| Delaware News Journal
Childs remains found at Smyrna softball field
Police say human remains were found near a softball field in Smyrna and are believed to be those of a young child, less than 10 years old. Video provided by John J. Jankowski. 9/16/19
Thirteen months ago, Smyrna’s Little Lass Fields bustled with police activity.
On a Friday afternoon in September, crime scene tape blocked the road to the softball complex, and special operations vehicles filled a parking lot near one field.
Carefully, investigators gathered the remains of 3-year-old Emma Grace Cole, which had been found by a person walking a dog. Detectives worked under tarps and tents, presumably set up to protect evidence.
On Thursday, hours after police publicly identified the girl for the first time and announced Brandon and Kristie Haas as “persons of interest” in the case, those same fields were abandoned, giving no indication of the horrific discovery a year prior.
The Haases, who lived on North New Street in Smyrna until they were evicted in October 2019, were charged in Pennsylvania earlier this week with “arrest without prior requisition,” which gives authorities the ability to take someone into custody for charges in another state.
It also allows law enforcement to assist in the extradition of a person to another state.
DETAILS OF THE ARREST: Pa. couple arrested in connection with child remains found in Smyrna, police ID girl
While it’s not clear if charges have been filed against the couple in Delaware, a Pennsylvania judge set both Brandon and Kristie’s bonds at $1 million, an amount usually reserved for the most serious charges.
Brandon, 38, has since been extradited to Delaware, court documents show. Kristie, 28, remains in a Pennsylvania prison awaiting a Nov. 4 extradition hearing.
Police have released little information about the couple, Emma Cole, or their relationship to the girl. Indiana court records dating back to 2016, however, show Cole was Kristie’s daughter.
Since Thursday’s announcement by police, some questions — namely, who the little girl was and who may be involved in her death — have been answered.
But, as social media users and the couple’s former acquaintances take to Facebook to speculate about Cole’s death, it’s clear that many more questions remain.
The investigation into Cole’s death began when Smyrna police were called to Little Lass Fields on Duck Creek Parkway around 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 13, 2019. The complex serves as softball fields for Little League girls in the area.
A person walking a dog spotted Cole’s remains and called police, Smyrna Police spokesman Sgt. Brian Donner said at the time. The fields are across the road from Smyrna Middle School.
Police said there was evidence of a fire at the scene and called in the state fire marshal’s office. For days, detectives had tents and tarps set up while they investigated.
In the weeks and months that followed, Smyrna police enlisted the help of departments across the region and in other states, trying to determine the identity of the remains. The department also began working with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, or NCMEC, and the Delaware Division of Forensic Science to identify Cole.
A recent search through NCMEC’s website does not show any reports of the girl. It also does not appear that police issued any alerts regarding her disappearance, though she may never have been reported missing.
In November 2019, about two months after Cole’s remains were discovered, police released a sketch of the child in the hopes of solving the mystery of her death. At the time, police said they hoped the facial reconstruction sketches would prompt tipsters to come forward with either the girl’s identity or possible suspect information.
In April, Donner told Delaware Online/The News Journal that police had “been getting continual tips from the public.”
“This has been greatly aided by NCMEC’s involvement in the case as well,” he said, adding that investigators had performed “multiple different forensic tests, to include creating a DNA profile for comparison purposes.”
Still, to the public, the case appeared to be at a standstill until earlier this week, when the Haases were arrested in Pennsylvania.
On Tuesday, a day before Brandon’s extradition to Delaware was approved, Smyrna police announced there’d been a “breakthrough” in the case.
In a short news release, police said only that “persons of interest” in the case had been arrested out of state. They did not identify the Haases, nor did they release information about Cole.
Thursday’s release was just as bare-bones, providing no information other than Cole’s identity and naming the Haases as people of interest.
What we know about the Haases and Cole
Though police and friends have said little about the Haases and Cole — one acquaintance told Delaware Online/The News Journal she did not want to speak about the family — a search of social media, court and public records provide some insight into their lives.
Brandon and Kristie, who previously lived in Smyrna, married in May 2017, according to Facebook posts.
But just the year prior, on Feb. 23, 2016, Kristie went to court in Monroe County, Indiana, to establish the paternity results of her child, Emma Cole, court records show.
Paternity tests were issued for Joshua Douthitt, a Bloomington, Indiana, man who was incarcerated at the time. A case summary showed that for the next year, the two parties then regularly appeared in court to determine child support and custody. The matter was closed by June 12, 2017, with numerous case notes citing Kristie as Emma’s mother.
The last note in the case came on August 3, 2017, citing a “Notice of Intent to Move Residence” on behalf of Kristie.
The case note does not say where Kristie Haas – then known as Kristie Cole – was planning to relocate but did say the notice was unopposed, according to court records.
However, Kristie remained in family court until June 2018 over paternity and custody matters with at least three other children to another man, Christopher Epeards, court records show.
These records indicate Kristie, at one point, filed for emergency custody of the three children – two girls and one boy – and also filed an unopposed notice to relocate. Again, the notice does not say where Kristie, identified in records as the mother, was moving.
Neither Douthitt nor Epeards could immediately be reached for comment.
A Facebook profile for Kristie highlights a black and white photo of three children at the top of her page. Two young girls and a young boy are shown looking into the camera in the photo posted in July 2017.
Brandon’s account shows the same three children, though one photo shows a fourth child. That picture was posted in August 2018.
Another Facebook page for Kristie — she has three — appears to be the most recent and has photos posted as recently as 2019. It shows four children gathered in matching pajamas at the holidays.
Photos and posts also show at least one of the girls participated in the Middletown Odessa Townsend Youth Football & Cheerleading League.
Police have not given any information about the children, or said who has been taking care of them since the Haases were arrested.
Aside from what’s posted online, few details about the couple are known. Brandon’s Facebook profile shows he had been working as a journeyman in Ironworkers Local 451. He is originally from Middletown, the page says, and went to Middletown High School.
Delaware court records show he had several run-ins with the law over the last two decades, most recently in 2017, when he was convicted of drug possession and shoplifting.
Prior to that, he was convicted of drug possession in 2013, and receiving stolen property and resisting arrest in 2012. He was also arrested on charges of aggravated menacing, menacing and resisting arrest in 2000, but the case was dismissed before trial because the victim didn’t show.
Kristie has no record in Delaware state courts.
According to Facebook and public records, she’s originally from Bloomington, Indiana, but has also lived in Middletown, Smyrna, Newark and Glen Mills, Pennsylvania.
She opened a business, “KBHAAS DESIGNS,” in August 2020 in Glen Mills, business records show. The purpose of the business was listed as “residential home remodeling/renovations.”
All quiet at the Haas’ former Smyrna home
Aside from an occasional vehicle and wind rustling through tree leaves Thursday afternoon, the block where the Haases rented a house in Smyrna until October of last year was quiet.
Few North New Street residents contacted on Thursday knew the couple, who moved out in a hurry. The road is a little more than a mile from the softball complex where Cole was found.
“They didn’t even use a moving company,” said one neighbor who didn’t want to be identified. “They moved out so fast that they didn’t tell us they were moving.”
A couple of neighbors said they would often see Kristie with her children. One of the neighbors added the children were home-schooled.
“She was a good mom,” said another former neighbor who also didn’t want to be identified. This women needed to grab a pack of cigarettes to talk about her former neighbor before deciding she couldn’t go on.
Before ending her conversation, the woman said Kristie was always playing with the kids while Brandon would work.
“He was good with the kids too,” she said. “He worked. She didn’t. She always supported her kids. She did everything for her kids.”
Not all the neighbors found the Haases to be as pleasant.
One man said most nearby residents stayed away from the pair, adding they had a generator that they often ran.
Despite some neighbors’ wariness of the couple, residents who were contacted Thursday said they were surprised at the news of the arrests — one woman even covered her mouth when she was told.
And while the woman who needed a pack of cigarettes said she’d heard about what happened, and was upset by it, most others on the block said they hadn’t heard a word.
Now they, like dozens of others, have many questions.
Send story tips or ideas to Isabel Hughes at [email protected] or 302-324-2785, or follow her on Twitter at @izzihughes_. Contact Esteban Parra at (302) 324-2299, [email protected] or on Twitter at @eparra3. Brittany Horn can be reached at (302) 324-2771, [email protected] or on Twitter at @brittanyhorn.
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