In the spring of 1997, an 8-year-old girl named Kirsten Hatfield was abducted from her bedroom in Midwest City, just outside of Oklahoma City.
Police questioned possible suspects and searched for Hatfield, but were unable to find the girl and leads went cold.
Now, 17 years later, police have finally made an arrest in the case – and untested DNA evidence is the hero.
Earlier this summer, police opened up the cold case to do a follow-up and found something of note – evidence that had never been tested by the FBI or the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. They also decided to re-test some evidence using more sophisticated methods, as 18 years have passed and DNA technology has improved greatly.
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Using DNA technology that is more advanced than it was in 1997, lab technicians discovered blood from the window sill and the girl's underwear came from an unknown male. Investigators ran that DNA through a national database and didn't find a match.
Authorities then tracked down about 10 men who'd previously been questioned and asked for DNA samples, [Midwest City Police Chief Brandon] Clabes said.
One of them was Anthony Joseph Palma, who lived just two doors down from the Hatfield house and had been interviewed twice in 1997, Clabes said.
Palma told investigators he was in bed the night the Kirsten disappeared but awoke about 2 a.m. because a dog was barking, KOKH reported.
He said he wasn't involved and allowed police to take a new DNA sample with a cheek swab, KOKH said.
His sample matched the DNA on the underwear and the window sill, the chief said.
Palma has now been arrested and charged with murder, as police believe Kirsten Hatfield is dead.
"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," reports Oklahoma's News9.
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Kirsten's family says they are "hopeful."
“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,” said Kristen's stepfather Chris Hazen at a news conference.