Mom charged with murder of 3-year-old found buried near Delaware softball field in 2019

SMYRNA, Del. — A woman accused of child abuse in the death of her 3-year-old daughter, whose charred remains were found at a Delaware softball field in 2019, has now been charged with the girl’s murder.

Kristie Lynn Haas, 28, formerly of Smyrna, was reindicted Tuesday to add two counts of first-degree murder to the “laundry list” of charges she faces in the death of Emma Grace Cole, Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings said.

The toddler is believed to have died sometime between June 1, 2019, and Sept. 13, 2019.

That was the day a dog walker discovered the remains of a small child buried along the tree line behind the Smyrna-Clayton Little Lass softball field, which serves Little League girls in the area.

The field has since been renamed the Emma Grace Memorial Field in the toddler’s memory.

>> Related story: Couple jailed in connection with toddler’s remains found at Delaware softball field last year

“In all my years as a prosecutor, and in all my years as an attorney, this has been one of the most heartbreaking investigations I have ever experienced,” Jennings said Tuesday at a news conference. “These are the crimes that keep us up at night, as law enforcement, as parents and as neighbors.”

The attorney general said it was “salt in the wound” that the crime happened in a community as tight knit as Smyrna, a town of about 10,000 in Kent and New Castle counties.

“Today we are one giant step closer to justice for Emma,” Jennings said.

Watch Tuesday’s news conference below, courtesy of Delaware Online.

The investigators who pulled the slain girl’s body from the dirt in September 2019 dubbed her Baby Elle, or Jane Smyrna Doe 2019. It took more than a year to identify the child.

Lt. Brian Donner of the Smyrna Police Department said there were few leads in the beginning of the investigation, but that detectives poured every resource they had into identifying the girl and determining who killed her.

The Delaware State News reported that authorities received a credible tip on Sept. 11, 2020, that indicated Baby Elle could be Emma Cole. Investigators determined that Emma was the daughter of Kristie Haas, also known as Kristie Lynn Cole.

They also determined that Kristie Haas had four children. Brandon Lee Haas, who she married in May 2017, was not the father of any of the children.

>> Read more trending news

According to a probable cause affidavit obtained by the News, Kristie Haas had told a family member that Emma “had been diagnosed as schizophrenic and committed to the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia … sometime in 2019.”

A subpoena served on the hospital indicated that the girl had never been treated there, either inpatient or outpatient, the newspaper reported.

A security camera at Smyrna Middle School, located across the street from the softball complex, recorded a “mid-sized passenger car” entering the property at 12:14 a.m. one day in early September 2019. The car left at 1:37 a.m.

“A figure appearing to be the size of an adult human being could be observed outside the vehicle during this time frame,” the affidavit stated.

The vehicle was consistent with a red Chevy Malibu owned by Brandon Haas, the court records show. The News reported that the surveillance footage was too dark to positively identify the car.

After the FBI’s Wilmington field office was notified of persons of interest in the case, agents began conducting surveillance on Kristie and Brandon Haas. A surveillance team spotted Brandon Haas and a young boy leaving a Comfort Inn and Suites in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, the morning of Sept. 23, 2020.

As they left, Brandon Haas threw several items of trash into the hotel’s dumpster, the affidavit stated.

DNA was taken from a straw in the trash bag and analyzed.

“It was determined that there was a likelihood ratio of 14 million (a high likelihood) that the major female contributor to the DNA sample was the mother of the child whose rib bone had been discovered at the Little Lass Fields,” the document said, according to the News.

Kristie Haas and Brandon Haas, 38, were arrested in October in Pennsylvania.

“While (Brandon and Kristie Haas’) initial arrests provided some relief, we knew that the mission was not complete until we were able to bring homicide charges in this case,” Donner said Tuesday. “Today culminates all that hard work and investigation.”

It was not immediately clear what new evidence led to the murder charges.

Both Kristie and Brandon Haas face charges of child abuse and endangering the welfare of a child in connection with Emma’s life and death. They are accused of torturing the toddler, as well as withholding food and medical care.

“The original indictment alleged that Emma was the victim of child abuse before her death,” Jennings’ office said in a written statement. “Both Haases are alleged to have deprived Emma of sufficient food and needed medical attention, and subjected Emma and her siblings to excessive, forced exercise and inappropriate physical discipline.”

Read the latest indictment against Kristie and Brandon Haas below.

Smyrna detectives were able to obtain medical records for Emma’s siblings, including wellness visits with a doctor in Dover, the News reported. No medical records could be located for Emma “during the period just prior to the discovery of the remains (including any time during 2019) or from any time after her remains were discovered.”

Kristie Haas is accused of assault, and she and Brandon Haas are both accused of endangering the welfare of the three other children in their care, according to the latest indictment.

Husband and wife are charged with hindering prosecution. Kristie Haas is also charged with abusing a corpse and reckless burning.

Rachel Byrd, the acting special agent in charge of the FBI’s Baltimore field office, said it was difficult, as a mother, to discuss the details of the case.

“There are few crimes as heinous as the murder of a child,” Byrd said. “Emma Grace was just 3 years old when she was taken from this world. We believe her few short years were filled with abuse and torture.”

Federal agents not only assisted with the overall investigation, but they also provided expert insight from the agency’s Behavior Analysis Unit. The bureau’s child/adolescent forensic interviewer also worked to elicit details from Emma’s young siblings.

“Emma Grace had a full life to live, and that life was taken,” Byrd said. “At just 3 years old, she was taken from her friends, her loved ones, her brother and sisters.

“When the most vulnerable of our citizens — our children — are victimized, we will do everything we can to hold the perpetrators accountable and protect others from harm.”

>> Read more true crime stories

Authorities said Smyrna police officers were called to the softball fields Sept. 13, 2019, after the dog walker stumbled upon Emma’s remains. The girl had been dead “for several weeks, or possibly longer,” police officials said.

At the time of the grim discovery, Kristie and Brandon Haas lived with their other children in a home about a mile from the Little Lass softball fields. Delaware court records show Brandon and Kristie Haas were evicted from the home in October 2019.

Shortly after Emma’s remains were found, Smyrna police detectives began working with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, whose forensic artists created two facial reconstructions of the girl. One reconstruction used 3D modeling software that sculpted an image from a CT scan of the skeletal remains.

The second image was created in Adobe Photoshop using photos of the child’s remains provided by the medical examiner, the center said.

The police investigation “revealed that the child was female, Caucasian or Hispanic, and likely between the ages of 2 and 5 years old,” authorities said in November 2019, when the images were first released. “The child had slightly wavy brown hair. An anthropological exam of her remains suggests that she suffered from chronic illness(es).”

The nature of the girl’s illnesses was unclear at the time.

Kristie Haas faces life in prison if convicted of the charges. Brandon Haas faces up to 45 years in prison.

Jennings, the attorney general, choked up as she talked about the nurturing and love that most parents heap on their children and grandchildren. Emma and her siblings were denied that, she indicated.

“I think today, we need to hold our children and our grandchildren extra tight, because there are those who never had a chance,” a tearful Jennings said. “And Emma never had a chance.”