We're digging deeper into the arrest of 56-year-old Anthony Palma, the man accused of kidnapping and killing Kirsten Hatfield in 1997.
It was well-preserved blood evidence that helped Midwest City police, the OSBI and the FBI crack the 18-year-old cold case. On Wednesday, News 9 Crime Tracker Adrianna Iwasinski visited the actual lab where that discovery was made. An analyst there was able to match the DNA sample provided by Anthony Palma to the blood evidence found at the crime scene.
The work is very tedious. And sometimes it takes days or even weeks for OSBI analysts to get a DNA result in from their many submitted samples. But when they do have a match, it’s practically a slam dunk. And investigators said that was definitely the case here and what lead them to arrest Anthony Palma at his home this week.
“The law enforcement agencies and the laboratories did a great job of preserving the evidence so we could go back and do additional testing,” said Andrea Swiech, the Lab Director at the OSBI.
The question we wanted to know was why did Palma ever consent to swab?
“It happens more often than you would think,” said Swiech. “We have several cases where people who have actually committed the crime willingly give their DNA sample. I don't know if they think we don't have a DNA sample to compare it to or if they think they can just beat the system.”
We also wondered why Palma, who lived two doors down from where Hatfield and her mother used to live, never moved himself. We took that question to criminologist Howard Kurtz, who teaches criminal justice at Southwestern Oklahoma State University.
“For one thing it would have brought up a lot of suspicion I think had he done that,” said Kurtz. “If he stayed at that home, if in fact the body is somewhere on the property, he could defend the body and avoid discovery.”
Kurtz also said many murder suspects stay at their homes and try to blend in with society as a way to avoid detection.
“I think in a sick kind of way he may have really enjoyed the fact that he could stay there and that might have heightened his arousal,” said Kurtz. “There are other cases where people kill multiple times and either buried their victims in their crawl space or their backyard or someplace. Some serial killers - they stayed in the same home! They didn't leave!”
Kurtz also said his study of killers shows they do share many of the same characteristics that help them blend in with society.
“They look like regular people,” said Kurtz. “They have regular jobs.”
Palma has worked for the Oklahoma Department of Tourism as a groundskeeper, first at the state capitol in 1986, and then at Lake Thunderbird starting in 2001. And as Midwest City investigators continue to search for any new evidence they can find inside and outside Palma’s Midwest City home, the search for answers continues, including whether Palma may be linked to any other cold cases.
The OSBI lab director told News 9 that she expects more and more of Oklahoma’s cold cases to be solved thanks to DNA technology. Right now they have a backlog of 80 cold cases they are trying to help investigators solve.