Thirteen years ago, the small mountain community of Weldon was rocked with a murder that continues to puzzle investigators today. It was unlikely in every way: From the victim, to the seemingly non-existent motive.
The killer, like a ghost, somehow vanished without a trace. Folks who live in the peaceful ranching town have been wondering all this time, why and how did something so violent happen to a man who seemed to be a friend to all?
Weldon, California: a small town where cattle outnumber the people, nestled in the Kern Valley mountains. An hour east of Bakersfield, it feels like a world away, the way most people here like It.
But what can feel like a cozy private community by day, can quickly feel like miles of lonely roads with nothing but black sky.
“I remember it being extremely dark, there’s no street lights out there,” Dana Dostal says.
It was Jan. 3 2006. Dana Dostal left her job at a bank in Lake Isabella and made her usual commute back to the Weldon home she shared with her longtime boyfriend, Dale Hay. But as traveled down the long stretch of Kelso Creek Road, she soon realized this drive home was anything but ordinary.
“There was the truck that seemed to be stopped. It was slow moving but it seemed to be stopped, so I came up on it, still wasn’t moving much so I passed the vehicle. And I started to go around some of the curves and that’s when I noticed the bright lights in my rear view mirror,” Dostal said.
She didn’t recognize the truck, and due to the darkness she had a hard time making out the figure behind the steering wheel. “I just remember the blaring lights behind me … I couldn’t see, so I slowed down real real slow and the truck went around me and kind of slammed on his brakes in front of me. It seemed kind of like a cat and mouse game. If I sped up a little bit he’d go right on my tail. If I slowed down he wouldn’t pass. he just stayed behind me.”
After frantically trying to lose the car, Dana eventually thought she was safe, so she went home.
“I don’t know if it was sitting across the street at that point but I do know I remember seeing the lights sort of face our house when I passed through the gate. Dale had sent Willie out to open the gate for me.”
Dale’s son, William was just 9 years old at the time, but he recalls that moment well. “The car left as soon as it saw me.”
He remembers Dana was emotional once she got inside the home. “She told him that there was a car that followed her home and that I shouldn’t have gone out there.”
Despite the scare, Dana and Willie both recalled that fairly quickly, the situation seemed to fizzle out.
“You’re in the house, you think everything is calm. I changed my clothes, I go to do a load of laundry, he’s still cooking dinner, we just went about it like a normal night” said Dana.
“After it kinda calmed down I was playing with my Christmas toys … and then the car came by again and it stopped. My dad went out there, and it took off again,” said William.
Dana recalls Dale seeming annoyed but not frightened when he came back inside: “He said he’d seen the lights flashing in our front window, like the guy was taunting the house. He said they were flashing not just blaring.”
Ten minutes after the truck returned and sped away, headlights once again appeared through the family’s windows.
“Again I’m putting laundry away, I come out and he’s gone. Front door wasn’t open this time, and he’s gone. Willie said he got in the jeep and left,” said Dana.
At that point, both Dana and Willie say they weren’t worried. They didn’t think there would be a confrontation.
“We were watching ‘Thelma and Louise,’ Willie and I, and too much for the movie had gone by …”
“We waited about 30 minutes and then me and Dana we got in her car and went to check it out and that’s when we found him, crashed into a fence.”
“He was already dead. I mean I knew it but, you just think, ‘Oh, help is on it’s way.'”
It wasn’t a car wreck that killed the 34-year-old father. He’d barely made it a mile from home before someone put a single bullet through his skull.
“I really don’t remember how I felt, what I was feeling, I was just numb all the time,” said Dana.
The natural assumption was Dale was murdered by the mystery man who began following Dana midway during her short drive home from work. For her, there was no other possible scenario. She says she and Dale had no known enemies, and lived quiet, peaceful lives.
Dana, William said Dale gave no indication whatsoever that night that he knew who or why anyone would seemingly try to torment his family.
“It was very confusing because the police would say it was just a lucky shot and then in the next breath say it had to be somebody who knew what they were doing because there was no nick on the jeep,” said Dana.
The area where Dale Hay Jr. was murdered is desolate, even more so then than it is today. It seems highly unlikely that someone would be in this part of Kern County for no reason. If the killer didn’t live in the area, they likely had another reason for being here, that someone in this area knows about.
“Nothing like that happens in a town like that everybody knows everybody. Nobody can get out. You can’t rob a bank there because you got an in and an out, and you’re gonna get caught. That’s kind of the mindset I had, there’s no escaping the valley because you’re surrounded by mountains and got nowhere to go, so who would want to commit a crime here,” said Dana.
Despite the town’s isolation and small population, Dana says the case seemed to go cold fast. “They investigated the most logical leads of affairs, drugs, guns, things that are typically associated with murders, but when nothing showed up they just stopped looking.”
“No sheriff or detective ever contacted me until I called them…I didn’t really think that I would have to be the one to go out there and do things to get people to look into it,” said Dale’s daughter, Kelli Harrison.
Thirteen years later, Kelli has taken it upon herself to contact law enforcement and fight for answers. “I just asked them what they knew or what was going on and they just told me currently the case isn’t being looked at and there hasn’t been any information since 2006.”
Now adults, Kelli and her siblings have so many questions.
“In my heart and in my gut, I don’t feel like it was random, but I have no proof and obviously the police don’t have any evidence to prove otherwise either,” said Kelli.
“I think for a long time I felt guilty because I survived and he didn’t. Maybe I was the target and not him, I was the one who pissed that guy off taking that one person’s life has taken life from so many,” said Dana.
“We just live day-by-day and I think about him every day and have him close to my heart,” said Kelli.
With the sheriff’s department current staffing issues and very high volume of new crimes, it seems the only way Dale’s murder has a chance of being solved is if someone comes forward with information.
The truck that followed Dana is described as being boxy-possibly an older model Ford or Chevy. It’s believed to have a camper shell that was lighter in color than the body of truck. There is no description of the driver.
If you have any information on dale’s murder, you’re urged to call the sheriff’s department at 661-861-3110. Or you can remain anonymous by calling the Secret Witness Hotline at 661-322-4040.