Beloved Musician and His Wife Found Dead on Dirt Road, Mysterious Circumstances Point to One Thing


Editor’s Note: Our readers responded strongly to this story when it originally ran; we’re reposting it here in case you missed it.

An elderly California musician and his wife were found dead Aug. 21 in the Mojave Desert.

Larry and Betty Petree of Bakersfield apparently ran out of gas and became stranded on a dirt road east of California City, more than 60 miles from their hometown. They were found with their vehicle that Sunday afternoon, according to KGET-TV.

Larry’s body was in the driver’s seat of the car; his wife was found outside, leaning against a rear tire.

The couple had been married more than 60 years.

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KGET called the 88-year-old Petree “a beloved veteran musician of the Bakersfield Sound era.” He played the pedal steel guitar, known for its haunting wail characteristic of classic country Western music.

In addition to being a well-known musician, Petree was a 30-year veteran of the Kern County Fire Department.

Local news outlets said the community was shocked.

“Everyone who is a musician in Bakersfield knows who Larry Petree was,” said singer-songwriter Mario Carboni, according to the Bakersfield Californian. “Everyone loves him. He was an asset to any group he was in.”

Eugene Moles posted on Facebook, “I’m in shock. I’ve known him my whole life.”

Kim Hays, a family friend, told KGET, “He always had a smile on his face. He was just a sweetheart of a guy and he was always there to help other people. I just can’t believe they’re gone and in such a bizarre fashion.”

Debbie Bohan posted on Facebook, “Just heard the heartbreaking news about the passing of Larry Petree and his dear wife Betty. He was one of Bakersfield’s Best! He was funny and friendly always flashing his genuine smile. They both will be greatly missed!”

It’s unclear where the couple was headed. Authorities said foul play was not suspected.

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A cousin of Larry’s, Laurie Sanders, told the Bakersfield Californian he recently became disoriented and got lost on his way to a gig a few weeks ago.

That incident may have foreshadowed last weekend’s tragedy.

“What were they doing out there?” Sanders asked. “They don’t travel that far away from home.”

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Lorri Wickenhauser has worked at news organizations in California and Arizona. She joined The Western Journal in 2021.
Lorri Wickenhauser has worked at news organizations in California and Arizona. She joined The Western Journal in 2021.