Mystery Shrouds Deaths of Two Men

  • (left) The

    (left) The "tennis shoe" print which Jackie Mattison says was seen surrounding Jukka's boot prints in the creek. (right) A boot print photographed in the same area of the creek December 1, which Mattison says looks like the square-toe boot worn by Jukka. [Mountain Enterprise photos]

By Patric Hedlund and Gary Meyer

There are major discrepancies between the official Kern County Sheriff’s reports and the rumors circulating around the Mountain Communities about the deaths in November of two Frazier Park men just 20 days apart.

The questions raised have led reporters for The Mountain Enterprise to make numerous attempts to speak with the person who first discovered Carl “Scotty” Shropshire’s body on Sunday, Nov. 22 at his parents’ home. Along the way, we met others in Frazier Park and Lake of the Woods who knew both Shropshire and Jukka (pronounced ‘yooka’) Hellsten.

The only factual links between their deaths that we have confirmed so far are that both men liked to drink and both had lived with the same woman, Alyce Coleman.

Hellsten lived with Coleman for five months, until his disappearance in late October. Shropshire had been with her a couple of years earlier, before he was arrested for public drunkenness and obstruction of justice. He served 11 days of a 180 day sentence, according to court records. Shropshire was then arrested and jailed for assaulting a 53-year old man on Laurel Trail in Frazier Park where his parents’ house is located. After serving 14 days for the assault, he was returned to Wasco State Prison for having violated his parole agreement on the prior 180 day sentence.

The Mountain Enterprise has reviewed official reports, made public records requests and talked with more than 35 people about both men. Roughly half that number have been contacted in person by sheriff’s investigators. Two residents who placed a single 911 call together about screams in the creek the night before Hellsten’s body was discovered each received brief telephone calls from Bakersfield detective Ian Chandler, neither has been contacted since. Meanwhile, Hellsten’s family—alarmed at what they perceive as lack of timely official response—has hired a private investigator.

Over at the Moose Lodge in Lake of the Woods, Beth Gomez remembers Hellsten, 42 “was the nicest guy; he was always respectful and kind. He was a gentle person.” Gomez is too. There is a family feeling among the Moose members and visitors. Though the hours of dinner service had just ended, Gomez walked this reporter into the well-appointed Moose kitchen to offer a dinner of asparagus, shrimp and garlic sauce over linguine. She and her husband cook for the Moose Lodge and have been members of “The Moose” for a very long time. Hellsten—a Finnish citizen who graduated with a business administration degree from California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks— joined the lodge about a year ago when he first came to town, Gomez remembers.

Hellsten had a shock of blond hair and a big smile. He was under five foot, ten inches tall and probably under 160 pounds, friends recall. He bought a piece of property not far from the Moose Lodge, intending to build a house. He is said to have had a unique, raspy voice due to damaged vocal chords. “He sounded like a 95-year-old man who has had an operation for throat cancer,” Gomez explains.

Hellsten was first reported missing by Alyce Coleman on October 26. His sister, Mari (who lives in Marina del Rey) became alarmed when her brother hadn’t called her as was his habit. She said she urged Coleman to file the missing person report after learning Jukka had left Coleman’s Frazier Park home on the night of October 23, between the hours of 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. and hadn’t been seen since. No investigators have ever come to talk with members of the Moose Lodge about the missing man.

In fact, though sheriff’s investigators have interviewed only half the people around town contacted by these reporters, we have located one person who saw Jukka Hellsten alive after the date he was said to have vanished.

Investigators have not interviewed Jukka’s acquaintances over at Sue’s Tavern, but reporters for The Mountain Enterprise have learned that he came to the back door of the tavern on Saturday, Oct. 24, a day after the date Coleman told sheriffs he had disappeared. He was alone, owner Sue Nichols recalls. She looked at him and noticed he appeared inebriated. She thinks he was wearing a cap and jacket.

“You know you can’t come in here like this,” she recalls telling him. He nodded and smiled, then walked away in the direction of Monterey Trail. Nine days later, Hellsten’s body was found in Cuddy Creek, about 20 feet west of the Monterey Trail bridge (only 100 yards from the Kern County Sheriff’s substation). He had been dead no more than one or two days according to homicide detectives. Where he had been for the 10 days before is still a mystery.

On Monday, Nov. 30, people at the Moose Lodge reminisced about Jukka. Their words are laced with concern that people remember the good works they do. They speak about the Moose Lodge Bake Sale, December 5-6 to raise funds for a “Children of the Moose Christmas Party” in Lake of the Woods, December 19. They tell about the Moose orphanage in Illinois for 1,200 children and about a rest home in Florida supported by their dues. In between, they remember Jukka. They knew he had been hit hard financially by the current recession.

“He was a sweet man. He tried to give me his last $20 for a tip,” a Moose bartender recalls.When talk turns to another of Alyce Coleman’s boyfriends, the tone darkens.

“Scotty Shropshire was trouble from the time I knew him when he was a freshman in high school,” one Moose member said. More recently, “he threatened to beat up my son.” Around town it was known that Shropshire (at least six feet tall and ‘a big man’) could be mean, and he could be “physical.” The parents of Nicholas Covelli still believe that their son may have been abducted, beaten and left to freeze in February 2003 by Shropshire, or someone closely associated with him. Another remembers that he was part of ‘white supremecist’ group in Oildale, known as the “Peckerwoods,” that often picked fights.

Still, many people know “Scotty” as a man who could also be a gentle giant. While he’d served multiple stints in jail for drug possession and assault charges, more than one around town told a reporter, “he never did me wrong.” According to Kern County sources, he was last released from jail in April. In both Frazier Park and Lake of the Woods, the word is that Scotty Shropshire may have had Hepatitis C.

“He said he had just a year to live,” a source at one bar explained. At another, the word is definitive: “He died from a bad liver. He bled out.” The first source said “he went on one last big bender.” Shropshire was also denied entry to at least one establishment because he was inebriated when he showed up at the door.

What else do these sources know? Many say they are “afraid” of Alyce Coleman, though they won’t elaborate. They don’t want their names mentioned. They all agree that Jukka was a nice man.

But reports of the 911 call are troublesome for a few: “Jukka could not have screamed, his vocal chords were injured,” Gomez and others said. David Smith, one of those who placed the 911 call, said the screaming had a muffled quality, as if someone had a hand over the screaming man’s mouth. Would it have been possible for a man with injured vocal chords to have made the sounds of pain Smith and housemate Mary DeMaio reported? If so, would his voice have sounded the way they described? Could Hellsten have screamed loudly enough to be heard for 10 minutes up on Decator Trail from the creek bed as they reported to the dispatcher?

Was Jukka Hellsten even walking in the part of the creek where they say they heard the screams begin?

On the day two reporters for The Mountain Enterprise walked the creek to observe the terrain from which the screams were said to be heard, photographs were taken of foot prints that appeared to be running shoes and boots. These prints appeared to be headed in the direction of Monterey Bridge from the creek area near the skatepark.

It wasn’t until a discussion with Jackie Mattison, a friend who had lived with Jukka here on the mountain from late 2008 to early 2009, that the photographs of the foot prints became important.

Mattison and a friend had walked the creek one week before The Mountain Enterprise reporters did and found boot prints she is certain were from Jukka’s boots. How can she be so sure? She says she used to clean his boots for him and knows without a doubt that the prints she saw in the creek came from the same kind of Harley Davidson, square-toed boot that Jukka was wearing the morning his body was found.

Mattison also points out that surrounding the boot prints in the creek were prints from tennis shoes or running shoes. After viewing the reporters’ photographs of the shoe prints, she said, “Yes this is the tennis shoe print—one of the ones that were around Jukka’s boot print right behind it and around it.” Mattison said a photograph of a boot print found in the creek on Dec. 1 (which had suffered weather damage), looks like the boot print she had seen surrounded by the tennis shoe prints.

Mattison says she informed Det. Haislif about the foot prints and he told her, “That’s a highly trafficked area.” She believes he meant that they would not be photographing or comparing the prints with the shoes of any possible suspects in the case.

This is part of the December 04, 2009 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

Have an opinion on this matter? We'd like to hear from you.