Mystery on County Road M: The Murder of Barbara Kendhammer

At 8:05 a.m. on September 16, 2016, a frantic Todd Kendhammer made a call to 911. He cried as he said there had been an accident and his wife, Barbara, was in critical condition. Todd claimed, “A pipe or something came through the windshield.” He was hysterical when the police arrived.

Todd Kendhammer, Barbara / Jessica Kendhammer / The Kendhammer’s car / Todd Kendhammer.
Source: CBS News

Barbara was rushed to the hospital but didn’t make it. The police questioned Todd’s story from the start because Barbara’s injuries didn’t occur from a pipe coming through the window. While they struggled to find any motive Todd would have for killing his wife, all signs pointed to him as the killer.

High School Sweethearts

When Todd Kendhammer talked about his wife Barbara he said he fell for her at first sight. The two met when they were in high school and were friends before dating at 16. Todd and Barbara graduated in 1988 and married three years later. Everyone saw how in love they were.

A picture of Todd and Barbara embracing each other.
Todd Kendhammer, Barbara. Source: Facebook

A few years later, Todd and Barbara welcomed Jessica and then Jordan. Their kids said Todd doted on Barbara and gave her whatever she wanted. They practically never argued. While Barbara worked in the cafeteria at a middle school, Todd worked at a factory. They also flipped houses, and Todd repaired windshields for extra money.

Things Seemed Normal

In August 2016, Jessica and Jordan threw their parents a surprise 25th wedding anniversary party. They were so happy and seemed more in love than ever. Unfortunately, everything would change as the family prepared for their annual camping trip just a month later. The Kendhammers were supposed to leave on September 16, 2016.

Todd and Barbara pose for a picture.
Todd Kendhammer, Barbara. Source: Pinterest

The Kendhammers were going to hit the road for their camping trip once Barbara finished work. In the morning, Jordan heard his parents’ car leave. Todd usually drove Barbara to the school. There was no argument, and it was normal for Todd to drive her when he didn’t have to work.

Everything Changed in a Moment

Shortly after the couple left, they headed towards a neighbor’s home. They had been watching the house while their neighbor was away and only stayed there for a few minutes. Around 7:50 a.m., instead of driving towards Barbara’s school, Todd went in the opposite direction towards County Road M.

A photo of the car at the sideroad.
Source: La Crosse County Sheriff’s Office

At 8:05 a.m., Todd frantically called 911, saying there had been a horrible accident and Barbara had been hit in the head and throat. She was in horrible condition as he tried to give her CPR, but she was bleeding everywhere. The police arrived quickly, and Barbara was rushed to the hospital.

Todd Told Them What Happened

When authorities got to the scene and took Barbara away, Todd kept asking if she was okay, but the police couldn’t give him an answer. As he was put in the back of a squad car, Todd told the police that the pipe came off “a truck or trailer or something.”

An image of a reporter holding the pipe.
Erin Moriarty, DA Tim Gruenke. Source: CBS News

The police took Todd to the hospital to be with his family, and he continued his account of the accident during the drive. He told the police, “I thought it was a bird at first, and then the last thing I saw was a pipe.” Jessica and Jordan met him at their hospital. He was covered in blood.

Things Went From Bad to Worse

Barbara was rushed into emergency surgery, and the neurosurgeon kept updating her family. However, the prognosis wasn’t good. The Kendhammers prayed for her to pull through, but she didn’t. What was supposed to be the start of a family holiday turned into a nightmare.

A photo of the pipe.
Source: La Crosse County Sheriff’s Office

The room was filled with the sound of machines beeping and sniffles from Todd, Jessica, and Jordan as they sat by Barbara’s bedside throughout the night. As the sun started to rise on September 17, Barbara took her last breath. How could this have happened?

The Number One Suspect

The police were immediately suspicious of Todd. When they took pictures of him at the scene in his bloody clothing, they noticed his knuckles were cut up, and he had scratch marks on his neck. It looked like he had been in some sort of a struggle.

A surveillance tape of Todd in the interrogation room.
Source: La Crosse County Sheriff’s Office

Todd said the scratches were from working with broken glass. However, Todd only replaced windshields; he didn’t work with broken glass. He also gave a vague description of the truck that supposedly drove by, but his story had many holes.

The Mysterious Truck

Todd told the police that the truck was an older pickup truck that was either dark blue or green. They searched for a vehicle matching the description but couldn’t find anything. Investigators asked the public to look for the truck, but no one had information.

A picture of the Kendhammer family.
The Kendhammers. Source: Facebook

A horse ranch close to where the incident took place captured the Kendhammer car passing at 7:57 a.m. However, it did not show any trucks matching Todd’s description going in the opposite direction as he claimed. Instead, an eyewitness had a much different story.

Someone Passed Their Car

A construction worker driving in the area at the time of the apparent accident said he passed the Kendhammer’s vehicle on the side of the road at 8 a.m., but there was no apparent damage to the car.

A video still of a reconstruction of Todd’s story about the pipe.
Source: CBS News

The man said he thought someone drove off the road or tried to make a U-turn and got stuck. It was even more bizarre that he didn’t see anyone in the car or near it. If Todd’s version were true, there would have been damage and people in the car.

Autopsy Revealed New Information

Four days after her death, medical examiner Dr. Kathleen McCubbin conducted an autopsy on Barbara’s body. She found that the pattern of injuries was inconsistent with Todd’s story. Barbara died of blunt impact to her head and neck, but there were other injuries.

A photo of Todd by the side of the road.
Source: WKBT

Barbara had scratches on her neck, a broken nose, and bruising all over her body. She had a fractured skull and broken cricoid, the ring-shaped cartilage at the bottom of the neck. A broken cricoid is consistent with strangulation. Her injuries indicated a struggle before the “accident.”

Barbara Changed Her Patterns

Barbara had a regular schedule and pattern, which she followed each day. She called her mom every morning, but she hadn’t on the day of the incident. It was unusual for Barbara to break this daily routine. Why would she have missed the call that morning?

Barbara’s daughter cries as she speaks during an interview.
Source: CBS News

Additionally, Barbara was supposed to arrive at work that day at 8 a.m. She wasn’t someone who was usually late, but she didn’t even call the school to tell them she wouldn’t arrive on time. In Todd’s account, Barbara would have known she would be late.

They Weren’t Driving Towards the School

Although Todd was supposed to drive Barbara to the middle school that morning, he decided to make a detour. He told the police that he decided to pick up a truck that needed the windshield replaced on his way to take Barbara to work.

A picture of Barbara and Todd smiling at the camera.
Barbara, Todd Kendhammer. Source: Facebook

Todd claimed the truck was in Justin Heim’s driveway, someone he knew from work. He said he was going to swing by and grab it before dropping Barbara off. When the police spoke to Heim, he told a very different story.

The Lies Unfold

Heim told the police that he had never ordered a windshield from Todd, and Todd didn’t know where he lived. Then Todd changed his story, saying he was going to see a friend of Heim’s for the same reason. When investigators tracked down the friend, he was also confused.

A photo of the windshield’s fractures in Todd’s car.
Source: La Crosse County Sheriff’s Office

Heim’s friend also said he never ordered a windshield and wasn’t expecting Todd that day. Investigators felt they were closing in on what they believed were Todd’s lies. The police questioned him for three hours before letting him go home, but they kept building their case.

Too Many Inconsistencies

While Todd might have forgotten certain minor details because he was in shock, he would have remembered where he was going that morning. Todd’s inability to provide a consistent story raised suspicions with investigators. His lies became a major piece of evidence.

An image of Todd testifying in court.
Source: WKBT

Three months after Barbara’s death, Todd was arrested for first-degree intentional homicide in December 2016. Jessica and Jordan were shocked by their father’s arrest. They said their parents were in a loving relationship and were at a good time in their lives before their mom died.

He Had Many Supporters

When Todd’s trial started in December 2017, most of the people in the courtroom were there to support Todd. Jessica said she was filled with anxiety each day of the trial because she feared the worst. She said she had horrible anxiety and couldn’t eat or sleep.

An image of Todd crying in the courtroom.
Source: YouTube

No one believed that Todd could have killed her based on his loving relationship with Barbara. There was no evidence of infidelity, financial problems, or domestic abuse. Jessica said her parents recently became grandparents and were doing well financially. Everyone believed he was innocent.

Questioning the Star Witness

The state’s star witness was medical examiner, Dr. Kathleen McCubbin. She testified at the trial that Barbara’s injuries were inconsistent with a pipe crashing through their windshield. When the defense cross-examined Dr. McCubbin, they tried to create reasonable doubt because they hadn’t brought in a forensics expert.

A photo of the medical examiner testifying in court.
Source: La Crosse Tribune

Barbara’s large travel mug was found on the passenger seat floor. Todd’s attorneys asked McCubbin if the mug could have slammed into her face if she ducked to avoid the pipe. McCubbin said it could have been possible. However, that didn’t explain her other injuries.

The Windshield

The windshield of the Kendhammer vehicle was as highly disputed as the autopsy results. A glass expert for Todd’s defense supported his version of the events. He said there were three impact points on the windshield caused by three events.

An image of firefighters arriving at the scene.
Source: CBS News

The first impact came from Todd punching the glass as a reaction to seeing the pipe coming. The second impact was the pipe breaking the glass, and the third event was from Todd pulling the pipe out so he could perform CPR on Barbara. But the state’s expert questioned this.

A Different Version of Events

After hearing the glass expert’s testimony, the prosecution called their own glass expert to the stand. The state’s expert disagreed with the other man’s order of events in which the impacts occurred. Prosecutors argued that this was further evidence to support their claims.

An interior shot of Todd’s car.
Source: La Crosse Sheriff’s Office

The prosecution believes Todd intentionally damaged the windshield to make it seem like the pipe came out of nowhere. The windshield had two strikes on the outside, and the pipe couldn’t have hit it twice. Things weren’t adding up to match Todd’s story.

His Kids Were Annoyed

Jessica and Jordan were upset that the prosecution didn’t answer critical questions. The prosecution admitted that they didn’t know why Todd would kill Barbara. His children said the prosecutors didn’t explain how Todd killed Barbara or how he had time to stage the crime.

Jordan and Jessica speak during an interview.
Source: CBS News

Jessica was particularly annoyed because if her father had really wanted to kill Barbara, why didn’t he use one of the many guns he kept in the house. She questioned why Todd would go through the trouble of staging an elaborate accident.

Todd Took the Stand

It was a bold choice by the defense, but they called Todd to testify. He tried to explain his conflicting version of the events. He mentioned the video his interrogation, saying, “When I watch that video, it’s me in the picture, but it’s not me talking. I’m not in the right state of mind.”

An image of Todd handcuffed during the trial.
Source: Winona Daily News

When the police questioned Todd, he told them he hadn’t taken his anti-anxiety medication that day. He told the jury that he wasn’t thinking about where he was going or what he was doing; Todd was only thinking about Barbara.

He Crumbled on the Stand

When he testified, Todd told the jury about another person he was supposed to meet that day. He claimed he was going to meet Jared Loging, but Loging testified that he hadn’t arranged for Todd to come that day. It was more proof that he was lying.

A portrait of Barbara.
Barbara. Source: Facebook

When the prosecution cross-examined Todd, he seemed to crumble under pressure. He said he couldn’t remember or didn’t know the answer to most of their questions, which only made him look more guilty. Todd had been doing well until the prosecutors got to him.

Tears in the Courtroom

It only took the jury nine hours to deliberate. They came back with a guilty verdict for first-degree intentional homicide. As the verdict was read, you could hear cries from many people in the courtroom. Jessica broke down in tears as she watched her father being taken away.

A video still of Todd in the stand.
Todd Kendhammer. Source: YouTube

Todd looked distraught as he turned to say goodbye to his family. He couldn’t believe he was going to jail. His friends and family were devastated to hear that he had been found guilty when everyone thought he was 100 percent innocent.

An Interesting Testimony

Three months after his trial, Todd sat in the court again for his sentencing. His conviction came with an automatic life sentence, but the judge had to decide if he would be eligible for parole. Barbara’s cousin Gerianna Buchner Wettstein read a letter signed by other cousins at the hearing.

Todd Kendhammer’s mugshot.
Todd Kendhammer. Source: Facebook

Wettstein said Barbara had the courage that day to fight back, and “we stand here today united with the same courage asking to sentence her killer to the maximum penalty.” Jessica said her mom didn’t talk to Wettstein, and they hated each other.

Harsh Words

While Wettstein denied Jessica’s claims that she didn’t speak to Barbara, District Attorney Tim Gruenke had harsher words for the court and the Kendhammer family. In a statement to the court, Gruenke said, “They need to get their heads out of their a**es.”

A picture of the Kendhammer family.
Kendhammer Family. Source: Facebook

Gruenke had to sell Todd and Barbara’s home and Jessica’s house to cover Todd’s legal fees. He wanted everyone to stop giving Todd false hope. Gruenke also wanted them to open their eyes because Todd was dragging them down and using all their money to continue his lies.

Eligible for Parole

At the sentencing hearing, the judge ruled that Todd would serve life in prison with the possibility of parole in 30 years. Gruenke believed justice was served for Barbara and didn’t feel that he convicted an innocent man. But Todd’s family wasn’t happy.

An image of Todd during his trial.
Source: WEAU

Jessica said Gruenke’s statements were incredibly rude, and he could have worded things differently. She said he shouldn’t have been allowed to speak like that in a courtroom. Even though Todd got his sentence, that wasn’t the end for him. He wasn’t done fighting.

New Defense Team

After Todd’s conviction, Jessica and Jordan brought on high-powered attorneys Jerry Buting and Kathleen Stilling. Todd’s children are determined to clear his name because they say he is not a liar. However, Buting and Stilling say that undoing a murder conviction is an immense challenge.

An image from the trial.
Source: YouTube

In 2021, Buting and Stilling got Todd an evidentiary hearing to show that his original defense was inadequate, and they had new evidence in the case. They called on a forensic pathologist, which the first defense didn’t do, who disagreed with McCubbin’s findings.

New Evidence

When Stilling and Buting called the forensic expert to testify, she stated that Barbara’s injuries weren’t consistent with a beating or a struggle. She contradicted McCubbin’s findings, stating that Barbara’s travel mug could have caused the broken cricoid. The expert also disputed the marks on Barbara’s head.

A video still from the trial.
Source: YouTube

The forensic expert said the wounds to the back of Barbara’s head could have been when the pipe grazed her head if she ducked down. Gruenke didn’t believe the expert’s testimony because she only stated other possibilities of what could have happened.

More Than Physical Evidence

Besides the physical evidence presented by the forensics expert, an expert on human memory testified at Todd’s evidentiary hearing. He said Todd could have struggled to remember what happened as a result of mental trauma from the incident. That would be convenient for Todd.

A photo of Todd’s attorneys.
Source: CBS News

Why would Todd need to change his story three times if he forgot what had happened? In his original trial, the prosecutor asked if he changed his story when the police found it wasn’t true, and he said he didn’t. However, Todd told three different stories about where he was going.

The Most Controversial Evidence

During the initial investigation, local authorities attempted to recreate Todd’s story by dropping a similar pipe off the back of a truck. The idea was to determine if a pipe of that size could bounce high enough to hit the windshield of the Kendhammer’s car.

An image of the windshield of the Kendhammer’s car.
Source: WKBT

In the videos of their test, the pipe bounced off the ground once out of four tests. The prosecution found the video inconclusive and didn’t show it at the trial. Buting and Stilling believe the videos could have supported Todd’s story.

Investigators Thought It Was Impossible

State investigators thought Todd’s story was implausible. Even after their tests, they didn’t believe Todd. The prosecution wondered what were the odds that this would happen to a guy who changed windshields for a living. However, Buting and Stilling presented evidence from across America.

An image of Todd’s car by the road.
Source: WEAU

Todd’s attorneys showed that a pipe coming through a windshield was pretty common. It had happened in other states, and it could have happened to Barbara and Todd. Someone even found a similar pipe made from the same material close to where the incident occurred.

Not a Clear-Cut Case

It’s hard to understand how the experts could have seen the case differently. 48 Hours hired their own forensic expert to take a fresh look at the case. Dr. Lindsay Thomas said the more she looked at the case, the more complicated it became because the evidence doesn’t clearly point to an accident or murder.

An image of Todd during the trial.
Source: YouTube

Thomas looked at the original autopsy and said McCubbin reached reasonable conclusions. Still, Thomas said she also agreed with the forensic expert in the evidentiary hearing. She said she would have reached different conclusions.

A Third Opinion

When Dr. Lindsay Thomas looked over the evidence for 48 Hours, she said she had rarely seen a cricoid fracture caused by strangulation. She agreed that Barbara’s injury could have been caused by her coffee mug. Thomas didn’t rule out strangulation but didn’t strongly agree.

A picture of the coffee mug.
Source: La Crosse County Sheriff’s Office

Thomas also said that Todd’s fists couldn’t have caused the injuries on the back of Barbara’s head. She said they could have come from that heavy coffee cup. Ultimately, Thomas said Barbara’s injuries were more consistent with a strange accident but he had no complete conclusions.

The Jury Stands by Their Decision

The jury foreman in Todd’s trial, Tim Brennan, still stands by the guilty verdict. He was interviewed by 48 Hours, where they showed him new evidence from the evidentiary hearing. Brennan said the new evidence was interesting, but it wouldn’t have changed his mind.

A photo of the coffee mug inside the car.
Source: YouTube

Brennan revealed that the jury felt Todd’s testimony made him guilty. They believed he was a man of many falsehoods after he testified. The jury convicted him because of the evidence and his inconsistent tale of events. Brennan feels they put the right man behind bars.

What’s Next?

Todd and his family are still waiting to see if he will be granted a new trial. They are expected to get some answers by spring 2022. Jessica and Jordan are hopeful that a new trial will clear their father’s name and bring him home.

A photograph of Todd and Barbara is held in a video still.
Source: A&E

They still believe in his innocence. Until then, Todd is serving his sentence at the Dodge County Correctional Institute, two hours away from where his family lives. Jessica is sad because her dad is missing his grandchild grow up and knows Todd wants to be home.

Missing Pieces

Gruenke and the defense attorneys are currently preparing briefs for an upcoming court hearing to determine if Todd’s case will be appealed. After watching the 48 Hour special, Gruenke feels they did a good job, but much of the story wasn’t told because of time constraints.

A dated picture of Barbara and Todd smiling at the camera.
Barbara, Todd Kendhammer. Source: Pinterest

Gruenke said they are waiting for the arguments to be submitted by Todd’s attorneys, and then the judge will make a ruling on whether the original defense was effective or not. If the judge rules that they were ineffective, Todd could get a new trial.