Two people are in custody in Minnesota on suspicion of murder after police found the body of 6-year-old kindergartener Eli Hart in the trunk of his mother’s car during a traffic stop on Friday.
The mother, 28-year-old Julissa Thaler, is one of those two people, jail records show. The other is believed to be Robert Paul Pikkorainen, 27.
Thaler was awarded full custody of Eli on May 10 despite grave concerns from social workers about her living situation, mental health, and criminal record, WCCO reported.
Eli was placed into family foster care in January 2021 and remained with Stephen and Nikita Kronberg for 11 months, until Thaler was given temporary custody in December. Nikita Kronberg said that she and Eli’s family — including his father, Tory Hart — fought to keep the boy away from Thaler.
“I feared if she got custody back, that she would harm Eli, if not worse,” Kronberg told WCCO Sunday. “I instantly responded with, you know, this is a dangerous situation for Eli. You know, I fear for his safety if he’s returned to her. There’s numerous things I had brought up that were concerning that I had noticed.”
Documents from Dakota County court detail concerns social workers had about Thaler’s mental health, criminal history and living situation.
Still, she was granted full parental custody on 5/10 and the case was dismissed. @WCCO #WCCO pic.twitter.com/gE2dzQ7lyY
— Adam Duxter (@AdamDuxter) May 22, 2022
Court documents filed in the custody case showed that Thaler had been cited multiple times for driving offenses and has an upcoming hearing regarding a drug theft. A case worker noted that Thaler had moved multiple times since Eli was put in foster care and was concerned about her “stability.”
A Guardian ad Litem wrote to the court about being “very concerned about Ms Thaler’s mental health and how she is impacting her 6-year-old’s mental health and well-being as well as how she is jeopardizing Eli’s relationship with his father who appears to be a stabilizing force in Eli’s life.” Mental health workers wrote that Thayer didn’t participate in sessions, often not showing up.
Tory Hart, who operates a bait shop 120 miles away in Wisconsin, wrote to the court that Eli had begun violently acting out in school and showing signs of anxiety during visits since he returned to his mother in December. He wrote that he feared his son was being “mentally and emotionally abused.”
Despite those concerns, the case was closed on May 10, when Thaler received full custody.
Thaler was arrested on Friday when Orono police pulled her over, as CrimeOnline previously reported. She was driving with a flat tire and a smashed out back window. The officer who made the traffic stop noticed blood in the car while talking with her and found Eli’s body in the trunk. Police said they also found evidence at a nearby gas station where the car was seen earlier and at an apartment where they arrested the second suspect, believed to be Pikkorainen.
Pikkorainen’s relationship with Thaler and Eli is unknown. Both are being held without bond on suspicion of murder.
Police have not publicly released the names of the suspects or the victim. Family members identified Eli as the victim, and jail records identified Thaler and Pikkorainen.
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[Featured image: Eli and Tory Hart/GoFundMe]