Kirsten Hatfield was an eight-year-old second-grader at Traub Elementary School in Midwest City, Oklahoma. On the 13th of May, 1997, her mother, Shannon McCrossan, tucked her and her three-year-old sister, Faith, up in bed, and then later went to bed herself.
At some time around 3AM, Shannon heard a whine coming from the bedroom, but Faith sometimes talked in her sleep so she just assumed it was her. She found the bedroom door closed, which was odd, because the girls normally slept with the door open. She pushed open the door but didn’t go inside.
The following morning, Shannon entered her daughters’ bedroom to discover that Kirsten was missing. Shannon recalled: “I absolutely panicked. I ran back and forth from house to house. I eventually went back to the house and called 911.”1
Investigators descended on the home on Jet Drive. Upon entering the bedroom, they found that the window was closed but unlocked. On the bedroom window sill, investigators found a couple of spots of blood. They next searched the backyard, where they found more blood on a six-feet high wooden fence. They also came across a pair of Kirsten’s underwear.
Investigators immediately feared that Kirsten had been abducted. In an attempt to trace her abductor, they requested that all local businesses hand over their surveillance footage from that night, to see if anybody had captured the elusive abductor. A convenience store nearby had footage of a man asking for information on Jet Drive, which was where Kirsten had lived.2
The community sprang into action, and began searching for Kirsten. They were assisted by the Heidi Search Center from Texas, who flew in to partake. Missing person flyers described Kirsten as standing around 4 feet tall and weighing around 55 pounds. She had brown eyes and long brown hair. When she was last seen, she was wearing a white t-shirt with lettering on it.
The days continued to trickle past with no new developments and investigators admitted that they were stumped. Capt. Cecil Frymire stated: “We don’t know. We don’t have enough leads for one distinct direction.”
The following week, some items of clothing were discovered along a northeast Oklahoma City. They were children’s clothing. Investigators collected them in evidence bags to show Kirsten’s mother in the hopes that she could identify them. However, it was determined that the clothing was not Kirsten’s, just leaving investigators back at square one.
In early June, the Heidi Search Center returned to Texas, but Shannon refused to give up in the search, as did the community. They set up a command post at Traub Elementary School, and the searches were coordinated through the Midwest City Police Department. They scoured all throughout the area, including Lake Stanley Draper and the Jones area. Unfortunately, however, the searches turned up no evidence that could lead them to Kirsten.3
Shannon stated: “I want to thank everybody for participating and giving their time… It was certainly appreciated by the police department and the FBI and all of those that are on this case. It shows a community spirit in the metro area of coming together for a tragedy like this.”
Investigators were still wanting to identify the man who was asking the convenience store clerk about information on Jet Drive. They described the man as a black man standing around 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighing around 230 pounds. He was wearing a blue-and-white striped shirt and a matching baseball cap.4
Eventually, the weeks transformed into months and still Kirsten remained missing. Shannon commented in the media that she was not giving up hope that her daughter would be coming home safe. She stated: “I am tired, I am beat, but I am not giving up.” By July, the ground searches were discontinued; it was apparent that Kirsten wasn’t in the area, but still the investigation continued. As Shannon said: “We’re just looking for information. Somebody knows something that’s going to help me find my little girl.”5
The blood on the window sill and fence was an ominous find, but blood testing showed that the blood was not Kirsten’s and investigators now believed that it was unrelated to the abduction. The family believed that the abduction was targeted. Shannon admitted to investigators that she was a drug user, and conceded that her connections with other drug users at the time could have made her an easy target or hinder her credibility. She stated: “I certainly wasn’t a perfect mother. I socially did drugs, but never around the kids. If that’s the reason why Kirsten is gone, then I’m guilty. Your kids are vulnerable to your friends.”6
The months would then bleed into years, and Kirsten’s family tried to pick up the pieces and move on with their lives. In October of 2015, however, there was finally an arrest in the cold case. 56-year-old Anthony Joseph Palma lived at 1104 Jet Drive, only two houses away from where Kirsten had lived.7 Further DNA testing had revealed Palma’s DNA on Kirsten’s underwear found in the backyard and on her bedroom window sill.
Back when Kirsten vanished, Palma was interviewed, much like all other men living in the area, but was never arrested. In 2015, investigators returned to his home to speak with him. His wife, who he had married after Kirsten’s abduction, said: “Tony still gets upset about the case when it is mentioned.” Investigators asked why and she replied: “Because it happened so close to his house.”8
Palma denied any involvement in Kirsten’s disappearance, but he agreed to a DNA swab. This swab was then compared to the DNA at the crime scene, and it was found to be a match. The match was one and 293 sextillion.
As per the court documents following his arrest: “Kirsten may have been targeted by Palma for sexual assault. 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.”9
While Palma was arrested for Kirsten’s murder, her body still remained missing. Investigators announced they were going to be using sonar equipment to assist in the search. The first place they wanted to search was Palma’s home, naturally, but the search turned up nothing. Nevertheless, Palma was charged with Kirsten’s murder.
The following month, Palma attempted to take his life while in jail. He sliced his wrists, but the injuries were not severe enough to send him to hospital. He was subsequently placed on suicide watch.10
In February the following year, Prosecutors announced that Palma may be linked to other sexual assaults. They revealed that in 1979 or 1980, Palma entered his girlfriend’s home through a bedroom window in the middle of the night. He told his girlfriend’s 8-year-old sister to “remove her panties” and when she refused “he then rubbed her vaginal area over her panties.”
Then the year after Kirsten vanished, Palma drugged his 17-year-old roommate. She recalled “being naked in a bathtub with Palma pouring water on her.” She believed that Palma “drugged her and then raped her by instrumentation.”11
Palma was ordered to stand trial for the murder of Kirsten, and it began in October of 2017. One of Kirsten’s school friends testified that Palma used to stare at her and Kirsten when they played outside. She said that he “gave her the creeps.”
The DNA evidence against Palma was presented and it sealed his fate. The jury found him guilty of Kirsten’s murder after deliberating for just over one hour. Outside of court, Shannon stated: “We are just— I can’t explain it, we are just floored by this miracle and we are so thankful and it puts our hope back into the criminal justice system. We are so thankful to God. This is nothing short of an answered prayer. Obviously I have to thank all the men and the women, who have brought incredible integrity to a— what we always thought was a hopeful situation.”12
The sentencing phase followed, and Palma was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Palma would only serve less than two years of that sentence. In January of 2019, he was found dead in his prison cell at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. He had been strangled and beaten to death by his cellmate. He took with him to his grave the location of Kirsten’s body.
- The Oklahoman, 1 June, 1997 – “Missing Girl’s Story Stirs Pain of Past Search”
- Tulsa World, 21 May, 1997 – “Search Continues for Girl”
- The Oklahoman, 3 June, 1997 – “Search Renewed for Missing Girl”
- The Oklahoman, 5 June, 1997 – “Police Seek Possible Witness”
- The Oklahoman, 3 July, 1997 – “Weary Mother Won’t Give Up”
- The Oklahoman, 13 May, 1998 – “A Long Year Later”
- Alva Review-Courier, 12 October, 2015 – “Neighbor Arrested”
- NBC – 4 KFOR, 13 October, 2015 – “A Look at Anthony Palma”
- NBC – 4KFOR, 13 October, 2015 – “Kirsten May Have Been Targeted by Palma for Sexual Assault”
- NBC – 4 KFOR, 19 November, 2015 – “Kirsten Hatfield’s Accused Killer Attempts Suicide in Oklahoma County Jail”
- NBC – 4 KFOR, 12 February, 2016 – “Man Accused in Disappearance of Kirsten Hatfield Has History of Sexual Assault”
- NBC – 4KFOR, 13 October, 2017 – “Jury Convicts Midwest City Man of Murdering Kirsten Hatfield”