide Hunter: Lt. Joe Kenda” airs Wednesday nights on Investigation Discovery. 

Caroline D'Agati is a writer, former park ranger, and New Jersey expatriate living in DC. She studied English at Georgetown and media studies at The New School. You can follow her on Twitter at @carodagati.

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