Part two of a three part series of a closer look at the Bakersfield 3, and what was going on in each victim’s life shortly before they were either murdered or disappeared. This is a closer look at James Kulstad, who was killed less than two weeks after his friend, Micah Holsonbake went missing.
When gunshots rang out in the quiet Southwest neighborhood, it stunned just about everyone.
Neighbors told our news crew that a drive by shooting in the area was so bizarre, most assumed the killer, and the victim weren’t from around Bakersfield.
While the shooter is still unknown, the victim, James Kulstad, was leaving driving out of the neighborhood when he was attacked, he was coming from the home of a Bakersfield chiropractor, where witnesses said James wasn’t welcome. Now, nearly a year later, the investigation is uncovering more than just a cold blooded killer. It’s revealing more about James, and the dangerous circle of friends his family didn’t know about.
“That man could sell a dollar bill on the side of the road for a million dollars if he could just get 5 minutes with you..his mind was so creative,” says James’ daughter, Camryn Albert-Kulstad.
One of the more memorable things about James Kulstad for loved ones is his entrepreneurial spirit. From owning his own skateboard shop and getting a patten for his invention “torch trucks, ” to a very different creation inspired by his then infant daughter, “less mess bibs.” Kulstad found success early on in life.
But for his 18-year-old daughter, Camryn, one of her more special memories of her father is the pair looking up at the stars for hours, as he told her endless stories about her mother as an angel in heaven.
“That kept me going my whole life. I knew the love he had for her…that is the one thing I think I get peace from, knowing that they’re together.”
After losing her mother in a car accident as a baby, Camryn grew up especially close to her father. But in the last few years before his death, Camryn says things were tough.
“I just fought so hard for him…I felt like I never fought for anyone to love me. And it turned so dark.”
Camryn says the way it happened, is still difficult to believe. “That was one of our main talks, ‘you do not get yourself involved in drugs, it is not okay’…He was clear headed, so when he started getting involved in this stuff, it was crazy.” Family believes James’ battle with drugs began after he was hit by a car and prescribed pain medication, which eventually turned into fentanyl patches, to heroin.
“I felt like I lost him before I even lost him, but I worked so hard, I was working so hard on everything I could do to make him get better, and I wanted that so bad for him, and I always had hope, I always had hope for him. I was hanging onto hope and whoever killed him took that away from me. I don’t have that anymore, I don’t have hope.”
Camryn remembers the moment she learned her father was dead. “I instantly just hit the ground, because I couldn’t keep my body up because I had just nothing in me, everything was just taken out of me.”
But Camryn wasn’t expecting to learn her father wasn’t just dead, he’d been murdered. “I don’t know how to deal with it. I don’t know how to wake up in the morning and not think was he scared? Was he scared when that person was shooting at the car? What was going through his mind? Did he think ‘oh Camryn’s going to lose me’ or did he think he was going to make it? It’s so scary for me to think about because I didn’t want him to hurt anymore.”
As Camryn tries to navigate through her grief, she says she no longer feels anger or fear towards the person or persons who took her father away from her. “It takes a certain person to look somebody in the eyes and kill them. It takes a really terrible person who i feel bad for. I feel so bad for the person who killed my dad. I don’t hate him. I hurt though for him. I hurt so bad that somebody could’ve had it so bad in their life that they can take another human beings life…I want that person to look at me, and see me, and really see me because that person took away everything from me.”
Camryn says adding to her grief is the talk she’s heard since her father’s murder. “I’ve heard so many different stories about who he was these last three years..some of the stories I’ve heard is that he was a really bad person these last 3 years, That he’s done some really bad things.” She feels much of this talk is aimed at distracting her and loved ones from finding out the truth.
“If we’re being completely honest, who really cares about a bad guy who was on drugs who got killed in southwest Bakersfield? Nobody. I feel like that’s kind of how people think, ‘oh another crack head just got killed in Bakersfield today.’ I know that sounds terrible but honestly I’ve heard that before from people not knowing who I am. And no that’s not right, how can we as a community sit here and think that that’s okay?”
She doesn’t believe rumors she’s heard about her father.
While many of the people James was with the night he was gunned down do have serious rap sheets, Camryn and James’ mother both didn’t know any of them. They didn’t seem to be an important part of Kulstad’s life.
“These people, year they’re scary people, but we’re so much bigger than them. As a community we can stand together, we can figure it out, and we can figure out other missing people who don’t have a voice and murder victims. I feel like we can do it, but it’s just going to take people being courageous and strong, and caring. I feel like this town lacks care.”
As Camryn and her family wait and pray for answers, she tries to focus on how loved her father always made her feel.
“I miss holding him. I miss him picking me up from school when I was in high school and making me kiss him on the cheek and I was so embarrassed. I miss that so much…but I still have him here, and I really want the person who killed him to just look me in my eyes and see everything they’ve done to me because they didn’t just kill him, they’ve caused me so much pain.”
If you have any information on James’ case, you’re asked to call Bakersfield Police at 327-7111 or you can remain anonymous by calling Secret Witness at 322-4040.