Cheryl Holsonbake threw her phone for the first time in her life after a Bakersfield Police Department detective told her there were 17 missing persons cases ahead of her and she would have to be patient.
It had taken hours of pestering the BPD front office before she got his number.
Her son, Micah Holsonbake, 35, had a history of depression and had recently told her that he was afraid of people hurting him and his family. Micah had gone missing in late March and her search to find him had gotten off to a slow start.
She had already been told that she would need to check with the coroner’s office and all local hospitals before she could file a missing persons report. And the Kern County Sheriff’s Office had referred her to the BPD when she tried to file the report at one of its substations.
It delayed her filing the report by about three days.
After she finally got to the right place to file the report, she found she couldn’t get any information from BPD, even when she showed up at one of the BPD offices.
“We kind of started getting the runaround,” Cheryl said. “My husband was a little bit upset at the front desk. I just remember him raising his voice and saying, ‘I don’t want a pamphlet, I just want a phone number of somebody I can talk to.’”
By the time she spoke to a detective, Micah had been missing for more than two weeks. That's when she was told about the other cases ahead of her son's.
“I let my husband handle phone calls after that,” she said. “He talked to detectives a little more, but there was nothing.”
Weeks went by with little progress being made.
In mid-April, about a month after Micah was last seen by his parents, Cheryl received a call from Diane Byrne. She said her son, James Kulstad, had been killed a few weeks earlier, and it appeared that their children had many mutual friends.
They met for the first time and spoke for an hour and a half about their children’s disappearance and killing.
They began to believe that the cases were connected.
Soon after, Cheryl noticed a 20-year-old girl had gone missing. She recognized the name, Baylee Parrent-Despot, as one of Micah’s former friends.
She contacted Parrent-Despot’s mother, Jane Parrent, and she agreed to meet. Over iced tea and dessert, the three mothers came to believe all their children’s crimes were connected.
“It was and still is very surreal that we are on this path,” Holsonbake said. “Any parent’s worst nightmare is not being able to find your child. It doesn’t matter how old they are.”
About six months after the their disappearances and murder, the crimes have yet to be closed by the Sheriff’s Office and BPD.
The mothers have embarked on a public outreach campaign, asking anyone with information to come forward to the police.
They have labeled their children as the Bakersfield 3.
INFINITE PROBLEMS, FINITE RESOURCES
The Bakersfield Police Department has 55 unsolved homicide cases stemming from crimes that occurred from 2015 to 2018. A total of eight full time homicide detectives oversee the cases with six additional staff assisting.
Each year, three detectives sift through hundreds of missing persons cases, some of which get cleared up quickly, but others take time.
“We have a finite amount of resources, but an infinite amount of problems come in,” said Ted King, a BPD sergeant assigned to the homicide division. “Numbers are always an issue for us.”
As more time passes, BPD continues to wade through the facts of the case, hoping to come up with new leads that could eventually lead to a conviction.
“It’s a very time-intensive, manpower-intensive process,” King said.
Although some members of the public are willing to talk with the police, key players have refused aid the investigation, he said.
And each day, detectives in the homicide division must make choices on how to divide their time between their various cases.
WAITING FOR THE CALL
While the mothers wait for a breakthrough, they have not done so quietly.
They have become friends, finding each other the only people with whom they can connect on certain issues.
The mothers have conducted a public outreach campaign, designed to bring forward anyone with information on the cases, and they have made presentations to local politicians, requesting more resources for law enforcement agencies.
“There’s just not enough police officers, or sheriffs, or detectives to go around for everybody,” Parrent said.
Recently the mothers successfully got the Board of Supervisors to pledge $10,000 in funds to the local Secret Witness program, which provides rewards for anonymous tipsters who call a special phone number.
They hope to encourage officials to drain Lake Buena Vista and the Kern River so a body part search can be conducted, and they hope politicians will fund more resources for law enforcement agencies.
But, more than anything, Holsonbake and Parrent just want to know where their children are, and Byrne waits for the call that will let her know who is responsible for her son’s death.
Until something happens, they plan to stay in the public eye and advocate for their children, no matter the emotional toll.
“I’ve been frustrated. I’ve cried. It’s unrelenting, and it’s volatile, just up and down, up and down throughout the day every day,” Holsonbake said of her emotions. “We’re at the point where something has to happen. Somebody has to say something. We are not just going to lie down and not say something.”