BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — 23ABC News looked into several cold case investigations for a newscast being called “Kern County Unsolved.”
The newscast airs Sunday, Nov. 3 at 6:30 p.m. on 23ABC News. Jessica Harrington will host the show and give us a look at some compelling cases with chilling effects that 23ABC is following.
Those cases include the death of Bianca Jackson, the disappearance of Tessie Mangohig and the killing of Wendale Davis.
A case that has also caught the nation’s attention is the Bakersfield 3.
It’s a story of three people who ran in the same circle of friends. James Kulstad was shot and killed, the body part of his friend, Micah Holsonbake, found in water and Baylee Despot hasn’t been seen in more than a year.
This mystery of what happened to them remains unsolved.
Three Friends, Three Mysteries
For more than a year, no one knows what happened to Kulstad, Holsonbake and Despot.
“My son went missing. Kind of fell off the radar,” said Cheryl Holsonbake, Micah Holsonbake’s mother.
That’s how these puzzling cases began.
On March 23, 2018, Micah Holsonbake was reported missing, and authorities began looking into what happened to the 34-year-old.
“His friends began calling us, asking us if he was with us because they hadn’t seen him,” said Cheryl Holsonbake.
She said she attempted to file a missing person’s report, but says, she got the run around from police.
Then on April 8 of that same year, Kulstad was found shot and killed in his mother’s car in Southwest Bakersfield. There were no leads into who killed him.
His mother, Diane Byrne, said she found out her son’s friend Holsonbake had gone missing.
Byrne said Kulstad was helping Holsonbake move just weeks prior to the shooting and disappearance.
The two mothers then spoke about similarities in their cases and began approaching investigators together.
“She said, ‘something’s not right. I think our sons knew the same people.’ We started comparing notes. Sure enough, there were far too many similarities to be comfortable with that,” said Cheryl Holsonbake.
A couple weeks later another disappearance came into the picture.
20-year-old Baylee Despot was reported missing by family. Her family says she was friends with Kulstad and Holsonbake.
“I’m hoping my daughter is alive, but my momma heart tells me something different,” said Jane Parrent, Baylee Despot’s mother.
Parrent said Despot’s social media posts had stopped, and she couldn’t reach her.
“I knew something happened to her,” said Parrent.
Her mother began posting flyers of Despot’s disappearance around the city. Shortly after that, Cheryl Holsonbake saw the flyers and reached out to Parrent and spoke about the cases.
“My husband, Lance, said that’s related. I remember her. Micah knows her,” said Cheryl Holsonbake.
The three mothers would form the group known as the Bakersfield 3.
They have worked with authorities to try and find leads and answers in each case, but have yet to find out what happened in each case.
“I just keep asking the detective to just tell me if she’s alive or is she dead, and they can’t,” said Parrent.
A sickening discovery was made in August of 2018 when people swimming at Hart Park found a body part in the water. The Kern County Search and Rescue team was notified and recovered the remains.
In December, Bakersfield police confirmed it belonged to Micah Holsonbake, and that missing person’s case turned into a homicide investigation.
“It’s a really difficult thing to not only know that your child was killed, but that someone thought so little of them they dismembered them and threw them out like trash,” said Cheryl Holsonbake.
Additionally, that day Bakersfield police took over the missing person’s case for Despot, which was initially being investigated by the sheriff’s office.
Since then, there haven’t been any new leads or breakthroughs in the three cases, but the three mothers say they still have hope there will be justice.
“I believe that when all the timing is right and all the other things align, people are brave, step forward and are willing to give information that it will lay out very simply to a jury. The individual or individuals will be found guilty,” said Cheryl Holsonbake.
Anyone with information on the cases is asked to call the Secret Witness line at 322-4040. There are rewards for information on those case. There are $10,000 rewards for both Holsonbake and Kulstad and $16,000 for information on Despot’s whereabouts.
Who were The Bakersfield 3?
Though what happened to Holsonbake, Kulstad and Despot remains a mystery, the three aren’t far in the minds of their loved ones.
“Micah was very gregarious. He talked a lot and told a lot of corny jokes,” said Cheryl Holsonbake.
“James was 6-foot-5 and seemed like he was 10-foot tall. He had a personality that was just unbelievable,” said Diane Byrne, Kulstad’s mother.
“Baylee has the best laugh, and she liked to be silly,” said Parrent.
Cheryl Holsonbake said her son loved karaoke, but jokingly says he wasn’t very good at it. She also adds that they recently had a family gathering that he would have enjoyed.
“Micah would have been all over it,” she said. “He would have been calling us and asking us, ‘you’re not here yet. Why aren’t you here?’”
Byrne said Kulstad was the father of two girls. He was an entrepreneur, who was holding a patent on a product for the action sports industry. However, Byrne says she will always remember his love for everyone.
“When you see his Facebook, one of his last posts – besides to his girlfriend – it was ‘brother, I have your back.’ He was your friend, and when you were his friend, he would give you the shirt off his back,” said Byrne.
Parrent says her daughter loved animals and enjoyed taking care of them. Despot was on the Future Farmers of America while at Frontier High School. She adds that she was kind and enjoyed being silly.
The investigations are still continuing, but the three families are also looking to help with future cases.
The three mothers have started to help with raising money for the Secret Witness Reward program, but now they are looking to help raise money for a specific crew.
They say they want to raise money for the Search and Rescue team so that they can receive upgrades to underwater sonar to help with finding bodies or human remains in water.
Another way they are looking to help is by attending KCSO’s Missing In California event happening Saturday, Nov. 9 at the Kern County Superintendent of Schools Office at 2000 K St. It’s going on from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.
Officials said they will be connecting families with law enforcement to bring missing people back home, and to bring closure for families of the unidentified.
If anyone has a family member who is missing, they are asked to bring photos for identification of the person, dental and medical records.
23ABC is set to air a special newscast called “Kern County Unsolved” on Sunday, Nov. 3 at 6:30 p.m., ahead of the Missing In California event.