Prosecutors contend Todd Kendhammer fatally beat his wife of 25 years and tried to conceal her death by staging a freak car accident. Kendhammer says she died when an airborne pipe pierced his windshield and struck her in the head.

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Barbara C. Kendhammer

Barbara Kendhammer

The West Salem man’s 10-day trial for the intentional death of his wife last year opens Monday in La Crosse County Circuit Court, when attorneys will narrow a pool of potential jurors to 12, plus at least one alternate, to decide the case.

Kendhammer told authorities the couple left their home at N6617 E. Scotch Coulee Road in West Salem between 7:30 and 7:45 a.m. Sept. 16 for Holmen, where he planned to pick up a truck to replace its windshield.

GPS information retrieved from Google show the couple’s cellphones at a neighbor’s house from 7:30 to 7:50 a.m., according to a La Crosse County Sheriff's Department report. The neighbor, who lives in Seattle, said Kendhammer cared for the 80-acre property that he planned to buy.

Barbara was scheduled to work at 8 a.m. at West Salem Middle School — the opposite direction from Holmen. The owner of the truck said he did not arrange for Kendhammer to repair the damaged windshield, according to a sheriff's department report.

Surveillance video captured a car matching the Kendhammers’ Toyota Camry at 7:57 a.m. traveling north on Hwy. M about one mile south of Bergum Coulee Road in the town of Hamilton.

Kendhammer said they were just south of Bergum Coulee Road when a 53-inch pipe fell from an oncoming flatbed truck, bounced off the pavement and passed through the passenger side of the windshield, hitting his 46-year-old wife, according to the criminal complaint. He later said the pipe did not strike the pavement before breaking through the windshield.

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The pipe

The 53-inch, 10-pound galvanized steel pipe that broke through the windshield of the Kendhammers’ car.

Kendhammer described the passing flatbed truck as a 2000s model that was blue, green or black with 18 to 24-inch metal sides. He could not identify the gender of the driver.

Authorities could not locate the truck described by Kendhammer on surveillance video from area businesses.

After the pipe penetrated the windshield, Kendhammer drove about 100 yards north while trying to remove the 10-pound galvanized steel pipe from his flailing wife, then turned east onto Bergum Coulee Road and drove another 100 yards before the car rolled backward into a grassy embankment, according to court records.

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Damaged windshield

The damaged windshield of the Kendhammers' car.

A State Crime Laboratory analyst determined the pipe hit the passenger side of the windshield at least once before it broke through.

Once stopped, Kendhammer said he removed the pipe from the windshield and threw it behind the car, pulled Barbara from the passenger seat and tried CPR for three to five minutes before calling 911 at 8:06 a.m., according to the complaint.

He told dispatchers frantically “a pipe or something came through the windshield,” and that it struck her “in the head and the throat, I think.”

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The Kendhammer car

The Kendhammers' damaged Toyota Camry. 

The first paramedic at the scene found Kendhammer kneeling at his wife’s feet. Her head was toward the road and her blood was on the rear passenger tire. Emergency responders did not find glass shards on Barbara, according to a sheriff’s department report.

A passerby told investigators he saw the Camry half in the ditch, its windshield intact, the passenger door open and no one around the car, according to a sheriff’s department report.

Kendhammer had bloody knuckles and scratches on his neck and chest. He attributed his injuries on working with glass, according to a sheriff’s department report.

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Todd Kendhammers' hands

Injuries on Todd Kendhammer's hands.

Barbara suffered extensive blunt impact injuries to her head and neck inconsistent with her husband’s account, Dane County Deputy Medical Examiner Kathleen McCubbin wrote in the autopsy report.

She had three bone-deep cuts to the back of her head, a fracture to the back of her skull, a broken nose, bruises and bleeding on the interior of her lips and bruises on her biceps.

Barbara also had a fractured bone and muscle hemorrhaging in her neck consistent with strangulation, according to the autopsy report. She had possible fingernail scratches on her neck and two torn fingernails.

Evidence recovered from the car indicates Barbara was assaulted and the windshield smashed when she was not in the car, prosecutors said in court.

There was no blood on the pipe, according to the State Crime Laboratory.

Bloodstains around the passenger seat and on the inside of the windshield indicate Barbara was inside the car when “force was applied,” according to a crime lab report. The patterns are “consistent with a beating.”

Blood drip and flow patterns revealed Barbara was bleeding for a “period of time” in the passenger seat and that her body was at one time over the center console and passenger-side floor, according to the crime lab.

The spread of glass particles on the passenger seat indicated it was empty when the pipe penetrated the windshield. The analyst also concluded the passenger door was likely open, because there were no glass pieces in the door pocket.

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Anne Jungen covers law enforcement and the criminal justice system in La Crosse County. She joined the Tribune reporting staff in December 2005. You can contact her directly at ajungen@lacrossetribune.com or 608-791-8224.

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