The Master Key – Season 4, Show 8, 2014

This is the most difficult & disturbing of all Lt. Joe’s cases.  The real-life level of violence was so high that managers at the ID channel asked the production company not to depict what actually happened.  The television version actually lightens up the case, although that’s difficult to believe when you contemplate the gruesome torture deaths of two small children & a pregnant woman.

Even as Lt. Joe told me what happened, he said he had to gloss over some of the depravity.

As he puts it at the beginning of the show, “I had not seen that kind of violence before.  It was very, very disturbing to me.”

Favorite quotes:  “People are capable of anything.”  “People are the most dangerous animals on earth.”  Although Lt. Joe repeats these lines elsewhere, this is the show where they resonate most.  (I expect you agree that “capable of anything” is a phrase that could apply to the jury as well as the perpetrator.)

Summary, the television version:  It January 12, 1979, 9:00 in the morning at the Fountain apartments in Colorado Springs.  Sorella Wollford, interviewed for this show, plans to spend the day babysitting for her upstairs neighbors, in apartment 210.  The children are Carlos, age 4, & Benjamin, age 2.  Their mother is Yvonne Sisneros, expecting her third child.  When time passes & Sorella does not hear from Yvonne, she goes upstairs & knocks on their apartment door.  She hears a thumping noise.  There’s a ruckus going on.  No one answers the door.  Not knowing what to do, Sorella returns to her own apartment. Hours later, she hears the sound of sirens.

When the call comes, Lt. Joe is in his office poring over cold case files.  For once, this is during regular daytime business hours, a rare time for murder.  But there is nothing routine or common about this case.  Every detective on the force responds.

Lt. Joe arrives to find Benjamin Sisneros, the husband & father, intensely emotional, sitting on the floor in the hallway outside the apartment.  All of the normally cool, professional responders were distressed & upset.  Surveying the scene from the front door of the apartment, Lt. Joe was staggered by what he saw.

What he saw was the woman’s body, now covered with a blanket, bloody with as many as 60 stab wounds, plus strangulation & sexual violence.  The two-year-old boy has been stabbed 22 times; the four-year-old 19 times.  A bloody barbell lies nearby, used in beating the children in the head.

You can imagine Lt. Joe’s reaction, all the more as a photo comes up of his own two small children.

“I was so disturbed,” he says, “that I was filled with rage.  My thought was I am not going to eat, sleep, anything, until I had this son of a bitch by the throat.”

How did this crime begin?  Lt. Joe finds no sign of robbery & no sign of forced entry.  Stab wounds are small & round, unlike those a knife might inflict.  Police find a possibly significant clue, a ballpoint pen, covered in blood & white flecks.  Lt. Joe speculates that it fell from the killer’s pocket.

Benjamin Sisneros is interviewed for this show.  He was young then, now approaching old age.  He is Lt. Joe’s first suspect.  Benjamin reveals that his wife was three months pregnant.  He is an air traffic controller at Fort Carson.  He had been at work since early that morning.  But when he called home & no one answered, he says he became worried.  He signed out of work at 12:10 PM.  He drove home. He called police at 12:45.

Figure how long it took him to drive home, there is a very short period of time–about five minutes–unaccounted for.  Could he have murdered his wife & children during that five minutes?  Lt. Joe believes it’s possible.  He is stretching to find a plausible reason to suspect Benjamin.

But Benjamin says that when he arrived home, he found the door unlocked, unusual for his wife, who was careful about security.  He discovered his wife’s body in the bathtub.  Horrified, he pulled her onto the floor & covered her with a blanket.  Then he called police.  Nothing about him suggests guilt.

Besides, the coroner reports time of the deaths as between 9AM & 11AM, & Benjamin had not left work until just after noon.  Lt. Joe dismisses Benjamin as a suspect.

An anonymous tip gives an address for the possible killer.  Lt. Joe arrives, along with two backup cars.  He finds a 28-year-old man.  This man can account for his time that day.  He shows no physical signs of having just committed three murders.  He reacts to the abrupt arrival of police as a normal person would.  “We were hoping this meant something,” Lt. Joe says.  “It didn’t.”

Meanwhile, police have been canvassing everyone in the apartment building.  The city is shocked.  Media are everywhere.

The police find a witness, a man who was going out to walk his dog.  This man saw someone with a key letting himself into apartment 210.  The man is dressed in a plaid shirt & tan pants.  This could be Jimmy, a maintenance man for the apartment building.  Finally, Lt. Joe has a lead.  “This is a euphoric moment,” he says.

The director of maintenance for the apartment complex identifies this as James Joseph Perry, although he says Jimmy does not have a master key.  But a background check reveals that Jimmy has a criminal record.  He arrived in Colorado after fourteen years in a New York prison for murder.  Lt. Joe orders a search warrant.

When police arrive at Jimmy’s address, they find Victoria Martinez, Jimmy’s common-law wife.  She says Jimmy has been away all night.  He has girl friends with whom he often spends the night.  She does not find this unusual.  Then she reveals something truly important.  She works cleaning apartments in that same building, & she has a master key.  The key is missing.  Police look in the washing machine & find the clothes they hoped to find–a damp plaid shirt & tan pants, washed with a great deal of bleach.  Bleach destroys blood stains.  Lt. Joe mourns, “We were inches away from finding damning physical evidence.  He beat us to it.”

Police return to the maintenance office of the apartment building.  One officer requests to use the telephone.  As he stands at the desk, he finds himself gazed at a jar of ballpoint pens.  These are pens exactly like the bloody pen police found.  Furthermore, he notices a paint roller flecked with white paint.  Is he looking at an explanation for the white flecks on that pen?  Laboratory analysis will later reveal that yes, there’s a match.

But as this officer is still at the desk, he looks up & sees Jimmy himself entering the office.  Jimmy is wearing a watch flecked with white paint & blood.  His shoes look suspiciously streaked.

Police rush to arrest Jimmy.  Lt. Joe states the obvious, “There is nothing I wanted more than to lock him up.”

Jimmy looks caged & cornered.  He demands a lawyer.  The lawyer brings an end to any idea of a tough interrogation of Jimmy.

Lt. Joe does discover more about him, though.  Jimmy is a sexual hustler.  He hassles women.  He’s been accused of molesting & assaulting women.

One witness even heard him remarking about an attractive woman named Yvonne.

Lt. Joe believes Jimmy planned ahead.  He took Victoria’s master key.  He used it to open the door to Yvonne’s apartment.  He raped & murdered her.  He murdered the children.  Then he went on with an ordinary day at work.  He did all that, & then he just went back to work.

The day arrives for Jimmy’s trial.  Jimmy pleads innocent.  Jimmy testifies, & he is quite a performer.  He tells the jury that while he was in that New York prison, he found God.  He talks about how religion made him a changed man.  He came to Colorado to start a new life.

The jury believes.  The jury acquits Jimmy on all charges.  Jimmy walks free.

Lt. Joe’s reacts, “I was absolutely dumbstruck, & he is laughing at me.”  The other officer interviewed, Skip Armes, describes this as his “greatest professional disappointment.”  The acquittal shakes faith in the court system.  It’s a “violation of the human spirit,” an affront to civilization.

The case goes cold.  There are no other possible suspects.  Several months pass by.

Lt. Joe gets a phone call from NYC police.  They want him to know that Jimmy has been found dead in the Bronx.  Someone threw Jimmy through a window on a tenth floor, & as Lt. Joe puts it, “he didn’t bounce so good.”

Yvonne had “the greatest possible misfortune of living in view of a monster.”  Benjamin, who lost his wife & children to the monster, talks about suffering over his entire life, nearly forty years of mourning & pain.

Summary, real life version:   Remember that that the ID channel considered the details of this murder too disgusting for television viewers.  Lt. Joe considered the details too disgusting to reveal to me in private conversation.  Anything you read here is short of the truth.

In the TV version, Jimmy is said to murder the children so they could not serve as witnesses.  That makes no sense, since small traumatized children could not have been able to testify, in or out of court.  In real life, he murdered to silence them.  One was found with a rag stuffed down his throat.  Also, the frenzied & prolonged nature of the attack indicates that this monster was enjoying himself.

In the TV version, police find the ballpoint pen. At about the same time, there’s mention of extreme multiple stabbing with a small-diameter round weapon. A ballpoint pen could not be that weapon.  It is too breakable.  In real life, police found the apparent weapon in Jimmy’s tool belt.  It was a nine-inch cross-point screwdriver washed in gasoline.  Its dimensions matched the wounds.  Police also found a bloody kitchen knife.

The TV version mentions several weapons Jimmy used to commit murder, but not the weapon that actually caused Yvonne’s death.  Cause of death was a mop handle thrust from her vagina to the base of her heart.

In the TV version, Jimmy is able to walk away, make his way home, & wash his clothes.  In real life, he was covered with blood, just as you’d expect.  Several people noticed, but described the stains as brown, & assumed he had been working on some particularly filthy task.  Police found blood on his belt, shoes, & watch.

The lunch time routine at that delightful place of employment (don’t you wish you worked there?) was to sit in a car & slug down vodka.  Jimmy arrived in time for one drink, but he was not his usual self.  His co-worker noticed Jimmy was agitated & sweaty.  He had scratches on his hands.  He was shadow boxing, pretending to fight.  He declared, “Oh, man, I can handle three people at once.”

Yes, the jury heard that evidence.  Yes, Lt. Joe commented just as you’d expect, that Jimmy could handle three people at once, as long as two were children, one was a pregnant woman, & all were defenseless.

In the TV version, police find dry-looking clothes in Jimmy’s washing machine.  In real life, they found the clothes still damp, smelling strongly of bleach, & covered with bleached-out spots, in a clear attempt to get rid of blood stains.

In the TV version, the jury ignored evidence.  In real life, the jury ignored a Rocky Mountain range of evidence.

In real life, Lt. Joe says he went home & hugged his children for half an hour.

Criminal’s progress:  The progress from one crime to the next is something like a jobs lists on a good resume, ever bigger & more accomplished as years go on.  Jimmy started out as a small time burglar & molester of women.  He worked up to sexual assaults.  Next was murder.  In New York, he was convicted of first-degree murder, with a sentence of twenty-five years to life.  Ever the charmer, he told the parole board that he had been accepted to a Bible college in Colorado.  This was the first time he won by “playing the God card,” as Lt. Joe puts it.  The New York parole board jumped at the change to get him far away.  As a Bible student in Colorado, he specialized in seducing the female scholars.  He took them to his car in the parking lot of the school, then videotaped sex with them.  Some were too embarrassed to object; others complained to authorities.

Tracking down witnesses:  You’d think residents of that neighborhood would have been frightened & horrified.  You’d picture them falling all over themselves to aid in the police investigation.  They should have been outside, milling around, demanding police get rid of the monster in their midst.  At the time, the press thought so, too.  They were surprised that residents & neighbors did not help–or even show up, looking worried.  Potential witnesses avoided the police.  They stayed silent, even when they had information.  Lt. Joe says that, in a bad neighborhood, that’s an ordinary pattern of behavior.  People have criminal histories, outstanding arrest warrants.  They don’t invite police notice.

But, Lt. Joe says, if you track them down, they do tell the truth.  They’ll cooperate if they have to.

Other children involved:  Victoria, Jimmy’s common-law wife, had two children from a previous relationship.  She was at least somewhat aware of Jimmy’s proclivities. Yet she allowed Jimmy to have access to her children.  Lt. Joe says bitterly that she needed Jimmy around to help with the rent.

How much time does it take to commit murder?  Lt. Joe momentarily considered whether a perpetrator (Benjamin, the husband & father of the victims, only briefly a suspect) could theoretically have committed this crime in a period of only five minutes.  When Lt. Joe teaches, he demonstrates the possibility of speed in a crime.  He asks the students to time him in a demonstration.  Here’s how the demonstration goes:  Lt. Joe sets up a dummy (or any physical object).  He enters the classroom, shouts at the object that he hates it & is going to kill it.  He then begins a virtual stabbing, counting with each blow…one, two, three…up to a count of fifty.  He then shouts that he is glad the object is dead & storms out of the classroom.  Total time: less than two minutes.

God is my character witness:  This case was so important that the chief district attorney prosecuted it personally.  Legally, when Jimmy took the stand as a witness, that meant the DA could cross-examine him about his criminal past.  Jimmy’s true depravity should have been clear & visible to the jury.  Yet Jimmy turned on the charm.  He used religion as his chief persuader.  He somehow brought the jury, mostly nice middle-class women (including a friend of Kathy’s), into a sentimental world of his imagination in which sin is wiped clean, past crimes forgiven, & a very bad guy magically becomes good, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Nearly the moment they were dismissed, the jurors realized their mistake.  In the bright light of the outside world, they came to their senses. They refused interviews.  They asked the judge not to reveal their names.

In the public outcry over the verdict, there was even a ballot initiative to eliminate trail by jury in the state of Colorado.

If you pay attention to the news, you’ve seen other verdicts gone wrong, other juries bamboozled.  You’ve heard of other criminals finding self-serving religion.  This has all happened before & will happen again–just not to the extreme of this case.

Karma:  Police in both Colorado & New York were quite pleased with the fate that struck down Jimmy.  Lt. Joe mordantly refers to Jimmy’s defenestration as “cement poisoning.”  Police in the Bronx did not investigate the murder.  They put the case away in their “Had It Coming” file.  They even sent Lt. Joe a photo of Jimmy on the sidewalk.  Lt. Joe kept that gory picture in his desk for the next seven years.

32 thoughts on “The Master Key – Season 4, Show 8, 2014

  1. Hi from Mexico,
    This case (The master key) is the proof that in reality demons exists. The jury´s mind was taken by demons, present in court thru the person of Jimmy.
    Or thru the jury?

    Thanks to ID for making this tv series and thanks God there is people like Lt. Joe Kenda and his wife.

    1. I use to reside in NYC, and I remember when it was reported in the news that this SOB monster had been thrown out of a window!! Word on the street was that, he was deliberately thrown out of the window by some low level criminals who had heard what he had done, and how he got away with murdering a mother and two little boys. This POS probably thought he could come to NY and hide, but he was wrong!! This case was never investigated and the police were happy that the bitch got what he deserved! The jury verdict was a tragedy! RIP family. You received justice!

  2. I was 10 years old back in 1979 when this case happened and it scared me to death after seeing it on the news back in California. I was surprise that this was one Lt . Kenda’s cases after almost 36 years later and the sad part about this case was that victim’s husband never got the chance to see his 2 sons grow up and be adults plus he and his wife growing old together such a sad and wasted life.

  3. Yes it would be interesting to know what happened to him, it doesn’t say anything on the show either. Perhaps this could be made into another show…

    Watching your series in England and my husband and I love Joe and Carl Marino!

  4. I was in young 16 years and living in the South Bronx. This is very sad the way this beautiful family died. Why do monster such as dead jimmy even exit? I know he’s in the depths of hell living each day being tortured. Whoever though him out that window did everyone a favor!

    1. Well jimmy throw himself out of the window he was his own killer. nobody threw jimmy out the window on the 10 floor apartment in the Bronx but jimmy himself!
      jimmy could not live with idea that murdering a pregnant woman and her two young kids was making him suicidal to the point that it was killing him and he put himself out of his own misery end of story case closed

      1. I wonder how you know that. Truth is we don’t know, but NYPD should have investigated cause that’s there job. I am not saying Jimmy didn’t richly deserved what happen, I’m just saying we have to exercise law enforcement for everyone, even but ratings like Jimmy we don’t like.

  5. I saw this for the first time. I felt sick. Joe Kenda was and is amazing. I know he was given the gift of discernment by God. That monster thrown from window reaped what he sowed. Love You Detective Joe Kenda.

    1. I wish I knew who was responsible for James being thrown out. It seems an odd theory that soneone like him would commit suicide. He has displayed that he has no conscience and he seems to be a sociopath and pyschopath so I don’t think he would feel guilt about his evil crimes. It’s obvious, though, that Greater forces are at work. True justice is always served in the end.

  6. How in blue blazes could the jury let that scumbag off? I don’t care if they realised just how badly they stuffed up, I just want to smack every last one of them upside the head. Poor, poor Benjamin. My heart just breaks for him and I wasn’t even alive when his family was stolen so cruelly.

  7. I’m with Lt Joe, he’s amazing, the best. The idiotic, foolish and gullible jurors (I’m ashamed that most were women) fell for “charm” and the “I found Jesus” story- acquitted this evil, vile human being. Anyone who starts playing the religion card, especially the “born again Christian” card, when faced with criminal charges, or to lessen a sentence if convicted, should IMMEDIATELY become more suspect in the eyes of a thinking person. Lest you think I’m against religion or anti-Christian, let me assure you, I am a “born again Christian” myself. Most criminals who claim to “find god” are not sincere and are still criminals.

  8. What a sad, sad story! Anyone who would kill a pregnant woman and two small children is the devil. I can’t believe the jury let him off with the evidence they had. My heart goes out to Benjamin Sisneros. I can’t imagine what he went through losing his whole family.

    I would love to send Thank You Flowers to the person that threw James Joseph Perry out the window. They did the world a favor!

    I love the show. Lieutenant Joe Kenda is awesome! I love that he is no nonsense but has a sense of humor.

  9. That is just so awful how a person could/would do something like that. I truly believe people like that are demon possessed. And as for him falling out the window the Bible says “Those who live by the sword,die by the sword.” As for me im Lindsay and I’m 22 years old (although most people say i look younger) I just love your show Joe! And I even once considered going to college to be a Detective,since ever i was a girl, I always noticed what people wore and I noticed what cars they drove right down to the make and model. But I decided againist it as, I dont think I’d be able to take seeing people hurt and killed. I watch your show all the time and I love your light blue eyes. I notice you wear blue shirts a lot on the show, it sure makes your eyes show up! Blessings to you!

  10. I lived in that building. My husband was in the military. I was pregnant with my daughter. Had her in 1977. We had moved out soon after? I just remember coming home from Wisconsin coming thru a snow storm in Denver and hearing of this on the radio. I feel so terrible for this young military family. And grateful for mine!!

  11. I jst watched a repeat of this story & was shocked/sickened by the depravity of the crime and the utter failure & stupidity of the jury members. They could not have cared less abt that lady or her children. How could they let that demon walk free?! Just nauseating! Who ever tossed that prick out of that window thank You!!! I am positive he was involved in other murders. Pure evil.

  12. I agree with Carlos and those of you who speak of demonic ppl. James, IMO, was living proof.

    I’d like to think that he threw himself out the window, all thanks to spirits, voices he was seeing and hearing. I would also like to believe he was seeing and hearing them since he left CO. He was in his own mental hell and rightfully so. Asshole.

    1. I am a retired Homicide Det From Los Angeles Police department and back in 1978 I was investigating a similar murder like this but it only involved a adult female then a few mouths later my partner called me to get a news paper and when I saw this murder case I was thinking this murder was connected to the one I was investigating but it wasn’t.

      My first theory is why was jimmy paroled from jail for the first murder he committed in New York .

      My second theory is why jimmy was allowed to work at the apartment as a maintenance man and apartment management let this man work there to go in the people’s apartment to fix things I would say it was careless and irresponsible for the management to hire a man who killed in the past I would have hold the company responsible for the deaths of Yvonne and her two son with a wrongful death suite because they did not know the warning signs of what he was going to do when you here someone making a sexual remark about women in the apartment building this man should have never been out of prison.

      My Third theory is Jimmy did not come to Colorado springs to become a bible pastor he came to Colorado springs to find a new place to victimize women he planed to do his sinister act on women his idea of becoming a bible pastor is just all a cover up for his sickening act for brutal violence I don’t think Yvonne and her two sons were his first victims in Colorado Springs he probably murdered other people in Colorado springs and went under the radar.

  13. I’ve just the watched the episode for the first time and this is my theory from England. The manner and facial expression of Lt. Joe as he desribed Perry’s ultimate demise convinced me that he knew more about that. He probably had several close contacts in the NYPD and could easily have arranged the ‘accident’ from the 12th floor window. A New York Officer could easily have done it or maybe one of Joe’s friends in the New York police enticed one of the criminal elements there to do it.

    Lt. Joe’s justified outrage at the crime and verdict, particularly given the real cause of death to the woman as revealed in this article, would provide a powerful motive. If Lt. Kenda were investigating Perry’s murder I’m sure his own faultless logic would have placed himself at the top of the list of suspects. Fortunately nobody ever did investigate. I’d like to think that Lt. Joe had a hand in Perry’s fate but I’d hate that to ever be proven.

  14. I am Chuck and I was not only a friend of Ben’s and his family, I was the person who picked him up in the morning, worked with him, and took him home that day. I loved his family and his wife Yvonne was just a great person, as was Ben. I was also a pall bearer at the funeral and testified in the trial by being flown from my Post in Korea, I heard later about his aquittal and I was astonished, Today, as I have revisited this terrible crime I remember the day and the horrible after effect this crime had on everyone involved like it was yesterday. I have lost touch with Ben since, but I would love to reconnect with him and see how he has been all of these years. the jurors in this case have only their own consciouses to never allow them to sleep well for the rest of their living days that they let this dangerous person to continue to walk amongst the good public and continue his sociopathic horrific behavior!!!! God bless Ben and his befallen family and every other victim of this inhuman person!

  15. Lt. Joe Kendra is proof that God has put Guardian Angels in the flesh right here on Earth for us. God bless this man and the horrible burdens he’s carried all these years in the name of justice.

  16. I just watched this episode/case and wondered if the CSPD kept the DNA. It would be great if it were a match. Lt. Joe Kenda is awesome, I love this show. I always feel vindicated when justice is served in this life at least.

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