As suspect appears in court, Frederick Holgate's relatives left to wonder why it happened
Dawn Holgate's 21st birthday was Tuesday, and she had planned to celebrate by going with her father to Disneyland.
His birthday was this coming Friday, and he had never been to the amusement park before.
But rather than a celebration at the Happiest Place on Earth, Dawn Holgate spent her milestone birthday at home, grieving over the loss of her father, Frederick Holgate, who was brutally killed over the weekend.
She shed tears along with other family members and friends, who shared memories of a selfless and positive family man, always trying to help out others.
Holgate, 69, was found dead around 5:30 a.m. Saturday on a sidewalk in the 1300 block of South Miller Street. He was nearly decapitated, according to Santa Maria police.
Investigators originally said that Holgate was killed by an ax, but have since said the weapon was a hatchet, which was found nearby.
A phone call about two hours later led officers to the Santa Maria home of 20-year-old Nicholas Bendle, who returned home covered in blood hours after having been reported missing, according to police. Bendle was arrested on suspicion of murdering Holgate.
Family friend Marichu Kern said Tuesday that she worried for Holgate's safety while he was out on his daily walks. He made the treks despite health problems, and was out on one of those excursions when he was killed.
"He had to walk, because God gave him a chance to walk again," Kern said.
Bendle made his first court appearance in the case Tuesday morning. A 2007 graduate of St. Joseph High School, where he was a multi-sport athlete, he wore a jail-issued orange jumpsuit and was slow to respond to questions from Commissioner John McGregor.
Bendle's arraignment was postponed to Aug. 18, and he did not enter a plea.
The District Attorney's Office has filed a murder charge against Bendle, as well as a special allegation that a weapon was used in the killing.
Bendle was being held without bail in Santa Barbara County Jail.
Assistant Public Defender Jim Voysey, who represented Bendle in court Tuesday, said that he asked that the case be pushed back to allow for time to do investigation.
Voysey said Bendle has some "psychological problems," but did not elaborate.
"It's way too soon to do that," he said.
Santa Maria police Lt. Dan Ast said Tuesday that police would not comment on a possible motive for the slaying, adding that the department usually does not discuss confessions or other information obtained by talking with suspects.
Issues including whether Bendle suffers from mental illness or was on drugs at the time he allegedly killed Holgate are being explored, Ast said. Blood and urine samples were taken from the suspect, Ast said, but have not yet undergone testing.
Bendle is also the suspect in a residential burglary, Ast said, as he allegedly broke into the home of someone he knows to take the hatchet allegedly used in the slaying.
Both Dawn Holgate and her boyfriend, Paul Hertfelder, graduated along with Bendle with the class of 2007 at St. Joseph High School.
Holgate said she did not know Bendle well, and that the defendant did not know her father at all.
Hertfelder was better acquainted with Bendle.
"I guess on the outside, he seemed like a good guy," he said.
Hertfelder said everyone is shocked at the news of Bendle's arrest on murder charges.
"It was just hard to hear it was someone I knew," he added.
Dawn Holgate, her mother, Ness Holgate, and friends gathered at the Holgate residence Tuesday, talking and sometimes crying as they exchanged recollections among a sea of flowers that had been sent in condolence.
"He was just happy to see everyone else around him happy," Dawn said of her father, who had been forced to stop working as a truck driver years ago because of an injury.
The family had lived in Santa Maria since 2005, but Frederick and Ness had lived in the area previously, Dawn said.
"He was so trusting of everyone in this town," Dawn said.
Her father frequently used the phrase, "just like you - sweet, kind and lovable," she said.
Dawn said she can't be mad about the death of her father, but she doesn't understand why it happened.
"It's not that confusing. It's just wrong and it's evil," she said.
Ness said the assailant doesn't know what was taken from the Holgate family. They can't afford rent without Frederick, she said.
"It's a great loss to me," she added.
Neighbor Guillermo Chacon said Holgate was "very special," and was encouraging to him.
Chacon said he doesn't care what issues Bendle was dealing with, he wants justice.
Visitation for Holgate is scheduled from 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday at Magner-Maloney Funeral Home, 600 E. Stowell Road. A rosary will follow.
A memorial Mass will be celebrated at 9:30 a.m. Monday at St. Mary of the Assumption Church, 600 E. Church St.
Donations to the Holgate family can be made at the Wells Fargo bank on Broadway, account number:1993317625.
August 5, 2009