CITRONELLE, Ala. – Police said a search of woods next to a rural Alabama road on Saturday uncovered human remains that likely belong to a young girl whose father is charged with killing her and her brother.
Search teams found the skeletal remains about 40 feet from a county road in Citronelle, about 30 miles north of Mobile, Mobile Police Maj. Kara Rose said. They had only been searching the site for a half-hour.
Rose said investigators believe the remains belong to Natalie DeBlase, who would have turned 5 in late November. Skeletal remains found Wednesday in the woods of rural Mississippi are believed to belong to her 3-year-old brother, Chase.
John DeBlase, 27, is charged with two counts of felony murder and two counts of corpse abuse. DeBlase's parents have said the last time they saw the children was in February, when they found DeBlase living at a mobile home park in Citronelle with his common-law wife, Heather Leavell-Keaton.
Police have said Leavell-Keaton also is responsible for the killings. She has been charged with child abuse but not murder. She was being extradited to Alabama and was expected to arrive there Sunday.
DeBlase's court-appointed attorney, Jim Sears, has said DeBlase maintains that he is innocent and that Leavell-Keaton killed the children. She has blamed DeBlase for the children's deaths.
Attorneys for DeBlase have said he will plead not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect. Sears said Friday that comments made by friends that called into question DeBlase's mental health are "certainly not without reason."
Mobile County Assistant District Attorney Jo Beth Murphree said Friday that authorities would soon be upgrading Leavell-Keaton's charges from child abuse to more serious aggravated child abuse counts. She also was to be charged with two counts of corpse abuse.
DeBlase had told police he dumped his daughter Natalie in the woods north of Mobile in March. He said he discarded the boy's body, dressed only in a diaper and stuffed into a plastic garbage bag, in Mississippi in June on or around Father's Day. Police say the children were killed separately, then immediately disposed of.
An investigation into their disappearance didn't start until late last month after Leavell-Keaton sought a protective order against DeBlase in Kentucky, Levy said. She said in the Nov. 18 filing that DeBlase may have killed his children, and that she feared for her life because he was abusive. The couple had a child together this summer. That child is in state custody in Kentucky.
"I am afraid that he is going to do something to harm our daughter because of what he has done to the other children," she wrote.
Meanwhile, arrest warrants in the case accuse Leavell-Keaton of abusing the boy and girl.
The documents accuse Leavell-Keaton of binding the girl's hands and feet with duct tape, putting a sock in her mouth and stuffing her in a suitcase in a closet for about 14 hours.
The warrants also accuse Leavell-Keaton of duct-taping the boy's hands to the side of his legs, strapping a broom handle to his back and shoving a sock in his mouth, then forcing him to stand in a corner all night while the adults went to bed.
The documents say the abuse happened sometime after March 1.