Was It Murder?

  • (above) David Smith, 22 of Frazier Park, shows the area from which the screams started Monday night, November 2. (top) See the map to trace how the sounds moved downstream. (middle, photo) Homicide investigators peer into Cuddy Creek at the body found Tuesday morning, November 3.

    (above) David Smith, 22 of Frazier Park, shows the area from which the screams started Monday night, November 2. (top) See the map to trace how the sounds moved downstream. (middle, photo) Homicide investigators peer into Cuddy Creek at the body found Tuesday morning, November 3.

(Free Flash player required to hear sound on map above)

911 Callers Report Screaming the Night Before Jukka Found

By Gary Meyer and Patric Hedlund

There is no doubt in the minds of the people who heard calls for help, screams of pain and an anguished shout of “Stop!” and “Don’t!” beginning about 8:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 2. What they heard that dark night left them certain that someone was being attacked in a way that caused severe pain.

The cries continued for 15 minutes, moving away from them, while they urgently begged a 911 dispatcher to send someone to help the man. [See map above] The next morning, Jukka Hellsten’s body was found in the creek near the Monterey Trail bridge.

The Mountain Enterprise heard the dispatcher’s alert November 2. Publisher Gary Meyer drove immediately to a pull-out just west of the Monterey Trail bridge. At about 8:45 p.m. he saw one of the two deputies in separate cars scanning the area. He heard no sounds coming from the creek.

On November 13 a recording of the 911 call was secured by The Mountain Enterprise. Those who placed the call were interviewed separately, in person, on Sunday, Nov. 15. David Smith, 22 and his wife share a house on Decator Trail with a roommate, 49. She has asked, in concern for personal safety, to remain unnamed. These are her words about November 2.

“It was a dark night, about 8:30 p.m. There was not much moonlight. I always take the dogs outside and it was a peaceful night; you could hear a pin drop. The dogs started barking in the yard. The little brown one had its foot up, pointing straight out to where there was hollering. I thought it was a Halloween prank by kids in the creek. But I made the dogs be quiet so I could listen and then I heard the words ‘Help!’ and ‘Stop!’ The voice was male.

“The man was scared. I heard fear. Something told me, ‘Get inside to the phone,’ and then it became louder and louder and bloodcurdling. I knew I had to do something now. David came outside. He was hearing it too.”

David Smith, an air conditioning technician who graduated from Frazier Mountain High School in 2005, said, “The voice was traveling down the creek, east toward the [sheriff’s] substation. He was hollering… someone was in pain as if he was being tortured; it was bloodcurdling screams. I’m surprised no one else called 911.”

Both said the initial screams were coming up from Cuddy Creek. The roommate rushed inside to call 911. She reported that someone was being badly hurt in the Cuddy Creek area below their house from a position roughly across from the skate park, but in or adjacent to the creek below their house. Smith said it was within “slingshot distance” of their house, and that the sound seemed to be ‘traveling.’ In the midst of the dispatcher’s confusion about the location, Smith called inside, “It’s getting worse…it’s moving…tell them to hurry.”

The roommate recalls, “It was very frustrating to be on the phone with the operator. She wanted an exact location. I wasn’t able to tell her…I told her ‘between the skate park and Don’s Liquor.’ I said, ‘Someone is being killed out there, you need to get someone out there now!’ She said, ‘they are sending someone.’ It seemed like an eternity, but I think it was five to seven minutes. [The screaming] had been going on about three minutes. I think the screaming took place for about 10 minutes—no more than 10 to 15 minutes.”

Smith tells what he remembers calmly and vividly: “I could hear he was dying. His voice was weakening. It was almost as if someone had a hand over his mouth…whoever did this wanted to make him suffer. It wasn’t an accident where someone fell.”

A Kern County Sheriff’s deputy arrived at the Decator house at about 8:45 p.m. By that time the screams had stopped. He shined his light around the street, Smith recalls, then went back to the creek area.

When asked what she did next, Smith’s roommate said, “I went in my room and closed the door and I prayed for the police to find and help the person and for the person to be OK.”

As of November 15, the callers had been contacted only by telephone by Kern County Homicide Detective Ian Chandler, who is investigating the case.

Smith’s roommate said she asked Detective Chandler if there is a connection between what they heard Monday night and the discovery of Hellsten’s body Tuesday morning.

“I said to him I heard a body had been found. I asked if it is related. He said ‘I don’t believe in coincidences.’ I asked if it is related to my 911 call. He said, ‘I will say it again, I do not believe in coincidences.’”

Chandler has not returned calls from reporters for The Mountain Enterprise.

Reporters Meyer and Hedlund walked the entire creek bed where the screams were heard. We knocked on doors and spoke with homeowners living adjacent to the creek to inquire if others had heard a disturbance. We found no one else at that time who had. But we also noted that there is a natural sound channel formed by a ravine that cuts a funnel from the creek straight up toward the Decator Trail house from which the 911 call was made [see map above].

The 911 caller’s report seems plausible because there are several trails running east and west in the creek bed and on the banks, which people regularly use to quickly reach Monterey Trail businesses such as Don’s Liquor and Gas Mart.

Smith said he wants to know the matter is being investigated thoroughly: “I’ve been up here 20 years. This is a shock. There is someone running around at large capable of something like this. I hope they bring justice to him quickly,” Smith said.

Friends of Jukka Hellsten, 42 (a native of Finland who went to college in the United States and had been living in Frazier Park for about a year) have rejected a theory they said they’d heard from Frazier Park substation deputies. They said they were told that Hellsten may have “had a stroke and just fallen into the creek, hitting his head on a rock.”

Others speculated that he had had a seizure. We asked David Smith’s roommate if she felt someone having a seizure and falling could have made the sounds they heard.

“My mother is an epileptic,” she said, “I’ve seen seizures, and someone in a seizure cannot speak, their jaws are clenched.” She rejected the notion.

It appears that Jukka Hellsten’s family and friends agree. The family is reported to have engaged an attorney and an investigator.

The Family Takes Action

When Jukka Hellsten’s sister Mari Hellsten (Mari) approached The Mountain Enterprise on November 2 for help in locating her missing brother, one of the questions she was asked was whether he is in good health. She answered, “Well, yes, but frankly he drinks too much.”

This comment left open the possibility that Hellsten’s disappearance could have been alcohol-related. “Maybe,” some said, “he had gone on a binge and was just staying away from people.”

But Mari’s insistence that her brother would not normally drop contact with her, and that he would seek her help if he was able—along with her fear that something terrible had happened to him—kindled a nagging thought among the newspaper reporters, behind each inquiry and every hope that he might be OK.

The information surrounding her brother’s disappearance seemed to only get worse.

Known facts and hearsay are pieced together here to show why investigators may not yet be saying Hellsten’s death was an accident.

Kern County Sheriff’s homicide detectives are not speaking about the details of this case. The day Hellsten’s body was found in Cuddy Creek, they gave only the basic facts television reporters needed to return to Bakersfield, file their evening news stories about a body found in a creek, and then move on until more information was offered.

But Mari and her family have been devastated by this tragedy. They cannot sit still, waiting and wondering whether investigators are following leads the family knows are important, they said in a telephone interview. They have help in the community and they are actively seeking information about what happened.

According to the missing person report filed by Jukka’s girlfriend Alyce Coleman on October 26, Jukka was last seen leaving Coleman’s San Joaquin Trail home October 23, on foot, between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. without telling her he was leaving. That same day a Ventura County deputy served an outstanding warrant on Coleman for DUI.

In the missing person report, Coleman said he had two cell phones, but Mari says Coleman told her that Jukka left “with six dollars and a cell phone in his pocket.”

Mari spoke of a former boyfriend of Coleman’s who said things that made her shiver. She said the man told her he had a fight with her brother, but that he “liked Jukka and would never hurt him.” From Kern County court records and personal interviews, The Mountain Enterprise has confirmed that on November 1 the same man was arrested for “Possession, Manufacture or Sale of a Dangerous Weapon.” He was in jail from Nov. 1 through Nov. 10 and pled No Contest to the possession charge—which were for nunchucks in his house that he did not know were illegal, he said. His dates of incarceration serve to eliminate his possible physical involvement with anything that may have happened the night of November 2.

In hope that someone would come forward with information to help the family in their search, within 20 minutes after Mari left The Mountain Enterprise newspaper office on Nov. 2 at 2:30 p.m., a report was posted to www.mountainenterprise.com with Jukka’s photograph as a missing person.

Publisher Meyer spent a half hour searching the creek area at the south end of San Joaquin Trail near the house shared by Alyce Coleman and Jukka.

The events later that evening would reveal that Jukka was possibly still alive when Mari left the newspaper office.

The house from which the 911 call was made is about 650 yards from the sheriff’s substation—the area where the caller says she and the Smiths last heard the screams.

Back at The Mountain Enterprise office, the radio scanner crackled at about 8:45 p.m. as two Frazier Park deputies were discussing the 911 call while trying to locate the source of the reported cries for help.

One deputy said to the other (paraphrasing): The RP [reporting party] said the screams were coming from the area of Frazier Mountain Park Road and Decator Trail, but she’s calling from Decator Trail and also said it was coming from the sub and Don’s Liquor.

The other deputy responded (paraphrasing): I’m over near the sub and I don’t hear anything.

The first deputy said (paraphrasing): She said she could hear him screaming somewhere near the creek.

The other deputy responded: “Well, he’s not screaming for me.” (paraphrasing) I’m near the creek and I don’t hear anything.

After approximately 10 minutes of stopping and listening at three locations along the creek, unable to hear any sounds, Meyer continued west up Frazier Mountain Park Road.

Tuesday morning, November 3 Mike Virgini, 19 and Grant Richardson, 16 were walking east on a path they often took along the north bank of Cuddy Creek.

Virgini ran ahead to Don’s Liquor for a pack of cigarettes and Richardson waited on the creek bank. The young man looked down and saw what became clear was a man lying in the brush, in the creek. He shouted down to the man several times, but when there was no response, he went to find his friend. The two of them walked into the sheriff’s substation, only yards away, to report Richardson’s discovery.

A wide area was cordoned off with yellow tape and homicide detectives began arriving from Bakersfield within the hour.

A source close to the family of Alyce Coleman told The Mountain Enterprise that Coleman had reportedly gone to the scene, found Jukka’s cell phone and taken it away with her. Coleman reportedly had said she wanted to get the phone because it might contain the number of one of her sons.

After hours of investigation at the scene, Sheriff’s Homicide Detective Craig Rennie briefed reporters at about 2 p.m. stating he did not know whether he was dealing with a homicide or an accident. He said the 30 to 40-year-old man had been dead no more than one or two days. He mentioned that someone had reported seeing the missing man (Jukka Hellsten) within the last two or three days, but that the report could not be confirmed. He would not confirm the identity of the deceased man.

At approximately 5 p.m., the coroner’s office of the Kern County Sheriff’s Department confirmed that the deceased man was Jukka Hellsten, 42 of Frazier Park. The next of kin had been notified.

The Mountain Enterprise placed two calls to Detective Sgt. Rennie to find out whether he was aware of a claim that someone had entered his crime scene and removed evidence (a cell phone). The call has not been returned.

Attempts to reach Alyce Coleman by phone and at her residence have been unsuccessful. Friends of Coleman’s have said she is staying in an undisclosed location for her personal safety.

Anyone who may have seen or heard something on Monday night, Nov. 2 near the Monterey bridge is urged to contact the sheriff’s department at 661-245- 3440 and The Mountain Enterprise at 661-245-3794.

Editor’s Note:

It is understandably difficult to remember exactly what is said in the urgency of a 911 call. Please listen to the actual call in the slideshow at the top of this story. In this story we have quoted individuals as they spoke during our interviews.

This is part of the November 20, 2009 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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