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Prosecutors say husband murdered wife and staged the scene to look like a freak car accident

Mystery on County Road M
Mystery on County Road M 41:54

Todd Kendhammer says his wife Barbara died in a freak car accident. But authorities questioned his story from the beginning, and he was tried and convicted of intentional homicide.

Todd and Barbara Kendhammer
Todd and Barbara Kendhammer Barbara Kendhammer/Facebook

Kendhammer and his children have refused to accept the verdict and are seeking a new trial. Their fight for what they say is justice is the focus of "Mystery on County Road M," an all-new "48 Hours" reported by correspondent Erin Moriarty airing Saturday, January 29 at 10/9c on CBS and streaming on Paramount+.

Just after 8 a.m. on September 16, 2016, a distraught Todd Kendhammer called 911 to report a car accident on a rural road outside La Crosse, Wisconsin. "A pipe or something came through the windshield," he told the operator.

Kendhammer car
On the morning of September 16, 2016, Todd Kendhammer told investigators that a pipe flew off a truck, smashed through the windshield of his car, and gravely injured his wife Barbara. She later died at a hospital.  La Crosse County Sheriff's Office

When authorities arrived, he told them a pipe flew off a truck driving in the opposite direction, came through the windshield and struck his wife. Barbara, 46, was rushed to the hospital but died the next day. The couple had just celebrated their 25th anniversary. 

Their children, Jessica Servais and Jordan Kendhammer, say their parents were still very much in love. "Whatever my mom wanted, my dad gave it to her," Servais told Moriarty. "They were just in a really good time in their lives 'cause they had their first grandchild, and they were well off."

An autopsy revealed that Barbara died of blunt force injuries to the head and neck. She also had three lacerations to the back of her head. The medical examiner did not think Barbara's injuries were consistent with the accident as described by Todd.

"She said that the injuries to Barb were very inconsistent with a pipe … that size and that weight coming through the windshield," says Tim Gruenke, La Crosse County district attorney.

Erin Moriarty with prosecutor Tim Gruenke
"48 Hours"  Erin Moriarty, with La Crosse, Wisconsin DA Tim Gruenke, holds the pipe that Todd Kendhammer told investigators flew off a truck and pierced the windshield of the car he and his wife Barbara were riding in. But the story didn't make sense to Gruenke.  CBS News

Surveillance video from a horse ranch down the road showed what appears to be the Kendhammer car pass by at approximately 7:57 a.m. on the day of the incident. But at around the same time, no truck that matched the description Todd gave police was ever seen heading in the opposite direction.

Todd Kendhammer told police that he and Barbara were driving to pick up a truck that needed a windshield replaced, belonging to a man named Justin Heim. Kendhammer did windshield replacement work as a side job.

"When the police looked into that, they found Justin Heim never had ordered a windshield from Todd, didn't need a windshield. Todd didn't even know where he lived," says Gruenke. Kendhammer then told police he was going to see a friend of Heim's.

Gruenke believes Todd Kendhammer killed Barbara and staged the scene to look like an accident. Kendhammer was arrested three months later and went on trial a year after that. "Every day I was in a constant state of anxiety and couldn't eat and couldn't sleep," says Jessica.

At trial, both sides argued about what caused Barbara's injuries — a tragic accident, or a brutal fight. The windshield was as hotly disputed as the medical evidence. Dueling experts had different theories of what caused the glass fracture patterns.

Jessica and Jordan don't believe prosecutors ever answered critical questions about what happened. 

"They never really said how he killed her or what he did to stage everything," says Jessica. Her brother added, "If he wanted to kill Ma, why the hell would he go through all the work and trouble to find a pipe, drive all the way out to the middle of a busy road—." "He has like 28 guns in the basement," Jessica interrupted. "More than that," said Jordan.

The prosecution had to admit they didn't know why Todd would kill Barbara. They found no evidence either one was having an affair, no history of domestic violence or financial trouble.

Todd Kendhammer made the unusual decision to testify in his own defense. He told the jury he was distraught during his interview with police, when he told those different stories of where they were going that morning. "I'm not in the right state of mind… I wasn't thinking of where I was going or what I was doing. I was thinking of Barb," he said on the stand.

Todd Kendhammer testifies
Todd Kendhammer made the unusual decision to testify in his own defense. WKBT

But he continued to struggle with his memory of the incident and told the jury about a third person he was going to see that morning. Gruenke asked him: "Did you change your story for trial because you knew police had figured out your lies?" "No," he responded.

Todd Kendhammer's children stood by him. "He doesn't lie. So when he says he didn't do it, we believe him," Jessica said. But the jury didn't believe him, and Kendhammer was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, with the possibility of parole in 30 years.

After the conviction, the Kendhammer family hired attorney Jerry Buting, of "Making a Murderer" fame, to handle the appeal, along with his wife and co-counsel Kathleen Stilling. 

"This was an accident," Buting told Moriarty. "The idea that out of the blue he would snap and kill his wife and then stage the accident, it just seems so implausible to me," Stilling added.

In 2021, Todd Kendhammer was back in court before the same judge for an evidentiary hearing. It was a chance to argue that his original defense team had been ineffective, and that there was critical new evidence. The forensic pathologist who testified there disagreed with the original medical examiner and said Barbara's injuries were caused by an accident.

"We aren't going to stop until he can be home," Jessica says.

Prosecutor Gruenke believes justice has already been served for Barbara Kendhammer. "Do you have any concerns at all that you might have convicted an innocent man?" Moriarty asked. "Not in this case, no," Gruenke replied.

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