Customers of a small bakery and market in south Bakersfield couldn't believe that anyone would kill its owner, who they described as a friendly woman with "the best maple bars in town" and a caring person who gave clothes to people in need.
Kern County sheriff's deputies reported they found the owner dead from trauma in a back storage room Tuesday evening. An autopsy Wednesday showed the victim, 49-year-old Juanita Alvarado Francisco, died of blunt force trauma to the head and the manner of death was homicide, the coroner's office said.
Renee Reeder, who saw Francisco almost every day for the past six years, said visiting her in the bakery "was like home." Reeder, 34, said in tough times, the woman she knew only as Juanita "was like a mom" to her as they talked for as long as two hours.
"She was a wonderful, caring woman," Reeder said. "She loved her customers."
Some of those customers left candles and rosaries on the door of the now closed bakery at 2760 S. Union Ave. near Pacheco Road.
Deputies said that at 5:10 p.m. Tuesday, they were dispatched to Panaderia Bakery, which is also known as La Especial Bakery and food market, for a suspicious circumstances report.
The person who called deputies said the business appeared to be ransacked and the woman owner could not be found.
Deputies said they found her in a back storage room and she had obvious signs of trauma. She was pronounced deceased.
"I just can't believe it," said 39-year-old Jason Hunt, Reeder's fiance. "She (Francisco) always greeted you and said 'have a great day' as you left. She was so nice to everybody."
Another customer, 44-year-old Sandra Hoyle, went to the bakery a couple of times a week in her wheelchair during the past year when she moved nearby.
She said Francisco would sometimes open the door for her when Hoyle's husband, Leon, wasn't with her. "She was a sweetheart," Mrs. Hoyle said.
Leon Hoyle, 48, said Francisco was always ready to have conversations with customers, but she was "very quiet" about her personal life.
Mrs. Hoyle said she was a fan of the sweet bread while Reeder gushed that the bakery "had the best maple bars in town."
Just inside the front window was a table of clothes that Francisco would give away if someone needed them, Reeder said.
Hoyle said the killing has made her worry. "It's getting so you can't even open your door," she said.
Homicide detectives are investigating and members of the Kern County District Attorney's Office Crime Lab were assisting with processing the crime scene, deputies said.
Anyone with information is urged to call the Sheriff's Office at 661-861-3110 or the Secret Witness Hotline at 661-322-4040.