A man was arrested Monday night on murder and kidnapping complaints in connection to the 1997 disappearance of his 8-year-old neighbor, thanks to a DNA match.
Anthony Joseph Palma, 56, was arrested Monday night on complaints of first-degree murder and kidnapping, in connection to the 1997 disappearance case of Kirsten Hatfield. Hatfield was only 8 years old when she was abducted from her bed in the middle of the night 18 years ago.
According to an affidavit released by Midwest City police Tuesday morning, on May 14, 1997, officers responded to a missing juvenile report at a home in the 1100 block of Jet Drive. Police determined that Hatfield had been abducted. They began investigating numerous leads immediately after the crime was discovered, but Hatfield was never found and the trail went cold.
On June 13, 2015, an officer was assigned to follow up investigation on this case. An FBI agent also assisted Midwest City police in the investigation. Authorities said they went through all the evidence in this case and learned that some of the evidence had never been tested by the FBI or OSBI.
Police said they decided to re-submit some of the evidence to the OSBI for analysis, because technology has changed since 1997.
A few weeks later, OSBI agents said they located an unknown male’s DNA (blood) profile in Hatfield’s panties. In 1997, Hatfield’s partially-ripped panties were located in the backyard of the home she went missing from. OSBI also said the same unknown male DNA profile was on the outside window sill, which Hatfield was believed to be taken out of.
“We decided to review all the evidence in this case. What we learned from our review was that some evidence had not been submitted for analysis, which included cigarette butts, a syringe, a beer bottle, and what we also knew from the original analysis of the blood that was found in Kirsten Hatfield’s panties and also the blood on the window sill outside her bedroom window, is that there were specific genetic profiles that were similar in nature," Midwest City Police Chief Brandon Clabes said in a news conference Tuesday afternoon.
OSBI said they ran the unknown male profile through Combined DNA Index System and got negative results. So authorities decided to collect DNA samples from those who had ever been brought up in the investigation.
Over the next few months, authorities talked to and collected DNA samples from several men who had either been brought up in the investigation or had been at Hatfield’s house in 1997. However, none of the people authorities had spoken with matched the unknown male DNA profile.
On June 1, authorities contacted Anthony Palma, who had possibly done work at the victim’s house in 1997. Officers arrived at Palma’s home and spoke with his wife, who said Palma would still get upset about the case, because, “it happened so close to his house.”
Palma’s home is located just two houses south of Hatfield’s home and is on the same side of the street, police said.
Officers then spoke Palma, who said on the night Hatfield went missing, he remembered there being a white 70s model Chevy truck in the driveway next to Hatfield’s house. He said when he got up the next morning, the truck was gone.
Palma said he had spoken with authorities in 1997, and even let them search his house. But he denied mowing the grass and doing work at Hatfield’s house, and he denied knowing Hatfield’s mother.
Palma told police on the night Hatfield went missing, he went to bed and was awakened at about 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. to his dog barking in the backyard. He said he got up to see what the dog was barking at and went back to bed. He denied having any involvement with the disappearance of Hatfield. But he agreed to give police his DNA sample.
On July 22, police said they received a report from the OSBI, stating that Palma’s DNA sample matched the DNA found on Hatfield’s panties and window sill. The match was one in 293 sextillion.
"When we looked at the evidence again, we re-submitted the evidence to OSBI, and as a result of that, in July of this year, we received a report from the OSBI that indicated the blood sample from Kirsten Hatfield’s panties and also the blood on the window sill matched Anthony Palma, and the match was one in 293 sextillion," Chief Clabes said.
Police then looked at the report from an FBI agent who had spoken with Palma in 1997, and learned that some of the information Palma provided then was inconsistent with what he told authorities in June, 2015. There is no documentation supporting the search of Palma’s house in 1997 by police.
According to the affidavit, the evidence shows that Hatfield may have been targeted by Palma for sexual assault. Since her abduction, there has been nationwide news coverage and advertisements on TV, newspapers, and individual flyers asking for information. In addition, authorities conducted extensive search throughout the years. However, she was never found.
Police believe Hatfield was killed shortly after her abduction. Palma has lived in the same house since the date of the kidnapping. Police believe he has been motivated to stay in the same home to conceal evidence of the crime and/or location of Hatfield’s body. Hatfield's body has not been found.
A bond has not been set for Palma.
Hatfield's step-father, Chris Hazen said he married Hatfield's mother two years after her abduction.
“I’ve always felt like if Kirsten would have been here, I would have adopted her, too. So I consider her my daughter, too. We want to tell you all that our family is hopeful. We want to take this opportunity to let all of our family and friends know that we are OK, and please continue to pray for us,” Hazen said during a news conference Tuesday afternoon.