Trib Total Media TV writer Rob Owen offers a viewing tip for the coming week.
When Investigation Discovery’s “Homicide Hunter” ended its nine-season run three years ago, star/host Joe Kenda said the series wrapped because he ran out of cases and those that remained were too simple or too gruesome.
Thanks to DNA technology, ID is ready to bring back “Homicide Hunter” as a series of three feature-length specials that once again are narrated by Westmoreland County native Kenda, who grew up in Herminie, near Irwin, before attending the University of Pittsburgh.
Kenda investigated homicides for the Colorado Springs Police Department, including the one in this week’s premiere, “Never Give Up” (9-11 p.m. Wednesday, Investigation Discovery and Discovery+), about the March 1987 murder of 20-year-old active-duty soldier Darlene Krashoc. Kenda testified about the case in court in June 2021.
“Because of advances in DNA technology, we were able to resolve one of my unsolved cases 30-odd years later, resulting in an arrest and conviction,” Kenda said in a phone interview last month. “That’s why (the case is) suddenly back in the fray, because it’s no longer unsolved. It’s adjudicated.”
At the time of Krashoc’s murder, DNA analysis was in its infancy, Kenda said. When the investigation failed to turn up a credible suspect following police procedure of the era, Kenda and his team explored the possibility of DNA.
“They thought it had promise. They didn’t know if it was going to work, but they thought it could,” Kenda said. “They had a suggestion on how to preserve body fluids and/or blood and/or whatever (was) discovered from a crime scene in a manner that would permit examination decades from that day. … That evidence preserved in 1987 was analyzed in 2017. It produced a DNA profile of a perpetrator.”
Kenda, who also hosts ID’s “American Detective,” which had its third-season
finale Aug. 10, said in addition to advances in DNA technology, the advent of services that provide genetic genealogy helps investigators find perpetrators (as seen in the 2020 ABC series “The Genetic Detective”).
“When people submit samples of their own DNA to (some of) the services that provide genealogy, they tend not to read the fine print,” Kenda says. “The fine print (for some services) tells you … that result is now public record. The police are part of the public. … So the first search is in the offender file. If they don’t find him there, then they look further. That results in the search through the genealogy files to see if they can find him or a close family member.”
In “Never Give Up,” which seems like it would be a fine one-hour episode of “Homicide Hunter” but feels padded at movie-length, that use of genetic genealogy helps turn up the killer who was never on investigators’ radar.
“We had exhausted investigative leads,” Kenda said. “We believed, and we were correct, that the person responsible for this offense was truly a ghost. That case file is 2,000 pages long, and this guy’s name never appeared in it. We never encountered anyone who even knew him. So he is a guy that is nothing more than a shadow, which makes it most difficult.
“It’s very rare for murders to occur between complete strangers. They happen, but it represents anywhere from 2% to 4% of the murders in the U.S. All other homicides occur between people that have a relationship: It could be financial, it could be criminal, it could be romantic, but it’s a connection. When there is no connection, it makes it very, very difficult to solve.”