Arm in river is ‘Bakersfield 3’ victim

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Preliminary DNA testing indicates an arm found in the Kern River belonged to one of the “Bakersfield 3” – a man missing since March. Based on that finding, law enforcement is consolidating the three cases.

DNA results released Thursday indicate the arm belonged to Micah Holsonbake, 35.

Holsonbake went missing March 23. A month later, Baylee Despot, 21, was last seen by family. Between the two disappearances, on April 8, James Kulstad was shot and killed.

Law enforcement treated the cases separately until the victims’ mothers realized the three knew each other. The mothers labeled the victims the “Bakersfield 3” and urged detectives to investigate possible connections.

On Aug. 18 a group of young people was playing in the Kern River near Hart Park discovered a bag weighed down with rocks. Inside the bag was a human arm, from the forearm to the hand. Though the bag has been on the bottom of the river, it was moving with the current, so investigators say it could’ve been dropped anywhere upstream.

Thursday’s results came from a private company hired by the Kern County Coroner’s Office that conducts accelerated DNA testing. That testing is considered reliable but it is not as conclusive as court room DNA.

Holsonbake was last seen within the city limits, so his case was investigated by the Bakersfield Police Department, which also is handling the shooting death of Kulstad. Despot was last seen in an unincorporated area of the county, so her case has been investigated by sheriff’s deputies.

Now, with confirmation that Holsonbake is a homicide victim, the cases will be consolidated and the BPD detectives will take the lead. 

Bakersfield 3

It’s a haunting mystery that seems to grow more complex and dark: The disappearances of Micah Holsonbake and Baylee Despot and the murder of James Kulstad.

The mothers of the three victims joined together in their grief to search for answers. They’ve created a Facebook page, hung posters and harangued the Board of Supervisors. 

Family last saw Holsonbake, 34, on March 23. Kulstad, 38, was shot to death in the 5700 block of Sandstone Lane on April 8. Despot, 21, went missing April 25.

The victims all knew each other, raising the question: Are there three mysteries or just one? Can the connections be just coincidence?

Kulstad’s mother, Diane Byrne, knew that Micah and James were friends, so she reached out to Cheryl Holsonbake, Micah’s mother. 

“I was having a funeral service for my son and wondering whether or not it’s connected,” Byrne said.

Then flyers began circulating around town for Despot.

Cheryl Holsonbake recognized Despot as a friend of her missing son, Micah. So she reached out to Despot’s mom. 

It may be the club you’d never want to be in, but it’s made each mother stronger. 

“Somebody knows,” Cheryl Holsonbake said. “There are too many people in this group of acquaintances, there are too many people for someone not to know information that could help all of us.” 

The main thing the mothers say they’ve found in the last four months: “Just because you’re in a very nice home in a very nice neighborhood, that does not protect you or your children,” said Cheryl Holsonbake.

The other mothers agree. Despot grew up near Shiloh Estates in Rosedale, Micah Holsonbake in Rosedale near Polo Grounds, and James Kulstad’s family in Seven Oaks.

“We work very hard and we want our children in the best schools and we want them to have the things that we didn’t have,” Cheryl Holsonbake said.

“We have all our dreams for our families as they grow and have their own children.

“And then come to find out there’s this criminal element that’s really at the base of a lot of what you’d consider very fine neighborhoods and it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter.

“We are just the same sitting in Rosedale as someone who is sitting, you know, somewhere in Southeast Bakersfield or East Bakersfield or Oildale,” she said.

Detectives are aware of the connections between Micah, James, and Baylee but say it’s unknown if the three cases are connected.

“I’m not giving up because it’s not only looking for Baylee it’s looking for Micah, it’s looking for who killed James. We’re all looking for something,” Cheryl Holsonbake said.

Arm discovered in Kern River

Three weeks after the leg was found, a group of teens in the Kern River made the gruesome discovery east of Hart Park – the arm now confirmed as belonging to Holsonbake. 

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