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Newly released records in Kendhammer death show state's evidence against husband

From the From Tribune files: Coverage of Kendhammer homicide case series
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Todd Kendhammer’s arrest came 81 days after he told authorities an airborne pipe pierced his car's windshield and struck his wife of 25 years.

“What?” he asked while being handcuffed outside the Onalaska Menards. “Oh, my God. Oh, my God.”

He was shaking in the back of a squad car, where he repeated, “Oh, my God. Oh, my God,” according to newly released case records.

Interviews, crime lab reports, photographs and 911 tapes released through state open-records laws highlight discrepancies in Kendhammer’s account of the events that led to his wife’s death, including 20 minutes during which the two were alone just before he reported she had been injured in a freak traffic accident.

Investigators concluded the crash never happened.

Kendhammer, 46, has stood mute to first-degree intentional homicide in his wife Barbara’s Sept. 17 death. He is under house arrest with GPS monitoring as conditions of his $250,000 cash bond while awaiting trial. He returns to La Crosse County Circuit Court on Feb. 2 for a status conference.

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Todd Kendhammer

Todd Kendhammer of West Salem at his preliminary hearing in La Crosse County Circuit Court. Kendhammer is charged with first-degree intentional homicide in the death of his wife, Barbara.

His Madison attorneys have refused to respond to repeated requests for comment.

According to the records:

Sept. 16

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 purchase in September.

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.

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

In his initial statement, Kendhammer said they were driving north on a straight and flat stretch of the highway 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.

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Incident scene

Authorities found Todd and Barbara Kendhammer’s car half in the ditch on Bergum Coulee Road after he called 911 at 8:06 a.m. Sept. 16.

En route to the hospital with an investigator, he said the pipe that fell from the oncoming truck did not hit the pavement before breaking through the windshield, according to the complaint.

Kendhammer said he punched the windshield trying to block the pipe, then tried to remove the 10-pound galvanized pipe from his flailing wife while turning onto Bergum Coulee Road, where he accidentally put the car in reverse and rolled backward into a grassy embankment.

He said he then got out of the car and removed the pipe from the windshield, 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.

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.

On the phone with 911 dispatchers, Kendhammer was frantic and at times inaudible. He reported blood coming from his wife’s nose and mouth and pleaded for paramedics to rush as he said he continued efforts to save her life.

“A pipe or something came through the windshield,” he told dispatchers. “It got her and she’s hit in the head and the throat I think.”

Minutes later, “You’re going to be OK, Barb,” he said on the recording.

Barbara was unresponsive when medical help arrived. She never regained consciousness and was declared brain dead at 5:02 p.m. the next day. 

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.

Authorities found the pipe in weeds behind the passenger side of the car, where Kendhammer said he threw it before trying to save his wife, according to a sheriff's department report. Pressed between the trunk lid and the rubber seal they found a blade of grass.

“It appeared as if the trunk had been opened at the scene,” reports stated.

Kendhammer was unsteady on his feet and concerned about his wife. He had injures to his knuckles and scratches on his neck and chest. He blamed his injuries on working with glass, according to a sheriff's department report.

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Todd Kendhammer's hands

Todd Kendhammer's hands photographed soon after the crash.

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Todd Kendhammer's neck

Scratches on Todd Kendhammer's neck photographed after the incident.

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Todd Kendhammer's chest

Scratches on Todd Kendhammer's chest photographed soon after the incident.

The same video that showed a vehicle matching the Kendhammers' car on Hwy. M did not show a flatbed truck traveling south around the time of the incident, according to a sheriff's department report.

Authorities later returned to the site to reconstruct the crash as described by Kendhammer, dropping an identical pipe from a truck traveling at 40 and 50 mph in nine scenarios.

According to the Wisconsin State Patrol, broken glass found in the rear part of the Camry’s gear shift housing would only land in that spot if the windshield was damaged while the car was in park.

The autopsy

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.

It is 46 quadrillion times more likely that DNA recovered from one of Barbara’s fingernail clippings is a mixture of Barbara and her husband than Barbara and a random person, according to the State Crime Laboratory.

‘Very forceful that the casket would not be opened’

Kendhammer was jittery and emotional while making arrangements with the couple’s grown children at Jandt-Fredrickson Funeral Homes. He stated he wanted his wife cremated, not buried as he had said during an initial phone call, the funeral director told investigators.

He then was adamant his wife’s casket remain sealed.

“Todd stated that no one will see her from this point forward and he was very forceful that the casket would not be opened and that no one would ever see her after they left the funeral home,” the funeral director told investigators, according to a report.

The couple’s family and friends did not identify problems in their marriage or mention a history of domestic abuse during interviews with investigators, but several of Kendhammer’s former colleagues described him as “snake in the grass” and a “chauvinist pig from hell” capable of violence, according to sheriff's department reports.

Kendhammer was scheduled to work at 6:30 p.m. the day of the incident and the next three nights at Crown Cork and Seal Co. in La Crosse, although the couple was planning their annual camping trip during that time period.

One of his colleagues told investigators he believed the couple’s daughter and son-in-law were replacing plumbing pipes during a kitchen remodel, according to a sheriff's department report.

Crime lab findings

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

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.

A crime lab analyst determined the pipe hit the passenger side of the windshield at least once before it broke through.

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The windshield

Authorities determined the pipe struck the windshield at least once before breaking through.

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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Passenger seat

Shattered glass particles spread across the passenger seat led authorities to conclude that the seat was empty when the pipe broke through the windshield.

The analyst found sand and an orange soil-like material on one end of the 53-inch galvanized steel pipe. There was no blood on the pipe, according to the crime lab.

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The pipe

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

The analyst also found what appears to be the same material inside the trunk and on a rolled pad and cloth bag on the floor of the trunk.

The pipe and items from the trunk will be analyzed at an FBI lab, according to the crime lab report.

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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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