It’s been 18 years and Kathleen Heisey’s family and friends still cry out of for justice.
They say they aren’t getting it from the Bakersfield Police Department.
The beloved grade school principal was slashed and hacked to death on a hot midsummer night in 1998.
It got a lot of media attention and investigative resources. Heisey’s loved ones were in constant contact with detectives. Now, the police department has gone quiet.
Her co-workers and friends think detectives are silent because they mishandled the case at the time of the crime and, in the crush of new homicides and with a solution rate in the 40-percent range, investigators hope the public will just forget about Kathleen Heisey.
So friends and family reached out to us. By the dozen.
They wanted us to tell them what detectives wouldn’t.
They wanted us to help them make sure the case wasn’t forgotten.
It wasn’t easy, but we asked enough questions that police rekindled their long-dormant investigation.
Now, for the first time in 18 years, a full-time detective is assigned to the case. New DNA samples have been taken. New interviews are being conducted.
This story is the result of seven months of digging and seven months of fighting with police.
Investigators got court orders sealing usually public court documents.
Detectives had the sheriff’s department seal public coroner’s records.
Repeated public records requests were denied.
Top brass at BPD ordered subordinates not to talk to us.
So, since April, we’ve tracked down friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, witnesses, and retired investigators.
We interviewed dozens of people in three states.
We spent hours and hours digging through records of related cases in state and federal courts in Bakersfield, Arizona and Oklahoma. For some information, we dug back more than 30 years.
We found what police never told the family – that in the weeks before her brutal murder, the single mom from the quiet cul-de-sac crossed paths with several violent men. She had given an ultimatum to her married boyfriend.
Heisey was 50 years old in the summer of 1998. She was principal of Browning Road Elementary School in McFarland, about 25 miles north of Bakersfield on Highway 99.
She lived at 2016 Raymond A. Spruance Court, adjacent to a huge vacant field where the Panama Lane Lowe’s Home Improvement store now stands.
Late on the afternoon of June 29, 1998 she drove 10 minutes to the Bakersfield home of lifelong friend Lynn Runyan, also a teacher at the McFarland school. Runyan remembers that Heisey left just as the national news ended at 7 p.m. that Monday night.
The next day – Tuesday – the always-dependable Heisey missed a school meeting. When she didn’t show up on campus the day after that – Wednesday – office personnel in McFarland called Runyan in Bakersfield and asked her to check.
It was about noon when Runyan got to Heisey’s home.
Outside, she found two days’ newspapers on the porch.
Inside, she found a blood bath.
“There are absolutely no words to describe it,” Runyan said. “I’ve been in therapy seven and a half years. I never even told my therapist exactly what I saw.”
Heisey was killed with a large knife, but she wasn’t stabbed. “It wasn’t a poking-type of stab wound,” said Kevin Legg, who was the first homicide detective assigned to the case. “It was like an overhand into the upper torso, slash down until you hit bone and then you go right or left …
“There was overkill,” Legg said. “which indicated to me it was personal.”
“Extremely personal,” said Greg Laskowski, now retired but supervising criminalist at the Kern County crime lab at the time.
It gets worse.
Legg and Laskowski believe Heisey was killed in the living room and her body dragged to her bedroom.
There, two guns were inserted into her body – a sexual statement of defiance or rage or hatred, the investigators said.
There were no witnesses.
Nothing was stolen.
There was no forced entry.
No murder weapon was found and no knives were missing, leading to the conclusion the killer, as Legg put it, “brought their own tools” for the killing and took the weapons when they left.
And whoever it was must have been strong, Laskowski said.
“It was personal, and she knew her killer,” Legg said.
Who could do such a thing?
There are lots of theories. She was immensely popular in the small town where she was principal. There were a lot of guesses.
Heisey was a fierce protector of the children at her school. Some speculate she reported child abuse to law enforcement, and earned the hatred of dangerous parents. Some people heard the Mexican Mafia might be involved.
Another theory suggests Heisey might have been the victim of a serial killer. Michael Charles Brown, 41, is a serial rapist and convicted murderer on San Quentin’s Death Row in connection with a series of Bakersfield crimes between 2000 and 2008. Although there is no known connection between Brown and Heisey, investigators have noted similarities in her death and several crimes known to have been committed by Brown.
Heisey’s son says he has no doubt who the killer is. He says he’s known from the very beginning.
Timm Heisey was 21 at the time of the crime. He had been living with his mother but left that Sunday – the killing was on Monday night or Tuesday morning – for training as a cadet at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Before he left, his mother told him she was terrified of a co-worker.
“She told him that she was writing a bad evaluation on him and when she presented it to him he flipped out and basically said, ‘If you submit that, it’ll be the last thing you ever do.”
“She came home just hysterical.” Timm Heisey said. “Several days later she was stabbed to death in her home.”
Timm Heisey said the counselor was Lloyd Wakelee.
Wakelee, 48 years old and 6-foot-1 and 225 pounds at the time of the homicide, also is a prime suspect for Legg, the now-retired Bakersfield Police detective who was the first investigator on the case.
“He was a suspect almost right out of the gate,” Legg said.
But Wakelee’s family said that demonstrates his innocence. Bakersfield police have been investigating him for 18 years and he’s never been arrested in this case.
His wife, Debbie, says Wakelee, now 67, is disabled by dementia and unable to be interviewed for this story. She said he has only a few months to live.
She said Wakelee gave a DNA sample the week of the killing. She said he has taken a lie detector test. His house was searched.
Wakelee has never been charged with anything in connection with the Heisey case.
But he has been in trouble with the law.
He used to live in Oklahoma.
On Oct. 26, 1983 he went to a post office there to check on a registered letter. When he found the letter had not been delivered, he snatched a postal service computer off a counter and smashed it to the floor, according to a Federal Court indictment.
We tracked down the postal manager on duty that day. Even 33 years later, he remembers Lloyd Wakelee.
“I ran up front to see what’s going on,” said Marshall Hannah, now 94. “He walked to his car and I followed him out. He didn’t get in his vehicle.
“He pulled out a pistol,” Hannah said. “I thought he was going to shoot me.”
Nearby postal inspectors arrested Wakelee. A Federal Grand jury indicted him on a charge of assaulting a postal employee and destroying property.
He ultimately pleaded guilty to the assault charge and the property charge was dismissed, according to court documents.
He was placed on four years probation in 1984 and required to have treatment by a clinical psychologist, according to court documents.
A few years later he was living in Bakersfield and working as a counselor for the McFarland Unified School District.
On March 11, 1998 – three-and-a-half months before the Heisey killing – Wakelee was involved in a traffic incident that led to a confrontation.
The other driver said Wakelee pulled up beside him at a stop sign, got out of his car and threatened him with a 3-foot-long, 1-inch-wide sword.
“You guys need to watch what you’re doing. Someone could come along and cut your heart out,” Wakelee said, according to the other driver, as quoted in court documents. Because that driver is listed as the victim in police reports, his name was redacted in court documents. Wakelee is listed as the suspect, so his name is not hidden.
The police reports say the investigating officer tracked Wakelee down to his southwest Bakersfield house. Wakelee said the other driver cursed and threatened him. He said he pulled the sword only in self defense.
No charges were filed in the case. In fact, the investigating officer’s report wasn’t even typed up for three-and-a-half months – until the night Kathleen Heisey’s body was found.
A year later, in June, 1999 there was another road rage incident.
“During an argument which took place over a traffic incident, suspect produced a whip and beat the victim, causing visible injury,” the investigating Bakersfield Police officer wrote. “Suspect got back inside his vehicle and intentionally rammed the victim’s vehicle,” the report said.
Wakelee is the suspect named in the report. The victim’s name is redacted.
No charges were filed in that case until February, 2000, when Legg – the BPD detective assigned to the Heisey homicide investigation – persuaded prosecutors to file multiple misdemeanor allegations of assault with a deadly weapon and battery.
Wakelee and his attorney – the same attorney who represented him in the Heisey homicide investigation – fought the case for years. In the end, Wakelee had to attend a 10-week anger management course and do some community service. In 2004, all charges were expunged, leaving Wakelee with a clear criminal record.
Debbie Wakelee, speaking for her dementia-disabled husband, said the case was a part of Legg’s obsession and the police department’s continuing persecution because of the Heisey case.
A detective – not Legg – once told her, she said, “Lloyd will always be a suspect on the back burner until they solve the murder,” and that has proved true, she said.
Wakelee may remain a suspect, but he’s not the only suspect.
Many friends of Heisey’s think Bakersfield Police have not aggressively enough investigated Heisey’s married boyfriend – the man to whom she gave a leave-your-wife ultimatum shortly before she was slain.
Bob Taylor was 53 years old, 6-foot-3 and 217 pounds, when Heisey was killed. He’s 71 now and – like Lloyd Wakelee – disabled by dementia and in a nursing home, according to KGET interviews with two of his three ex-wives.
He was a principal of a Tulare County high school. His only criminal record is a string of drunken driving convictions, all of which happened after the Heisey killing.
After her death, Heisey’s daughter found a letter from Taylor that mentioned an “an ultimatum” Heisey had given Taylor. The letter was not Heisey’s ultimatum to Taylor. It was Taylor’s response to Heisey’s letter.
In the letter, Lisa Heisey recalls, Taylor pleaded with Kathleen Heisey not to end the 4-year-long relationship.
What happened between the two? Neither Heisey or Taylor can answer.
But the two were together just hours before she died.
Investigators believe she was killed Monday night, June 29, 1998 or early the next morning.
Heisey’s daughter says Taylor was at Heisey’s house that Sunday night, June 28, 1998, just hours before the killing.
But, Lisa Heisey said, when she spoke to her mother that Sunday night, Heisey did not seem upset. In fact, just the contrary. In a seemingly carefree conversation, she said she and Taylor were playing cribbage.
Heisey was alive and well the following afternoon, Monday, when she visited her friend, Lynn Runyan. Runyan was a life-long friend, the kind of confidant with whom Heisey routinely shared personal issues, Runyan said.
Runyan said Heisey didn’t mention any problems with Taylor.
The big mystery to family and friends is why Bakersfield Police didn’t pay more attention to Taylor – and his wife.
Neither his wife at the time or his subsequent wife ever have been questioned by Bakersfield police. Taylor’s wife at the time, now his Ex-Wife No. 2, said she didn’t know Taylor was tied to the killing until years later when he confessed his infidelity.
She thinks it’s odd that detectives never questioned her and that her husband was able to keep her from knowing about it.
One person who was questioned by detectives was Heisey’s cousin, Charles Curran Shannon.
He is 62 now, and linked to the case by a criminal record of kidnapping and attempted rape and by a very coincidental time frame. We reached out to him through his sister, but he did not reply for this story, which is based on interviews with the sister, a retired police detective and on court records.
Like Heisey, Shannon is a fourth-generation Kern County resident from a prominent family. Streets and schools are named after his family.
Shannon was in trouble from an early age. His first adult conviction came when he was just 18. He was prosecuted for grand theft the next year, but that case was dismissed. He got a second DUI when he was 22, according to court documents.
Those same documents say he was under psychiatric care as a teenager.
He entered the Army in 1974, but was out in 1975 due to a “family problem,” according to court documents. His sister said he earned a disability retirement in the Army, but she didn’t know the nature of the retirement or the disability or the “family problem” mentioned in court papers.
In 1977 a woman told police Shannon – 5-foot-6 and 140 pounds – tried to kidnap her from a Bakersfield motel. After a plea bargain, he was convicted of false imprisonment, sentenced to a year in jail and ordered to get alcohol abuse counseling.
In 1981 another woman told police Shannon, then 26, took her to an oilfield and tried to forcibly rape her. That case ended when Shannon agreed to plead guilty to attempted rape.
He was sentenced to four years in prison and ordered to register as a sex offender wherever he lives for the rest of his life.
He was convicted of forgery in Missouri and, in 1995, for grand theft in Arizona.
In 1998, he was 43 years old and living in South Dakota … until late June.
Charles Curran Shannon
He moved to Bakersfield the week Kathleen Heisey was killed, according to court records. The day after her body was found he moved out of town, to his mother’s house in Glennville.
After chasing other leads all over the county, Bakersfield Police Detective Kevin Legg got a tip to check Shannon out.
Police records told Legg that Shannon was a sex offender who was required to register with authorities every time he moved. The records showed he had not registered in Kern County.
That was enough for Legg. The Bakersfield Police Department homicide investigator and two other BPD detectives drove to Glennville and arrested Shannon.
Legg took him to jail and questioned him about the Heisey case.
Shannon was convicted of failing to register and sentenced to a year in jail. But he denied any involvement in the Heisey killing and was not arrested for it.
When he was released from jail in 1999, he moved to Mexico, his sister said, where he has lived quietly ever since, getting by on his Army pension.
Just about every one of Heisey’s family and friends knows a little of this story. Virtually none knew, until now, all the details reported here.
None knows the whole story of the Bakersfield Police Department investigation, and that is a decades-old frustration for many.
“Extremely frustrating,” said Heisey’s son, Timm.
“I’ve tried my best to be on the side of the police force,” he said. But, “For years I’ve battled with this frustration of their mishandling of the case and thought, ‘Oh, I should just be quiet. They’re going to get this solved.”
He said that, over the years, when he’s called Bakersfield Police for updates on the case, he’d find some new detective had been assigned, and the detective had little or no understanding of the crime or the previous investigation.
“I put myself in the detective’s shoes and he’s probably got all these new cases coming across his desk, and he has to focus on those.
“It never ends, and there’s not a lot of incentive for them to get this solved.
“I don’t support vigilante justice, but with a police department that has a murder solve rate of 40 percent, I find it hard to tell people to just sit tight when something catastrophic happens to their family,” Timm Heisey said.
Timm Heisey is so frustrated he once conned his way into Wakelee’s home while the family was out of town. He toured the house, videotaping what he saw, looking for clues. “I do want to make it clear to anyone in a situation like mine, don’t just wait on a police department and hope that they’re gonna be able to solve it,” he said. “You need to be doing something yourself.”
Lisa, Kathleen, and Timm Heisey
Lynn Runyan, Kathleen Heisey’s childhood friend was the last person – beside the killer – to see Heisey alive. It was Runyan who found the body. After the killing, she volunteered for the Kern County Grand Jury and was appointed foreman.
“It won’t be finished,” she said. “I can’t get away from it: ‘What’s going on with Kathleen’s case? What’s going on with Kathleen’s case?’ I don’t know.
“It should have been solved a decade and a half ago,” Runyan said. “In my opinion, there’s no reason for it to have not been.”
A group of retired McFarland school employees meets every month at Hodel’s restaurant. The Heisey case is always a topic of conversation, and the consensus is that the BPD has mishandled the case.
For many of those who loved Kathleen Heisey, the sense of disappointment in police compounds the ache left by her absence.”I just wish this wasn’t the way that people remembered her,” said Timm Heisey. “She was so much more than this stupid event that ended her life”