When the severed head of a wife and mother is found, Lt. Joe Kenda uses forensics and interrogation to find both her body and her killer. Then… a young man’s murder looks like a robbery gone wrong until Kenda learns the odd reason he’s living there. -Homicide Hunter
On October 16, 1993, a mother was home with her son cooking supper. She went outside to call her dog Shadow to return home. When the dog returned, he had something large in his mouth. Danielle and her son realized that the dog had a human skull in it’s mouth. Lt. Joe Kenda of the Colorado Spring Police Department was grocery shopping when he got the call. He left his grocery shopping cart as is and headed to the scene. When Kenda arrived on the scene, the medical examiner was observing the skull. The medical examiner observed another animal got to the skull before the dog did and the time of death was within the last couple of weeks. The skull appeared to be a female with no obvious signs of bullet wounds or trauma. But they didn’t have the rest of the body to determine the official cause of death. Lt. Joe Kenda decided to start with the missing persons reports first.
Kenda also wanted to find the rest of the remains. Unfortunately, it was dark outside so they decided to resume the search the next day in during the daylight hours. The police used cadaver dogs to find the rest of the body. Cadaver dogs are trained to notify their handler when they make a hit. Kenda knew this would be a daunting task because El Paso County is the size of Rhode Island. An hour into the search, the K9 officer got a hit. They found a few more human bones; some still had flesh attached and some had teeth marks on them. Kenda theorized maybe she was a hiker out for a walk one day and got attacked by a bear. Now Joe Kenda needed to identify the dead female. They used dental records to determine if the dead woman’s teeth matched any dental records on file. On the third missing woman’s dental records, they finally found a match. Diane Pelkey, 36, was reported missing one week prior by her husband Michael Pelkey.
Michael Pelkey paid for a full page ad in the newspaper looking for Diane Pelkey. Police learned Michael was a 16 year veteran in the US Army and lived off post in Colorado Springs with his wife. Kenda now had the unfortunate task of informing Michael Pelkey of his wife’s death. He told him positive identification was made through dental records. Michael Pelkey was overcome with grief. They had been together for over 15 years. They had a son and she was four months pregnant. Michael claims the last time he saw Diane they were out at dinner and then got in an argument. He said she walked away from him and he had not seen her since. Kenda deduced she would have had to walk ten miles to get home. Kenda decided she was not killed by a bear, she was killed by a human. They didn’t know if maybe someone picked her up hitchhiking and killed her. Michael Pelkey claimed he didn’t look for his wife because he had to go home and take care of their five year old son.
As Kenda was reviewing the missing persons report for Diane Pelkey, he noticed one of the officers put JDLR (Just Doesn’t Look Right) on the bottom of the report. This is usually done when an officer feels something isn’t right or the person making the report was suspicious. Kenda spoke with the officer who took the report. They both decided the missing persons report was suspicious because Michael didn’t say anything about their child, Diane’s pregnancy, or that they got in an argument that same night. Kenda explained that usually if someone thinks something happen to a loved one, they won’t leave him alone. Kenda ran Michael Pelkey’s name through the data base and found there was a history of domestic violence, restraining orders in the past, and the couple had filed for a divorce. Kenda believed Michael Pelkey may have killed his wife but he wasn’t sure he had the authority to pursue the case.
Diane Pelkey’s remains were found in El Paso County, Colorado so the case may be out of Kenda’s jurisdiction. He pressed the sheriff’s office to put the squeeze on Michael Pelkey. They brought him into the sheriff’s department and started questioning him. They presented all the evidence they had to Pelkey and he became overwhelmed. Michael broke during the interrogation and admitted to killing his wife on October 8, 1993. He claimed they were in the car and he wanted to do some fishing. They started arguing; he accused her of being unfaithful, she accused him of being unfaithful. He said she wanted out of the vehicle to get some space from him and that didn’t sit well with him. Michael claims he snapped and started strangling Diane. Michael tried to claim that it was an accident. Kenda thought this was not an accident because it takes two to three minutes to strangle someone to death.
Michael Pelkey then told detectives he panicked after strangling Diane and decided to drive to a rural area in the Rocky Mountain foothills to dispose of her body. He put a seatbelt on her and drove as if she was simply a passenger in his car. He drove to a ravine near the highway and left her in an area where he didn’t think anyone would find her. Afterwards, he filed a missing persons report and took out an ad in the local paper to deflect suspicion from himself. Michael Pelkey probably thought he would get away with murdering her wife. But his plan unraveled and he was arrested for murder. The District Attorney allowed the Fort Carson Army leadership to court martial him despite the fact that the crime occurred in El Paso County. Michael Pelkey was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to life. He is serving his sentence at Fort Leavenworth, a military penitentiary in Kansas.
You are held to a higher standard in the United States military. You will not behave in this way and if you do, you will be one sorry son of a bitch. Sgt. Pelkey found that out the hard way. -Lt. Joe Kenda
Obituary: Diane Lee Armendariz Pelkey
Military Convicts Do Time But Also Draw Paychecks
United States v. Michael Pelkey, US Army (1997)