A West Salem man killed his wife early Sept. 16 and tried to conceal her fatal injuries by staging an implausible traffic crash on a rural La Crosse County road, according to court records.
Prosecutors on Tuesday charged Todd Kendhammer, 46, with first-degree intentional homicide in the death of his wife, Barbara Kendhammer. He is jailed on a $250,000 cash bond and returns to La Crosse County Circuit Court on Dec. 15 for a preliminary hearing.
“I’ve been working on this case for three months, and his arrest comes as a shock to us,” said his attorney, Jonas Bednarek.
Kendhammer told authorities the couple left their home 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 for work at 8 a.m. at West Salem Middle School and the owner of the truck said he did not arrange for Kendhammer to repair the damaged windshield, according to the criminal complaint.
Kendhammer said they were driving north on 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.
He later said the pipe flew off the truck and did not strike the pavement before passing through the windshield. Before impact, he said he hit the windshield with his left hand to try to block the object, according to the complaint.
He turned onto nearby Bergum Coulee Road, a dead-end road seven miles from the couple’s home at N6617 E. Scotch Coulee Road, before backing the couple’s Toyota Camry off the road. He removed the pipe from the windshield and his wife from her seat to perform life-saving measures for three to five minutes before calling 911 at 8:06 a.m., according to the complaint.
An autopsy found Barbara Kendhammer died of blunt force injuries to her head and neck, including skull fractures, brain swelling and injury, fractured cartilage and neck muscle hemorrhaging.
She also had possible scratches and other injuries to her neck and torn fingernails, indicative of a struggle.
The pattern of her injuries — including a cut to her forehead, three to the back of her head, nasal fractures and others — were inconsistent with Todd Kendhammer’s account of the incident, according to the Dane County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Todd Kendhammer had scratches on his neck and chest and injuries to the knuckles of his left hand, inflicted because he said he “works with glass all of the time and gets scratched up,” according to the complaint.
A passerby who spotted the couple’s Camry in the ditch on Bergum Coulee Road noticed the passenger door open but did not see anyone around the car. There was no damage to the windshield, the complaint stated.
A Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory analyst found blood inside the car and on the rear passenger side wheel.
There were multiple impact points on the windshield, including one that indicated an object struck but did not shatter the glass.
Based on the spread of broken glass, the analyst found it was unlikely a passenger was inside the vehicle when the windshield shattered and that it likely broke when the passenger door was open, according to the complaint.
Kendhammer said the passing flatbed truck was blue, green or black with 18 to 24-inch metal sides but could not identify the gender of the driver. Authorities could not locate the truck described by Kendhammer on surveillance video from area businesses.