This post examines the curious case of Barbara Kendhammer who died after being struck by a metal pipe that penetrated her car windshield. But, not all is as it seems.
Victim and Timeline
Barbara Kendhammer, 46: accident occurred on Friday, September 16, 2016 and she passed away the following day, Saturday, September 17, 2016
On Friday, September 16, 20176, Barbara’s husband of 25 years, Todd, called 911 to report a freak accident. He told the dispatcher that the couple was driving north on Highway M near Hamilton, WI, when a 53-inch metal pipe flew off the back of a passing flatbed truck and pierced their car’s windshield before striking Barbara. Todd stated that he had already performed “3-5 minutes” of CPR on Barbara before calling 911. Despite his efforts and the quick response of emergency personnel, Barabara succumbed to her injuries the following day. Nearly 3 months later, on December 6, 2016, Todd was arrested for the first-degree murder of his wife. Below, I examine some of the reported inconsistencies between Todd’s narrative and the physical evidence recovered from the scene. While many in the media and public are convinced of Todd’s guilt, Barbara’s family is convinced of his innocence — so fervently, in fact, that they have created a website in his defense.
- Where they were headed that morning: Todd told investigators that he and Barbara were on their way to fix a cracked windshield on a client’s vehicle (for one of Todd’s side jobs) when the accident occurred around 7:30/7:45am. The two men involved in the discussion around Todd replacing the windshield claim they never made plans with him that morning and were not actually expecting his arrival. Additionally, Todd did not have a replacement super duty windshield for the truck in his car. Verdict: that’s a problem for Todd. His alibi is debunked by the two people he depended on to verify it. And, if he was going to replace the windshield, why didn’t he have a new one with him?
- Barbara was late for work: Todd said it was fine that Barabara was going to be a bit late to her job as a cafeteria server at an elementary school, located in the opposite direction from which they were driving, because she was allowed to be late on a Friday. Barbara was known to be so dependable, so like clockwork, that when she hadn’t arrived for her 8am shift by 8:02am, her employer called Barbara’s mother to check on her. Running late was so out of character for Barbara that her employer called another employee at 8:06am to come in and cover her shift. Does it really fit with Barbara’s character to blow off work and not even call them to say she would be late? No. Verdict: Todd is lying. What is different about serving food to kids on a Friday versus any other day of the week? Nothing. Kids eat breakfast and lunch at the same time at school no matter the day. If Barbara could be late on a Friday, no problem, then why did her employer hustle to get someone to cover her shift? Clearly, it was VERY out of the ordinary for Barbara to be even 2 minutes late without notification.
- What are the chances: Todd was on his way to a job to fix a cracked windshield when an airborne pipe cracked his windshield in two places and caused his wife’s death. How ironic is that? Verdict: mostly up in the air although I must say this ticks my hinky meter. What are the odds?
- Where they were headed later that week: The couple planned to go on a camping trip later that week. Yet, Todd scheduled himself for work. Verdict: toss-up. Maybe it was just a scheduling oversight, human error.
- Barbara didn’t call her mom morning: Barbara’s mom claims that Barbara called her every single morning before leaving for work but that did not happen on the morning of the accident. Her mother considered this highly unusual. Even more unusual was that Barbara’s supervisor called her at 8:02 to report that Barbara had not arrived for her 8am shift. Verdict: highly suspect. Two people who knew Barbara very well and interacted with her on a daily basis were independently concerned about her sudden lack of contact. This is telling.
- The pipe tests: Authorities were never able to replicate the accident, even when they threw a pipe from a passing flatbed truck. It never hit the windshield of an oncoming car. Some claim it would have been more likely for the pipe to hit the driver’s side of the windshield or the center. And some claim it might have hit the passenger side of the windshield if it had first bounced off the pavement, although Todd denies the pipe hit the ground before striking the windshield (some suggest that Todd was insistent the pipe did not hit the ground first because this might have potentially impacted any insurance or legal claims — if the pipe hit the ground first, Todd would have been responsible to stop in time; if the pipe was airborne for the entire event, it would have been the fault of the flatbed truck driver). Verdict: may or may not be relevant. Who knows what other factors were in play the day of the accident: wind speeds, how fast each vehicle was going, etc.
- The injuries to Todd’s hands: Todd claims that when the pipe flew off the truck bed, it did not hit the pavement before flying into the passenger side of the Kendhammers’ windshield. Todd claims he punched the windshield as the pipe was flying toward him in an effort to block or deflect it. He then tried to protect his wife as the pipe flew into the windshield and had to punch the windshield again once the car came to a stop in order to dislodge it from the windshield. Todd claims that these actions caused the significant wounds visible on his hands. Detractors argue that he should only have wounds on his dominant hand and that they appear excessive for the situation described. Verdict: neither here nor there. It’s theoretically possibly he caused significant injuries to both hands from defending against the pipe.
- The injuries to Todd’s chest and neck: Todd claims he gets scratched when working with glass for his profession and that this is the origin of the scratches. Verdict: maybeeeee……sure, I can buy you get scratched while working with glass. But, getting scratched exclusively on your chest and neck? That’s odd. Getting scratched that much? Maybe you’re working with the glass wrong. Or, maybe those scratches were caused by Barbara’s fingernails. They certainly appear to be fingernail scratches and look fresh.
- The CCTV footage: Video footage from the Wild Winds Ranch captured 4 vehicles traveling on the stretch of road in which the accident occurred between 7:20-8:30am. None of the vehicles matched the description of a flatbed truck although investigators did see a few pickup trucks, most of which had covered beds. The Kendhammers’ Camry was also seen on the video, verifying that they were in the area at the time. The observed vehicles were as follows: 7:54am: white pick-up truck, 7:57am: Kendhammers’ Camry, 8am:truck, 8:02am: truck. Verdict: This could mean nothing. The accident happened in the flash of an eye and perhaps Todd misremembered what the vehicle actually looked like. Maybe it was a pickup truck and not all trucks on the video had covered beds. Trauma is known to impair memory. I give him a pass on this inconsistency.
- There was no blood found on the pipe that struck Barbara: Investigators contend that if the pipe had battered Barbara sufficiently to kill her, there should be blood on it. Verdict: toss-up. Maybe there is some minuscule chance that the pipe could hit her so quickly that it did not have time to get blood on it before moving away from her body. Stranger things have happened.
- Broken glass from the windshield was found in the gear shift: Investigators theorized that this could have only occurred if the vehicle was in park at the time the windshield was broken. Verdict: maybe. It’s possible that when Todd placed the car in park after the pipe hit the windshield, glass shards were then transferred into the gear shift console as he scrambled to get out of the car and remove Barbara from the vehicle.
- No glass in the passenger-side door: Shards from the windshield were found on the passenger seat but not in the console of the passenger door. Investigators contend the only way this could have occurred is if Barbara was not sitting in the passenger seat at the time of the accident and if the passenger door was ajar at the time the windshield was shattered. Verdict: I don’t see how this could mean much. The glass could have been transferred onto the seat as Todd was removing Barbara’s body from the car. If Todd ran around to the passenger side and opened her car door before punching the windshield to remove the pipe then that would explain how glass did not end up in the passenger door pocket. It’s also possible that it just didn’t fall into the door pocket even if the door was closed.
- Blood on the rear tire: Investigators contend that the fact that Barbara’s blood (it was DNA-tested) was found on the rear tire suggests she or Todd was near the back of the car, which they shouldn’t have been based on his account of performing CPR on Barbara on the passenger side of the car. Verdict: it’s a wash. Perhaps there was contamination at the scene and Barbara’s blood was inadvertently transferred to the tire. Perhaps Todd forgot he went to the rear or trunk of the car to retrieve something such as a first-aid kit or towel.
- Position of the car: The car was backed into tall grass on the side of the road. Detractors question why Todd did not just pull off to the side of the road? They argue he could have only ended up in that position if was trying to complete a 3-point turn and then backed up into the grass. Verdict: neither here nor there. People do strange things when they panic or are confronted with a traumatic or unusual event.
- The trunk had been opened: Investigators contend that the trunk of the Kendhammers’ Camry had been opened and then closed again at the scene, as evidenced by pieces of the tall grass the car was backed up into being found inside the trunk including in the trunk seal. Investigators also found red, rusty corroded material that was consistent with material from the pipe in Todd’s trunk. Verdict: it’s a wash. Maybe there was contamination at the scene or maybe Todd forgot he opened the trunk to look for an first-aid kit or something else to help his wife.
- The witness: A passing motorist stated that he saw the Kendhammer car in the ditch around 7:45am and slowed down to 5mph as he passed to see if anyone was in need of help. The witness claims he did not see damage to the windshield at this time and did not see Todd or Barbara at the scene. Verdict: neither here nor there. Eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable and inaccurate. Perhaps Todd was doing CPR on Barbara behind an area of the car out of view to the witness. Perhaps the angle of the windshield or reflecting sunlight obscured his view of the damage to the windshield. Perhaps he didn’t notice it simply because he wasn’t looking for it.
- Barbara’s injuries: An autopsy revealed that Barbara suffered blunt force trauma to her head and neck, skull fractures, cartilage fractures which indicated she had been strangled, and she had 1 laceration on her forehead and 3 lacerations on the back of her head. Additionally, she had abrasions on her checks and contusions (bruises) on her lips. She also had nasal fractures. Verdict: that’s one magic pipe to hit her multiple times, strangle her, and also hit her at least 3 times in the back of the head.
- Barbara’s fingernails: At autopsy, a few of Barbara’s fingernails were broken off and DNA was found under scrapings of the remaining nails — DNA that matched to Todd and Barbara. Investigators suggest she got Todd’s DNA under her nails when scratching at his chest and neck as he strangled her. Verdict: this looks bad for Todd. Perhaps Barbara got her husband’s DNA under her nails through innocent means (scratching his back, casual transfer) but the combination of his DNA and broken nails looks incriminating when combined with the scratches on Todd’s chest and neck. In the one photo I was able to find of Barbara’s hands, her nails are long and manicured. Of course, we don’t know if this was done for a special occasion, but it would certainly fit with her punctual personality to have nails that were at least decently groomed, not some broken and some intact.
Todd Kendhammer was what we, in the domestic violence field, call “the most skillful abuser.” A skillful abuser never needs to lay a hand on his victim because he otherwise exerts so much mental control over his victim that physical violence is not necessary. This explains why there were no prior law enforcement calls to the Kendhammer home, no history of domestic abuse documented by the courts or medical professionals, and no indications from family members or those close to the Kendhammers that Barbara was ever beaten or physically abused.
I find it curious that Barbara had such a predictable routine that being even 2 minutes late to work caused her employer to become alarmed. Was Barbara’s schedule and whereabouts tightly controlled by Todd? Was her punctuality and predictability actually an indicator of Todd’s power and control over her?
Todd’s coworkers claim he generally appeared to not like women and frequently made disparaging comments about women. Domestic violence experts know that a chauvinistic world view underlies most domestic abuse — not a short tempter or addiction problems as many believe. While alcohol and substance abuse, as well as anger management problems, can exacerbate domestic abuse and make acute incidents even more violent or lethal, it is the fundamental underlying belief that men are superior and entitled which fuels the cycle of abuse. Given that Todd let slip at work, of all places, that he believed women to be an inferior species, I don’t think it is a far stretch to assume he generally held a chauvinistic and patriarchal world view at home with his wife.
I believe Todd had been planning to murder Barbara for quite some time, as evidenced by him scheduling himself for work on the days he and Barbara were supposed to be out of town camping. I also believe Todd was too stupid AND too egotistical to properly sort out the details of his crime. He assumed everyone would unquestioningly believe “the good and aggrieved husband” and that no one would snoop so closely as to find any evidence askew. After all, in his mind, Barbara deserved it.
I believe Todd assaulted Barbara at home in the morning as she was preparing for work. He beat her about the head and, as he strangled her with his hands, Barbara clawed at his neck and chest so ferociously she broke several nails. Believing Barbara to be dead or near death, Todd put her body in the trunk of his car along with the pipe he planned to plant at the scene of the “accident.” Once on Highway M, he completed a 3-point turn and backed his vehicle into the weeds. He removed Barbara’s body and the pipe from the trunk, inadvertently closing some of the tall grass in the trunk when he closed it and leaving behind corroded material from the pipe. As he dragged Barbara’s body from the trunk, Todd accidentally transferred some of her blood along the rear tire.
The passing motorist who saw the Kendhammer vehicle likely came upon the scene at this time — the windshield was not yet broken and Todd and Barbara were either hidden by the bulk of the vehicle and the tall grass or alongside the car, obscured from view. Todd then broke the windshield using the pipe. The windshield did not yield as expected so he hit it a second time. My guess is that Todd intended for the entire windshield to shatter and collapse into the interior of the car in shards — he could then say that the car spun out of control, coming to a rest backed in to the weeds. When the windshield did not shatter as planned, he had to improvise. Because Barbara was not in the vehicle and the car was in park, shattered glass entered the gear shift and fell onto the passenger seat as well. Barbara was the victim of domestic homicide and it appears first-degree murder charges are warranted. Jury selection is set for December 4, 2017.