MWC Man Linked to Cold Case Murder after DNA Match

A Midwest City man who lived only two doors down from where an 8-year-old girl went missing in 1997 has been arrested in connection with her disappearance--18 years after he was first questioned in the case.

After Kristen Renee Hatfield disappeared from her bedroom in the middle of that night nearly 20 years ago, police questioned a neighbor, Anthony Joseph Palma, now 56. However, there was no evidence to connect him with the little girl's disappearance, and he was never arrested or charged.

Kristen has not been seen since her mother tucked her into bed on May 13, 1997. Midwest City police, the FBI, Oklahoma County Sheriff's Deputies, and more than 600 volunteers organized by the Heidi Search Center searched for the little girl, with their search taking them to Lake Stanley Draper and a home in Jones, Oklahoma. The search was called off on June 1, 1997. 

Her body has not been discovered, and the case has grown cold.

However, in June, cold case investigators again questions Palma, who has denied any involvement with the girl's disappearance. Police say that while he said he was home that night, there were inconsistencies between his statements in 1997 and those he made this summer. In June, he consented to give investigators a DNA sample.

Now, police are saying that DNA definitively connected him to the crime scene. According to police, Palma's DNA matched blood found on the little girl's windowsill and on her ripped panties which were discovered in the yard. The match, say police, "was one in 293 sextillion."

Midwest City police arrested Palma, who is being held without bond in the Oklahoma County Jail on complaints of kidnapping and first degree murder.

Investigators are currently searching the home where he lived when Hatfield was abducted and where he has remained for the last two decades. Midwest City police Detective Darrell Mitchell postulates, "It is likely that Palma has been motivated to stay in the same home to conceal evidence of the crime and/or the location of Kirsten's body."

Medical examiners and crime scene investigators are scouring Palma's home and property looking for evidence, and possibly, Hatfield's body. They are using ground-penetrating radar to search for human remains, a process that Midwest City Police Chief Brandon Clabes calls, "time-consuming, very painstaking." The property will be searched foot by foot, so investigators say it could be days or even weeks before investigators clear the scene.

Investigators say they have not ruled out the possibility that there may be additional suspects in Hatfield's disappearance. They also say they are investigating whether Palma may be linked to other missing person cases.     

Image credit: Micah Baldwin