Investigation Discovery featured a Very Kenda Christmas with back to back episodes of Homicide Hunter with Lt. Joe Kenda over the holidays. Kenda is a retired detective from the Colorado Springs Police Department. Colorado Springs is also the home of US Army base Fort Carson and Peterson Air Force Base. As a result, Lt. Kenda worked closely with investigating authorities at both bases throughout the years when one of his murder cases involved a member of the military or their dependents. If a crime against a military member or their dependents occurred off-base within the jurisdiction of Colorado Springs, Lt. Joe Kenda had the legal authority to investigate the case. And that’s exactly what he did in the 1985 murder investigation of an Air Force wife, Lourdes Riddle.
Construction workers found an abandoned car that had been set on fire on their property on the morning of March 26, 1985. The scene looked suspicious so they contacted the police to investigate the situation. The police found Lourdes Riddle strangled to death in the trunk of her own car. Lt. Joe Kenda was called to the scene to investigate the crime further and determined that whoever killed Lourdes also tried to cover up their crime. They found that an accelerant (gasoline) was used to burn the car and a brick was on the driver’s side floor of the car (as if it was used to hold down the gas pedal). As Kenda was processing the crime scene, two Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) personnel showed up and claimed they were taking charge of the investigation. They informed Kenda they had the husband, TSgt Mark Riddle, who worked at NORAD, Cheyenne Mountain, in custody on Peterson AFB.
Kenda’s response to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations personnel was priceless and proves that he truly is a fierce detective that all law enforcement should emulate. He was not intimidated by the feds in the least bit when the crime occurred in his jurisdiction. He shared that even it was their house, how dare they walk into his crime scene. Kenda was absolutely shocked when they shared they had enlisted soldier, Mark Riddle, in their office at Peterson AFB. Their attitude was that it was obvious who did it because in most cases it was the husband or boyfriend. When in fact, Kenda was disappointed that they may have tainted the case by initiating an ‘immediate arrest’. He was afraid that this outside agency, who had no jurisdiction, had advised Mark Riddle of his rights and he would want a lawyer now. His guilt was not obvious to Kenda who did not automatically assume that the husband committed the crime. He simply wanted to talk to him, not accuse him. Kenda felt that their actions may prevent him from doing an interview which could really damage the case. Kenda admitted to making mistakes in his lifetime but he also shared that he gets really upset when someone else makes them for him. If all investigators operated in this way and made assumptions based on fact finding, we could better protect the due process rights of individuals.
Kenda gains access to Mark Riddle and learns that Lourdes is a 31 year old from the Philliphines who has been married to him for nine years. There was in fact trouble in paradise and Mark admitted that his wife had been spending time with and maybe even sleeping with other men. They were not happily married. He claimed he was home the night of the murder and had no alibi. Mark asked for a polygraph test to prove his innocence and passed it, then let the investigators search his home. Although adultery is a motive for murder, Kenda determined that Mark Riddle was honest, credible, and was no longer considered a suspect. This case was not a sex crime but it was a personal and angry crime as evidenced by the ligature strangulation. Kenda felt that this person wanted to punish her and wanted to feel her die. This person was deemed the “Pantyhose Strangler” in the media. After talking to Lourdes family, Kenda learned that Lourdes was threatened by more then one person. Kenda wasn’t sure if she was a target because of Mark’s work at a secret military base or if it was because of her own secret life.
The Air Force couple lived on Peterson AFB. Kenda learned that Lourdes went to night clubs that soldiers frequented. She was into the nightlife, partying, and dancing. Her neighbors reported that she was in and out of the house all the time, usually dressed up with high heels, short skirts and make-up. During Kenda’s investigation into the circumstances of Lourdes secret life, rumors began to circulate at the enlisted men’s club on Fort Carson that she was extorting Army soldiers. In the meantime because of media coverage, an eye witness came forward with a description of a suspect that was found near the scene of the crime that night. He was a black male about 6’8. Kenda asked those who frequented the enlisted club on base if she was dating anyone matching the description. He learned that she only dated Phillipino men and wouldn’t give any other guy the time of day. The rumor was that she draws soldiers in like a Venis flytrap. She specifically sought out Phillipino soldiers. She would have a relationship with them, claim that she was pregnant, and threaten to go to their military Commander if they did not give her money.
Lt. Kenda learned of blackmail accusations involving Nolly Depadua, a Phillipino soldier stationed at Fort Carson. Nolly had a friend named Brian Hawkins, also a Fort Carson soldier, who matched the description of the suspect described near the scene of the crime the night Lourdes was murdered. Kenda spoke to Brian with the approach that the facts would give him a theory. Initially Hawkins denied any involvement but Kenda believed that he was lying based on his body language during the interview. He requested he undergo a polygraph test and Hawkins failed miserably. When confronted with the results, Hawkins begins to cry. Hawkins told Kenda that Lourdes wanted money from Nolly Depadua. She claimed she was pregnant and was going to contact the Commander if he didn’t give her money. Nolly was concerned that his family would be ashamed of him if he got kicked out of the military. Nolly strangled Lourdes with the pantyhose.
Kenda arrested Nolly and learned from him that they had sex, and she wanted $1000 for an abortion. According to Nolly, Lourdes took his Army dress uniform, used it as ransom, and threatened to burn it if he didn’t give her the money. His career and that uniform meant everything to him. The night of the murder, Nolly asked Lourdes to meet him and give him back his uniform. Lourdes showed up without the uniform. He snapped and strangled her to death in an effort to solve his extortion problems and save his career. Nolly elicits the help of Brian to help him get rid of the body. Unlike in the movies, the car did not explode in a ball of flames like the pair was expecting. The evidence at the scene of the crime was mostly unharmed. According to Kenda, both of the soldiers appeared to show remorse for the crime. Although Lourdes Riddle was a participant in her own death and her behavior caused this reaction, she did not deserve to die. Nolly Depadua made a decision to take a life and you can’t do that. Due to the circumstances surrounding the homicide, he was found guilty of second degree murder and sentenced to fourteen years in prison. He was released after seven. Lt. Kenda ended the show with: “saying she got what she deserved is not fair.”
A couple issues come to mind when it comes to the way the military handles investigations of felony crimes. Why did the Air Force Office of Special Investigations want to take jurisdiction of this case? Why did they do an ‘immediate arrest’ instead of investigating the circumstances and basing their decisions on fact finding? Why don’t they realize that their actions actually hinder the thorough investigations of cases. Research does in fact support that most spouses are murdered by their significant others but we have this thing called due process in the civilian world. The way Kenda felt about OSI interfering and possibly damaging the case was legitimate. And Kenda approached the investigation of the case in the way that detectives should move forward. He simply wanted to talk to the spouse, not accuse of him of the crime. So far there was no evidence to prove that Mark Lourdes had committed the crime. The way the Air Force OSI handled this case is part of the reason that the military justice system is under fire. They have been accused of overreach to include not affording due process rights to both victims of crime and those accused of a crime. They have been accused of railroading military members with an iron fist and as Joe Kenda would say ‘draconian and ruthless’ tactics. They have been accused of making a victim fearful of coming forward if they were involved in a military crime, like adultery or drinking underage. Nolly Depadua is yet another example of a crime involving the motive of fear when someone threatens to go to a military commander.
This is the heart of the military justice system debate. A commander hears each person’s story and determines who is guilty and who is not guilty based on that evidence alone usually. Commanders make the decision whether to prosecute someone in the military. If felony cases were handled by prosecutors who understood the modus operandi of sociopaths, psychopaths, and predators, would our soldiers feel more comfortable reporting a crime without the fear of damaging or losing their own career. It’s a theme that comes up over and over in military cases and needs to be examined. Are soldiers hesitant to report crimes perpetrated against them to their Commander if they have engaged in illegal behavior of any kind to include drinking under age and adultery? If this is the case, we must remove this barrier so that our soldiers feel safe to report felony crimes perpetrated against them without fear of losing their careers because they committed a misdemeanor.
If Nolly had a safe place to report that Lourdes was extorting him despite the adultery issue, could we have prevented this murder? We don’t want our soldiers to feel like they have nowhere to turn if they are targeted by those who know how to manipulate unsuspecting Commanders. It’s important to recognize that both male and female soldiers can be targeted by male or female sociopaths and predators. Reporting crimes to your commander is currently a battle of whose story is more believable and what they feel or don’t feel like dealing with. Commanders hold the key to moving forward with a case or not in our current military justice system. Do they have the skills necessary to investigate and determine who should be prosecuted for crimes? Commanders may not realize that they could tip people off who need to be questioned simply by prematurely inquiring into something which creates an opportunity for collusion.
In the civilian world, you most likely will not lose your career for adultery. Yet in the military, adultery is treated like any other crime in the courts martial process and soldiers can and do lose their careers. It’s not worth a life when people feel that they have to take matters into their own hands to protect what should never been taken from them to begin with. This is why the reporting of felony crimes needs to be moved away from the Commander and to a trained investigator who can help the prosecution determine whether a crime has been committed or not. Prosecutors cannot win cases if the defendants are not afforded due process rights. And this is what gives civilian law enforcement the advantage because they are forced to work within a justice system that protects the constitutional rights of the accused. We want to respect those rights in our pursuit of justice because that is how we will get justice. We should ensure our soldiers that if a felony offense is committed against them that they can safely report the crime without the fear of losing their career.
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Excellent review and commentary!