The brutal death of Kathleen Heisey 18 years ago unleashed a flood of grief and disbelief that still shakes people from Bakersfield to McFarland.
In the second week of July 1998, hundreds of mourners packed a Bakersfield church to overflowing as they wept in heartbreak at Heisey’s memorial service in her home town. The next day, the tearful drama was replayed in McFarland as hundreds more filled the cafeteria of Browning Road Elementary School, where Heisey was principal. There’s still a mural of her at the school.
Time has not dimmed the sense of loss over the brutal death of the beloved educator, and dozens of her friends and family members say a dismissive attitude by the Bakersfield Police Department has inhibited healing.
Kathleen Heisey was 50 years old when she was stabbed and slashed to death in her south Bakersfield home sometime on the last two days of June 1998. She was the divorced mother of two – a then-25-year-old daughter working as a photographer in Washington state and a then-21-year-old son at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis.
She was a fourth-generation Kern County resident, one of six brothers and sisters who grew up in Bakersfield, where their father, a destroyer captain in World War II, was on the city council. Streets and schools are named for their pioneer forebears.
She attended Longfellow School, Washington Middle School, and Bakersfield High School – where she was known to do things out of the box, like make chocolate-covered insects in her home economics class – before going to Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, where she earned degrees in home economics and oceanography.
Despite her deep Kern County roots, her first husband, Glenn Rogers, persuaded her to follow her sense of adventure in the early 1970s and move to the wilds of Alaska. That’s where she gave birth to her daughter, Lisa Heisey.
Her marriage ended when Lisa was still a small child. Mother and daughter returned to Bakersfield where, in 1975, friends say Heisey reconnected with an old high school classmate named Robert Anderson at their 10-year high school reunion.
Kathleen and Robert married, but the marriage was short lived and the two split up while she was still pregnant with their son, Timm Heisey. She raised the children as a single mother.
Heisey’s first husband, Glenn Rogers, is remarried and lives out of state. Her second husband, Robert Anderson, is deceased.
Friends say Heisey was so strong that it was never an issue for her to play roles of both mother and father to Timm and Lisa. They say she never needed a man to help run her household and was fiercely independent.
In 1988 Heisey got her master’s in teaching from the University of La Verne.
She worked in the McFarland School District for 22 years. She began her career teaching home economics at Kern Avenue School before going on to work with troubled teenagers at the McFarland Learning Center for 10 years.
Even now, she is remembered for being extremely dedicated to helping the students there get off drugs, get out of gangs, and turn their lives around.
She was known to connect with her female teenage students by discussing the difficulties she faced being a single mother.
After Heisey’s death, one student spoke at her memorial in McFarland and said her former teacher saved her life. It was a feeling shared by many students.
On July 1, 2016, on the 18th anniversary of her killing, more than 100 people wrote to the KGET Facebook page, describing in heartbreaking terms how she touched their lives when they were students.
Many remembered her from when they were children and she was their principal at Browning Road Elementary School. Heisey was the principal of Browning Road for two years. Former faculty said the impact she made on the entire school was enormous. Just months before her death, an article was written in The Bakersfield Californian that described her as heroic for helping get hundreds of her students safely home during a serious flood in McFarland in 1998.
Lisa Heisey remembers students being so close with Kathleen that they’d call her “Mom.” Timm Heisey says it constantly amazed him that every morning students would run to Kathleen and give her hugs. Many former faculty members say students connected with her on a deeper level than other teachers and administrators.
Friends say everything was going very well for Heisey the year she died. By all accounts, being principal at Browning Road was her dream job. Her daughter Lisa was starting a budding career as a photographer, and Heisey was watching her son Timm get closer to achieving his dream of graduating from the Naval Academy and becoming a Navy pilot.
Friends say she often didn’t talk about her love life, but some knew she had a friendship with a fellow educator that blossomed into a romantic relationship.
But the man was married and, just before her death, friends say she discussed ending the relationship. That didn’t surprise anyone considering how independent she was known to be.
Aside from contemplating ending her relationship, friends and family say the only thing troubling her was issues with an employee, Lloyd Wakelee. According to former faculty, Heisey knew Lloyd was very angry about a negative evaluation she had given him, but she felt strongly about standing her ground.
Her friends and family say they are dedicated to remembering her for the person she was, not the horrible crime that ended her life.
Still, they say they are dedicated to finding out who took Heisey from her loved ones and finally getting justice. Many have said they cannot properly grieve her death or celebrate her life until they have answers.