BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — It began as a missing persons case.
Micah Holsonbake was last seen in Bakersfield near the end of March 2018. Then he disappeared.
No phone calls or text messages. No sightings around town, or anywhere. His family said he had never gone missing before.
They were concerned, wondering what would make Holsonbake miss holidays, even his own birthday, without contacting someone.
Months later, their worst fears were realized.
A severed arm found in a bag in the Kern River was identified as belonging to Holsonbake.
One mystery was solved and a new one took its place: Who killed him?
Prosecutors say it was two acquaintances — Matthew Queen and Baylee Despot.
Queen, 45, goes on trial next week on charges including torture and murder. It’s alleged he and Despot questioned Holsonbake about a missing gun then killed him and got rid of the body.
Queen faces 50 years to life in prison if convicted of all charges.
The trial is expected to be followed closely in the community, having generated an intense amount of publicity the past few years. In addition to voluminous local coverage, the case has received national attention, with families connected to it making appearances on the “Dr. Phil” talk show.
Much was revealed at a preliminary hearing last year, but more details on what led to Holsonbake’s death and the disposal of his body are expected at trial, which attorneys say should last about a month.
Perhaps the most eagerly awaited testimony is that of Matthew Tyler Vandecasteele, who was charged in the case and whose garage was allegedly where Holsonbake was tortured and killed. He agreed to testify in exchange for a four-year prison term.
Dozens of others will be called to the witness stand. Some are acquaintances — an ex-girlfriend of Queen is expected to testify — while others are people who ran in Queen’s circle and allege Queen kidnapped and threatened to kill them.
There is also the possibility Queen takes the stand. He’s under no obligation to testify, but he and defense attorney Timothy Hennessy may conclude jurors should hear from him.
One ex-girlfriend of Queen who won’t be present — barring a startling revelation — is Despot. She disappeared shortly after Holsonbake and four years have passed with no word from her.
Prosecutors say they decided to charge her because there is no evidence confirming she is dead.
Holsonbake, Despot and a third person, James Kulstad, became known as the “Bakersfield 3” because they were acquaintances who either went missing or were killed within two months in 2018.
Kulstad was fatally shot April 8, 2018. His killing remains unsolved but is not believed to be connected to Holsonbake’s death.
Holsonbake, 38, ran with a rough crowd. There was testimony at the preliminary hearing that many used drugs, and guns were often present.
Holsonbake and Queen illegally fabricated weapons, according to prosecutors. They kept some, sold others.
When a revolver went missing, Queen blamed Holsonbake, according to prosecutors.
Holsonbake was brought to Vandecasteele’s detached garage for questioning on or about March 20, 2018, prosecutors said. It’s alleged Queen and Despot bound him with zip ties then tortured him.
Vandecasteele, 35, told police Despot entered his house twice to grab items she took back to the garage. One of the items was a paring knife.
Despot later entered the house shaking and “looking pale as a ghost,” Vandecasteele said according to testimony from a detective at the preliminary hearing.
Vandecasteele said Queen returned the next day and asked for help disposing of something, according to the detective. A large covered black tub was in the back of Queen’s SUV.
It was big enough to hold a body, Vandecasteele said according to the detective.
A red grapefruit-sized stain in Vandecasteele’s garage tested positive for blood that was a DNA match to Holsonbake, police reports said.
Detectives searched Vandecasteele’s Gmail account and found it contained searches during the week of Holsonbake’s disappearance for “lye chemical formula,” “lye for sale” and “how long does it take to dissolve a human body,” according to the documents.
In August 2018, Holsonbake’s arm was found in a bag by boys playing in the Kern River. His skull was recovered last year in the river east of the overflow parking lot of Pyle’s Boys Camp.
The rest of his body has not been found.
Two people testified at the preliminary hearing that Queen had kidnapped and pointed a gun at them in separate incidents.
One witness, Megan Farmer, said Queen pointed a gun at her as he questioned her over whether Despot had been faithful to him.
During cross-examination, she testified she used drugs, mostly cocaine, during the time of the incidents in question, but not on the days they occurred.
Caleb Seiler told the court Queen and two other men took him from his bed in the middle of the night and drove him around the Oildale area while questioning him. Queen pointed a gun at him that Seiler believed was real but turned out to be a BB gun, Seiler said.
Seiler testified he helped Queen and Holsonbake put together illegal AR-style rifles.
Last year, Seiler pleaded no contest to possession of a firearm by a felon after probation officers found a short-barreled AR-15-style rifle, two 9mm handgun frames, two silencers, ammunition and a high-capacity magazine in his home.
Farmer, Seiler and many more will have an opportunity to elaborate on Queen’s alleged actions during the coming weeks. Opening statements are set for 10 a.m. Monday.