Joe Kenda, the 71-year-former detective and star of Investigation Discovery’s breakout hit Homicide Hunter is the undisputed Crime Daddy of the third annual “ultimate super-fan” experience known as IDCON.
As I enter New York’s Altman Building, the first of two meet and greet/photo op sessions is in full swing. A long line of fans inch their way down a step and repeat for a handshake and iPhone snap with ID’s star talent. At the far end is Candice DeLong, former FBI profiler and host of one of ID’s longest running shows, Deadly Women. A bit farther down is Tony Harris, the event’s emcee and host of Scene of the Crime. And at the very end, with the bearing of a bemused and skeptical uncle is Kenda himself, posing gamely with a young woman and her tiny dog.
A month ago, the $50 tickets to IDCON (all proceeds go to New York’s Silver Shield program) sold out in 24 hours and now, some 450 attendees roam around the various activations IDCON has to offer. There’s “Lie to Me” manned by real polygraph examiners, a Chalk Wall where participants can leave a message explaining what they love about ID, and ID Ink, an airbrush tattoo station. ID Ink has the shortest line so I sit in the chair, and get (temporarily) tattooed with the Investigation Discovery logo. I ask the tattoo artist what the most popular design of the day has been.
“Joe by far,” she tells me, holding up a stencil of Kenda’s face stained with black ink.
Now, lest you think that Investigation Discovery is merely riding the crest of the current wave of true crime popularity, it’s important to provide some context for the existence of the cable television channel and the IDCON experience. ID, as it is commonly referred to, began its current iteration as a 24-hour showcase of true crime content in 2008 — years before “Serial” or Making a Murderer “legitimized” the genre. The channel was one of the first mainstream cable networks to see the appeal of crime for a female audience, and it’s currently the #1 network for women aged 25-54. Early on, ID embraced social media interaction, encouraging fans known as #IDAddicts to post on their social pages about binging shows like Wives With Knives, Poisoned Passions, and Momsters: When Moms Go Bad. ID wanted viewers to not only watch shows, but to also become a proud and outspoken member of a true crime community.
ID’s more recent shows, including Homicide Hunter (featuring the one-and-only Joe Kenda), are an example of the investment ID has had to make in production value in an effort to compete in the increasingly crowded media space. Earlier that rainy morning, in fact, as IDCON attendees waited for doors to open, operatives from the Oxygen network arrived and began handing out branded totes to the line. Oxygen recently relaunched itself in the mold of ID — a crime-all-the-time channel — and the basic cable interlopers were asked to leave by ID staff. ID later issued a polite but firm “no comment” when asked about Oxygen’s presence at IDCON.
Now, a few hours later, as I wander about, emboldened by the special status conferred upon me by my press badge, I decide to find out what Joe Kenda, the man of the hour, makes of the whole phenomenon of IDCON. I slip into the green room where I find, not Joe, but — even better — Joe’s wife, Kathy.
I am happy to report that Kathy Kenda is exactly as lovely as one would expect her to be. I ask her what she thinks about all the female attention her husband gets and she sidesteps the less savory implication of my question (What do you think about Joe’s thirsty fans?) with the grace and aplomb of a total pro.
“I always knew he’d have female fans,” she tells me. “When I was a little girl, my Mom always read True Crime magazine and Ellery Queen. Women love true crime.”
Leaving the green room and letting Kathy Kenda get back to her lunch, I spot Candice DeLong. Candice — my personal favorite ID personality — is in conversation with the woman who provides Deadly Women’s signature spooky voiceover. I don’t know this woman’s name because throughout the day she’s been referred to exclusively as “The Voice.” Candice, dressed in a turquoise pantsuit that offsets her dark hair and and eyes as blue as your wealthiest friend’s swimming pool, asks The Voice, “So how’d you get this gig?”
I don’t hear The Voice’s response because I have whipped around to the publicist to secure an interview with DeLong, who is then gracious enough to sit with me for a few minutes and discuss her career as an FBI profiler who studied under John Douglas, author of Mindhunter. DeLong has been involved in the investigation of such infamous crimes as the Chicago Tylenol Murders and the Unabomber. When I ask her why there is a Kenda tattoo but no Candice tattoo she gives me a pointed look and tells me the story of a nine year old boy she’d personally rescued from a child molester and who, as an adult, had DeLong’s face tattooed (permanently) on his arm.
She also complimented my hair.
As part of ID’s commitment to staying relevant in the era of “prestige” true crime programming, they’ve partnered with People magazine for a series under the umbrella of People Magazine Investigates. Present at IDCON to host a panel about the most recent series, People Magazine Investigates: Cults, is executive editor Jess Cagle who discusses with me the many ways in which the partnership between ID and People is mutually beneficial. Cagle has just come from the make up room (a light powdering, his publicist explains). He is one of those poreless, sophisticated men who can effortlessly wear statement glasses and sports a suit that bends and folds in perfect tandem with his every movement.
He’s charismatic enough that I have to ask him, “Do you think you’ll ever be as popular as Joe Kenda?”
“No,” he answers without hesitation.
Everybody has a grand unified theory about why true crime is so popular right now, especially among women. Some say it’s representative of the years of systemic misogyny we’ve endured and that claiming the narrative of crime — especially the crimes committed against women — is actually empowering. But ID seems a lot less concerned with examining the motivations and nuances of the genre. The fans may be #IDAddicts but they’re not true crime completists — the attendees I spoke with at IDCON hadn’t, for the most part, watched any of the most recent true crime documentaries on Netflix and few listened to popular true crime podcasts like “My Favorite Murder.”
The fans’ obsession with Joe Kenda and their devotion to ID, seems to have less to do with the world of true crime and more to do with the stately, reliable detectives and crime procedurals of an earlier time. Joe Kenda isn’t Dean Strang or Sarah Koenig. He’s Perry Mason with a bit of Columbo and a dash of CSI’s Gil Grissom. The stories he tells may be gruesome but they are also solved. Joe Kenda always gets the bad guy and, for the 450 attendees of IDCON on that gray, drizzly Saturday, that kind of certainty seemed to be a comfort in uncertain times.
When I finally do get to meet Joe Kenda, posing for a photo in front of the step-and-repeat, I have just enough time to tell him I met his wife. “How nice!” he says putting his arm around me and smiling for the camera. I don’t mention that I’ve gone back to the airbrush tattoo booth and am currently sporting his face on my inner arm, just above my wrist.