This story is based on facts obtained from news stories, interviews with members of the community, and when available, police reports.
The murder of 23-year-old Danielle Karlen is officially unsolved, although there were several witnesses to the horrific crime. There are many other killings in this community and nearby Bakersfield which have attracted public attention and baffled law enforcement officials. This one is noteworthy because of its brutal nature and its occurrence on a public street.
Keep in mind the details that follow are true to the best of my knowledge and that when someone is taken from the community by homicide, there are often numerous other victims whose stories are unspoken. Even the city itself becomes a casualty in these episodes.
If you know the people in this story, give a moment of silence to those affected. If not, I ask you to do the same. And if you are someone who has some insight or knowledge of what happened to Danielle, please provide your information to the proper authorities.
Oildale: Beardsley Avenue
Perhaps no other street in the entire town represents the misery of Oildale like Beardsley Avenue. Abandoned shopping carts, fenced-off empty dirt lots, decomposing trailer parks. Large trash receptacles left on the street serve as a potential goldmine for night scavengers.
As you move along the avenue, from the entrance on Chester Avenue, you notice the U-Haul lot, the new market, and the clubhouse owned by the Christian Biker group. The impeccable facade of these establishments contrasts the dingy boulevard a few steps away.
Parolees from prison gangs like the Aryan Brotherhood, tweekers, and other outlaw types dominate this street. Sneakers hang from the electrical wires between two graffitied poles. An occasional stray mongrel runs by. Half-dressed pedestrians walk into houses with boarded-up windows, and cyclists ride by on bicycles they are much too old for.
Little Girl Lost
Oildale is a small community in Kern County; its population varies depending upon which authority you seek, but it seems to be in the neighborhood of 35,000.
Like many young people in Oildale, Danielle was unsure of her future.
There is little opportunity in this little town on the edge of the Kern River which moves through the nearby city of Bakersfield's northern border. The poverty rate in 2019 was measured at 27.5% - nearly two-and-a-half times the national average of 11.8%.
This predominantly Caucasian pocket was once known as a "sundowner town," with a sign on the Kern River Bridge insinuating that "certain groups" had better make sure they weren't engaging in activities after dark.
Crime runs rampant and unemployment rates are double-digit. The average income of $38,274 is almost half of the state's $75,277. One of the major concerns with this area is the influx of narcotics.
Like many young people in Oildale, Danielle had confrontations with the local demons.
References: Demographic Data Links
In 2018, Oildale, CA had a population of 34.7k people with a median age of 32.9 and a median household income of $38,254. Between 2017 and 2018, the population of grew from 34,496 to 34,723, a 0.658% increase and its median household income.
- Oildale, CA - Profile data - Census Reporter
Out of the Doldrums, Into the Rough Seas
Maybe it was boredom and the need for excitement on a dusty trailer park-lined street with little promise. Maybe it was some other influence. It's not certain, but it's a fate that many local young people have succumbed to.
"In the 'Dale, it's mostly meth and heroin," says one unidentified resident. "You hear about fentanyl but that's other areas. For the rich kids. Here it's all smack."
For Danielle, it was probably a normal stage to go through. It was probably what was expected of you if you grew up here. You either participated or you were an outsider. If you didn't fit in, you're a cop, or worse, a rat. The rite of passage that includes experimentation turns into an addiction for some. And from there, it's just a slippery slope into the netherworld.
It was a death sentence either way.
- Sundown Towns in the United States
The homepage of Dr. James W. Loewen, author of "Lies My Teacher Told Me," "Lies Across America," and "Sundown Towns"
The Laudable and the Lore
To those who knew her and cared for her, she was a good friend.
"She was really beautiful," says Charlie. "Inside and out. She had a good heart and people liked her." Charlie was born and raised here. Graduated high school, got married and soon found herself participating in the local activities.
The fact that in 2016, one-third of all the 1,600 drug arrests in Kern County were made here testifies to Oildale's prominence as a drug community.
Some say that Karlen was sucked into the life and that she met a local dealer, tried to steal his guns, and was punished for it.
Others say jealous girls—haters—envious of Danielle's long locks and thin body, decided to do her in. The punishment seems rather severe for this scenario.
From her Facebook photos, Danielle was clearly charismatic. She seemed full of life and promise, with a whole life ahead of her.
Photos from Danielle's Facebook Page
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Theories and Other Stories
All the people I encountered who know anything about the case say: "Everyone knows what happened. Everyone knows who did it." No one will say much more. And the stories change from one telling to the next—even some of the specific details about the murder itself.
I am standing on Beardsley Avenue now, at a fence looking into the yard where it happened. An empty wooden shed stands there, boarded up and stained with graffiti. Probably one like she had.
People have left stuffed animals, poems, strands of silver and gold garland. Candles burn, colorful stones, a bottle of powerful liquor. I see people coming out on porches looking at me. A girl in a halter top walks by and gives me a long stare.
One young man approaches me on a bicycle: "I told the cops what happened and who did it. They know, they just don't want to do anything about it."
"Oh," I say, curious. "Who did it?"
He looks away, towards the empty yard and then in the air. He scratches his head. "I can't say."
I think for a minute. "Someone told me the AB. She stole some guns."
"Yeah, people say the Mexican Mafia. But no." And then he stands his bike up and looks directly at me. "Don't tell anyone you talked to me!" He turns and I watch him pedal away.
Stolen guns, stolen drugs, gangsters. Jealous girls.
Another story says that she started dating the boyfriend of another local girl and when it was discovered, Hell literally broke loose.
The Devil In the Details
The screams could be heard all up and down the block. When people came running and saw the flames, they were forced back because of the heat.
Others report that you could hear her banging on the walls of the shed and boarded up windows that were nailed tightly shut. She was in the shed alone; the boyfriend who lived with her in the shack had left to see friends.
Another story says that someone had taken some rags soaked in water (how this was known, I am not sure) and tied her to a chair. Then they poured accelerant all over the interior and exterior and set it on fire.
(If her hands were tied, how could she have banged on the walls?)
As I said, the details of the story differ. The basic facts are clear though: there was a young couple living in poverty, staying in the structure, and it caught fire. She was the only one inside and never made it out.
No one should have had to live in that kind of squalor. Certainly no one deserved to die such a horrific death.
Beardsley Avenue: The Scene
Oildale was once known for severe racism and violence towards minorities. Beardsley Street was the criminal heart of Oildale - drug dealers, arms traffickers, racist gangs such as the 'Beardsley Street Krew' (BSK) and the 'Nazi LowRida' (NLR) and plenty of sex offenders to boot.
— The Urban Dictionary
Heroin Alley and Whore Corner
The streets of Beardsley and McCord—just a block north—are known as "heroin alley." It's the place to go when you want something. You have to be careful if you live nearby because addicts are always looking for their next fix and will steal anything to get it. It isn't unusual to see someone pulling a cart of junk or a truck driving by with a load of (stolen) bicycles in the cab.
This is definitely a closed-in community that doesn't take kindly to outsiders and has many secrets to keep. The murder of Danielle Karlen is just one of them.
This is just one of the many killings in Oildale and the surrounding community that remains unsolved.
Someone reading this may know something. If you do, please share it.
I never knew Danielle Karlen myself, but I heard about her story and saw the memorial that is still maintained to this day.
I understand that Danielle was loved by many people. She was a bright light snuffed out too soon.
Photos From Danielle's Facebook Page
May you rest in peace, Danielle
© 2021 Finn
Finn (author) from Barstow on January 05, 2021:
I actually deleted it and then managed to find it again and put it up. There were a lot of useful comments on the original one. thank you Hansen
John Hansen from Gondwana Land on January 05, 2021:
Interesting and tragic tale. Thank you for sharing this story, Fin.