For the last couple years, Olivia LaVoice has covered cold cases across Kern County. Usually, the stories start the same way: A loved one reaches out asking for help to bring new life into a murder investigation that’s gone nowhere – sometimes for decades.
But this story is different. This time, the person who brought our attention to this horrifying case is the victim herself.
It was the Sunday before Thanksgiving in 1997. Cari Anderson, 39, drove her boyfriend’s purple pick up to the Buckhorn Bar on 34th Street, a usual spot for Cari. While there, she ordered a beer and chatted with friends.
What happened next is a mystery. Cari and the truck were gone.
When the sun came up the next day, investigators were called to a gruesome scene. A woman, naked, bloodied and battered was dumped behind the GET bus maintenance yard on Golden State Highway near F Street.
She’d been raped, beaten, her head bashed in, her throat slit. The purple pickup was found near her abandoned body. The brutality of the attack made it clear: Cari Anderson was supposed to die.
“It was scary because I couldn’t talk. I had a thing in my neck, I couldn’t talk to my kids or anything. I thought I was gonna die still,” said Cari.
It was a little over a month after the attack, on Christmas Day when Cari was able to speak for the first time. It was an incredible moment. A miracle. But deep down, everyone knew nothing would ever be the same for the mother of six.
Among Cari’s critical injuries – severe brain trauma that affected her memory. She permanently lost her sense of smell and taste. She had to learn how walk again and how to bathe herself. Everything was new. She’d never be able to drive a car again or have a job.
“It changed my life totally. Changed it to the point where I don’t do the things I used to do. I don’t go out of my house. I’m afraid to be around people,” said Cari, struggling to articulate just how much the attack affected her psychologically.
Cari lives alone in a little home in Oildale. Her three dogs have become her life. She ventures out only to buy dog food or for doctors appointments. She knows the way people look at her – people who don’t know or understand her disability.
“Everybody thinks I’m stupid because I don’t get things half the time. I don’t get what they’re talking about. I don’t go around talking about it very much … it’s something that people don’t wanna hear.”
The way Cari lived before her attack, compared to now, couldn’t be more different. Her little home is filthy. She often runs out of food for her and her dogs.
“It’s just been so long that I’ve been this way – I can’t stand it anymore,” said Cari.
Cari has virtually no short term memory, but perhaps what pains her the most is her inability to remember that November night 20 years ago. She believes she had multiple attackers – but she can’t recall details that could identify them.
But she thinks she has an idea of the series of events at the Buckhorn Bar that may have led to her rape and attempted murder. “I remember a girl was in there and I knew her and she came up and asked me if she could borrow some Christmas money for her kids, and I had enough money in my wallet to give her $200 and I think she saw my wallet and told these guys I had so much money in my wallet.”
It was Sunday, banks were closed, but Cari had been able to cash a large check earlier that afternoon.
“They just wanted a measly $3,000 bucks is what they got-which I want that back…-that would really help me right now. But that’s all they got out of this-$3,000 and a chance to beat somebody to death.”
It’s impossible to know why this happened to Cari when we don’t know who’s responsible.
Her story is similar to the unsolved murders of seven women LaVoice covered extensively last year. In those cases, the women were all stabbed to death, and left nude suggesting they were sexually assaulted. Some of them were dumped in fields much like Cari. These murders all took place in Bakersfield between 1996 to 2001. Due to the similarities, cold case detectives are exploring the possibility of a connection.
“It feels terrible,” Cari said. “It feels like I got pushed aside for somebody that did bad things to me. That nobody cares about me, they just pushed me aside. and that hurts it hurts a lot.
She’s been living in fear for 21 years, living in her own little prison in her mind.
“I’m afraid to be around people, I’m afraid for people to see who I am. And I’m afraid they’ll find me … and what do I do if they find me and finish the job? That’s what I feel they’re going to do.”
Cari knows the scars from her throat being slit will never fade, her memory will never improve, she’ll never get back her brain function, but she wonders if maybe one day life could be a little brighter.
“I’d like to go to the walk-in movies again. I never get a chance to do that anymore … walk in movies, go out to dinner … that would be nice go out to dinner.”
Despite living in constant terror her attackers will come back for her, Cari made the decision to tell her story for the first time because she says she know she has to fight for justice. She feels it’s the only way she’ll ever have a real chance at happiness again.
To Cari, finding out the truth about what happened that night could change her life, for the better.
“Justice means I get to close this case for myself…I get to live again…instead of not living I get to live again…just let me live again without fear every day and sitting in my house by myself.”
UPDATE: Cari has received so much help from the community since her story aired. Cari received a makeover from Kolor Me Krazy Salon and got help to clean her home and regain a sense of normalcy she has sought for over 20 years.