A West Salem woman did not die from a pipe that impaled a windshield, and the spread of blood inside her car is consistent with a beating, according to court testimony.
Todd Kendhammer, 46, stood mute Thursday to a first-degree intentional homicide charge in the Sept. 17 death of his wife, Barbara Kendhammer, after a judge found probable cause in the case and bound him over for trial.
It’s a case built on circumstantial evidence with no motive revealed, his attorneys argued in court records and to La Crosse County Circuit Judge Todd Bjerke before a courtroom full of Kendhammer’s supporters, including his late wife’s family.
“This is not a run-of-the-mill first-degree case,” defense attorney Jonas Bednarek said. “This case will be a battle of the experts.”
Prosecutors argue that Kendhammer’s lie about where he was going the morning his wife died — combined with autopsy results and conclusions made by the State Crime Laboratory — “conclusively shows that the death of Mrs. Kendhammer was the result of blunt force trauma at multiple places on her body and not from a pipe coming through a windshield,” assistant district attorney Susan Bakken-Donskey said.
“The only reasonable inference is that the defendant caused the death by multiple uses of blunt force and then tried to cover up a homicide by placing a pipe through the windshield at the time when Mrs. Kendhammer was not inside the vehicle,” she argued.
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.
Barbara Kendhammer was scheduled to work at 8 a.m. at West Salem Middle School. The owner of the truck said he did not arrange for Todd Kendhammer to repair the damaged windshield, according to the complaint.
A car matching the couple’s Toyota Camry is on surveillance video at 7:57 a.m. traveling north past the Wild Winds Ranch at N5624 Hwy. M, about one mile south of Bergum Coulee Road in the town of Hamilton.
Todd Kendhammer said they were driving north on a straight and flat stretch of Hwy. M when a 53-inch pipe fell from an oncoming flatbed truck, bounced off the pavement and impaled the passenger side of the windshield, striking his 46-year-old wife, according to his initial statement to authorities.
En route to the hospital with an investigator, Kendhammer said the pipe did not strike the pavement before passing through the windshield. He said he punched the windshield with his left hand trying to block the object, according to the complaint.
Kendhammer said he turned onto nearby Bergum Coulee Road while trying to remove the 10-pound galvanized steel pipe from his wife, accidentally put the car in reverse and rolled backward into tall grass alongside the road. He removed the pipe from the windshield and his wife from the passenger seat and tried CPR for three to five minutes before calling 911 at 8:06 a.m.
Barbara Kendhammer was unresponsive when medical help arrived and died the next day at Gundersen Health System.
An autopsy determined she died from extensive blunt impact injuries to her head and neck, including skull fractures, brain swelling and bleeding in the area around it, and fractured cartilage around her trachea, Dane County Deputy Medical Examiner Kathleen McCubbin testified Thursday.
“Her brain was remarkably swollen,” she said.
Injuries to the back and front of her head — including a cut to her forehead and three on the back of her head, a fracture to the back of the skull, abrasions on her cheeks, facial bruising, lip injuries and a broken nose — did not match her husband’s description of an airborne pipe piercing the windshield and striking her, the complaint stated.
“The primary reason is that she had injuries in locations that could not be explained by that mechanism,” McCubbin said. “The totality of injuries are inconsistent with a single blow from a single pipe.”
“Do you have an opinion as to how many impacts it took to cause the injuries on the back of her head?” Bakken-Donskey asked.
“My opinion is that it would take at least two or more likely three to cause those injuries,” McCubbin said.
“And are those consistent with a pipe coming through windshield?”
“No, they are not.”
Especially concerning are possible fingernail scratches on her neck and a fracture to the cartilage ring at the top of the trachea that is consistent with strangulation or a direct blow to the neck, McCubbin said.
Barbara also had injuries on her hands that were healing and two torn fingernails.
“It could indicate a struggle took place,” McCubbin said.
Todd Kendhammer had scratches on his neck and chest and injuries on his knuckles. He most recently worked at Crown Cork and Seal Co. and repaired and installed windshields part-time, according to court records.
“He stated he works with glass and he gets cut frequently,” La Crosse County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Jeff Wolf testified.
Kendhammer described the oncoming flatbed truck as a 2000 model that was dark blue, dark green or black with metal side rails, but no truck matching that description is on four surveillance videos within minutes of the scene.
A passerby said he spotted the Camry half in the ditch on Bergum Coulee Road with its passenger door open and no damage to the windshield, the complaint stated. He did not see the couple.
Blood spatter around the passenger seat and on the inside of the windshield suggest “that force was applied to Barbara Kendhammer” while she was inside the car, according to the crime lab.
“These bloodstain patterns are consistent with a beating,” Wolf testified.
The crime lab analyst found blood on the rear passenger tire and a piece of grass was wedged between the trunk and its seal.
There was no blood on the pipe recovered after the incident, Wolf said.
The analyst also found at least four impact points to two areas of the windshield: two inflicted from the inside and one from the outside that damaged the glass before the pipe penetrated the windshield, according to the complaint.
The spread of glass particles on the passenger seat indicated it was empty when the pipe came through. The analyst also concluded the passenger door was likely open, because there were no glass pieces in the door pocket.
Kendhammer remains jailed on a $250,000 cash bond after the judge rejected his attorney’s argument to drop it to $25,000 cash.
Prosecutors initially sought a $1 million cash bond and argued against a reduction Thursday.
“Todd Kendhammer has known of this investigation for almost three months. He never hid. He never fled. He did not resist arrest in any way. He remained in the community,” his attorneys wrote in a motion. “Indeed, counsel told the lead detective in September 2016 that Todd Kendhammer would voluntarily appear, if requested, to face any criminal charges.”
The couple had recently celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary with a surprise party organized by their two grown children and attended by 150 people, his attorneys wrote to the court.
“He and Barb did everything together,” the motion stated. “Todd describes his marriage as good.”