Kristen Tatar
January 26,  1999 - August 7, 2003
Find A Grave Memorial
Kristen Tatar was born with a stomach problem that was treatable. Within weeks of her birth, doctors also diagnosed her with failure to thrive syndrome due to her parents failure to feed her properly. Tied to a chair with a pacifier tied to her mouth, her parents just wanted to keep her still. Kristen was not fed properly, she was not bathed and she was not loved. Kristen's parents did not bring her to her regular doctors appointments and they managed to dodge case workers by moving around a lot.

Kristen's little body, weighing only 12 pounds, was found in a cooler at her parents home, she was four years old. The cooler had been wrapped in plastic bags and stuffed in a garbage can. In 2003, Kristen Tatar died of malnutrition and dehydration. Kristen's death was caused by her own parents, Janet Crawford and James Tatar. This was NOT the first time Janet would have abused a child. Janet Crawford had three daughters from a previous marriage, she lost custody of those three children after repeated being turned in on charges that she was abusing her children.

Robert and Janet Crawford were awarded joint custody of their three daughters after their divorce in 1997. Robert Crawford would file an emergency petition for custody in February of 1999. Robert had filed complaints saying that one of his daughters had missed 45 days of school and that Janet had not taken her daughter in for medical care when she needed it. Robert also said that his children were forced to sleep on the floor at Janet's house. Custody was given to Robert during the school year.

A court appointed lawyer for the Crawford child filed an emergency petition claiming that Janet had been allowing her 15 year old child to have sex with her boyfriend, in her home. There were also some complaints about arguments that took place between Janet and the father of her Kristen Tatar, James Tatar. Among the complaints were also allegations of neglect, improper parental supervision, anger issues and domestic violence. Temporary custody was given to Robert in November of 2001.

During that time, the Westmoreland County Children's Bureau was in the process of returning Kristen to Janet against the advice of the foster parents who told them that Kristen had suffered terribly while with her mother.

"There needs to be major changes made. One thing they need to do, they need to start listening t
o the foster parents."
Lori Weimer - Kristen's Foster Mother

Jaycee and Jocelyn Reese had not been in contact with or seen their half sister, Kristen for about two years. When Jaycee decided she wanted to have a relationship with her mother again, she started spending time with her and her current boyfriend, James Tatar. When Jaycee asked about Kristen her mother always had excuses about where the child was:

"I asked several times when I went back, and it was always either she's in rehab or 
at Catholic Charities."

Jaycee was not satisfied with these answers and her suspicions were deepened by her mothers insistence that she not go into the room which had been Kristen's room and was now called the "forbidden room". Jaycee said it was called that because of a strong odor that came from the room. Jaycee asked her five year old half brother Nick where Kristen was. Nick told her that when Kristen was bad, she was put into the attic by her mother and that he thought she was still up there.

Though she was scared to go into the attic, Jaycee did get the nerve to go into Kristen's room. In the room she found clothing, tools and coolers. There was no sign of her half sister other than a toddler bed, two pairs of shoes and a teddy bear. Jaycee said that her mother was blaming the foul odor in that room on water in the crawl space. It was just another part of the story that Jaycee didn't believe:

 "I believe they had Kristen's body in the crawl space and they moved it to the cooler. In order 
for that room to have that odor, it had to be quite a while."

Jaycee and Jocelyn had been adopted by Michelle Reese two years prior. Michelle was the first to contact the police when Jaycee started to wonder where her half sister was and began to ask questions.

"When I know that Janet, her mother, let her go through that house with her dead sister, let 
her spend nights there, it makes me sick."

Michelle says that girls have had a hard time dealing with the fact that their mother killed their sister. They have cried quite a bit:

"I wouldn't put it past them that they're guilty. That's hard, it really is, because that's my mom."

The parents of James Tatar say that they had no idea that Kristen was being neglected. They insist that if they had known about it, they would have taken her away from them. They are naive enough to believe or at least to SAY they believe their son when he says he also didn't know about the neglect. Rose says she is haunted by guilt that she was not there to help her granddaughter:

"Ya know, you have your guilt that we should've questioned. This we should've questioned . 
That we should have known this," 
Rose Tatar

Rose says that she had only seen Kristen a few times in her short, four year life. She says that child was in and out of the hospital and also was in and out of foster homes. James and Janet told Rose that the child was in a home for children who had medical and behavioral problems such as Kristen had. She was also told that no one would be allowed to visit Kristen, not even her parents. If these grandparents were willing to allow this child to be placed in a home like that and not know ANYTHING about it and not be able to visit her, what kind of a grandparent is that?

Rose had said to someone that it had been two Christmases since she had seen Kristen. Then Rose turned around and told Police that she had seen Kristen a week before her body was found. Rose gave the excuse that she had lied because she thought her son and Janet were being harassed by the Westmoreland County Children's Bureau:

"When the police asked me if I saw Kristen, I thought I was protecting them from being harassed. 
I said I saw her and that was the worst thing I've ever done in my life," 

Rose and her husband Julius say that they believe their son didn't know about the abuse and neglect Kristen was suffering though since he traveled out of town a week or two at a time.

"I can't see my son knowing that girl's in the back of his yard in a plastic bag.
 I can't. I just can't -- 
I can't believe it," 
Julius Tatar

Police believed that the plastic Kristen's body was wrapped in came from the company James worked for. James told his family that he had not see Kristen since Easter and that he had believe his girlfriend when she said Kristen had been placed in a foster home. What kind of a father doesn't check this story out? Rose and Julius believed that James was ONLY guilty of not asking Janet exactly where Kristen was and not checking the story out. They think his only guilt lies in believing what he was told, but, that is not a murderer.

James and Janet were both arrested and charged with homicide.

Bill Blake, who was Kristen's case worker says that Kristen didn't have the right care from the beginning of her life"

"They weren't feeding her properly. She didn't have proper nutrition and she could have died 
at any time. It was a very serious condition."

Bill Blake noticed that when Kristen went to live with foster parents, her condition improved. Lori Weimer said that Bill Blake was a very attentive case worker.

"He called me every other day to make sure she was able to eat, that she was OK, she was 
adjusting all right. The other caseworkers didn't."

Bill Blake said that some of the other caseworkers were not as attentive as he was had been and they didn't stay on top of the case the way he did. Bill claimed that another caseworker was so intent on getting Kristen back with her parents that she lied and signed papers stating that James Tatar had been taken several parenting classes when in face he had only taken one. When asked if he believed the caseworker had faked the records Bill said"

"I think so -- yes, obviously. That's what I think."

Bill blake says that Children's Bureau did not protect Kristen from her parents and when asked who he thought was responsible for her death he said:

"It's the county and the caseworkers. They should have been on top of this. They should hold 
someone responsible for what happened to this nice little girl"

The Westmoreland County Children's Bureau says that they are not allowed to comment on their cases due to the laws. Director Jerry Sopko says that the law stopping HIM from talking, is the same law that should stop Bill Blake from talking. Bill Blake says that he feels very strongly about this case and it's very important that he speaks out about it. I agree with him. It sounds like Jerry Sopko is trying to cover up ANOTHER instance where the system failed to protect a child and the child paid the ultimate price.

Janet Crawford would eventually plead guilty to homicide, abuse of a corpse and endangering the welfare of a child. The prosecutors were trying to convict her of first degree murder to ensure that she would be given life without the possibility of parole. The District Attorney decided to allow her to testify against James in order for  her to avoid the death penalty. In 2004 James Tatar and Janet Crawford were both convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.

James Tatar would try to get a new trial claiming that he had not been represented properly. James said that his attorney was not qualified to go to court with a death penalty case. In January of 2009, Judge Kenneth Valasek dismissed his claim and denied him a new trial. The Judge said that since James' attorney was assisted by another attorney with death penalty expertise, he HAD been represented properly.

What about the case workers?

Records had been kept, by case workers, of the abuse in Kristen's life. However, shortly after the death of Kristen, there are claims that the organizations keeping the records began to change and even destroy some of the paperwork related to Kristen's care through their system. A wrongful death lawsuit had been filed by Cathy Fondrk, on behalf of Kristen's brother, with the following claims:

• Penn State Cooperative Extension personnel admitted to burning documents that might be potentially embarrassing to the university and Westmoreland County officials.

• Armstrong County supervisors and caseworkers conceded they added entries to Kristen's case files after state police found her body.

• Armstrong County became so convinced that Westmoreland County child welfare employees altered documents that they hired a forensic chemist who is scheduled to testify that dates and signatures on forms don't match. 

The lawsuit names Penn State and Extension supervisor Nancy Wallace; Westmoreland County and employees Daniel Fitzpatrick, Marilyn McSparrin and Sandra Pallatto; Armstrong County and caseworker Stephen Fancella; former Armstrong County caseworker Carla Danovsky; and Kristen's parents, who are serving life prison terms for their 2004 murder convictions. 

"There's only so much we can do to change the laws to protect children, so we have to use the 
courts to make the agencies themselves change," 
Cathy Fondrk

Paper work which had supposedly been faxed, never was. It was well known that Kristen was losing weight, however, Westmoreland County social workers claimed things were going well, making "remarkable progress". This was a lie and they KNEW it. A woman with the last name Pallatto KNEW that Kristen was not doing well and marked her case as closed. After closing the case, she made a phone call to the Armstrong County officials and told them that there continued to be problems that needed to be taken care of and that someone needed to get into that house as soon as possible.

When officials started investigating the death of Kristen, Mary Lou Warchola told her supervisor, Nancy Wallace that there were several documents missing from the files. It was then that Nancy Wallace got concerned about what was missing and sent out a memo that all hand written notes which had been written for Westmoreland County, were to be destroyed. Nancy claimed that supervisors had approved of what she had asked employees to do.

Concerned that state investigators would attempt to get Walmsley's writings, Wallace posted a memo ordering Penn State employees to destroy all handwritten notes created for Westmoreland County. Wallace said in her deposition that Penn State supervisors, including Greensburg director Gary Sheppard, approved. 

On June 30, 2005, Nancy Wallace wanted to be sure that Mary Lou Warchola had destroyed all of the documents she had asked to her destroy. Mary Lou said she had tried and the papers had jammed the paper shredder. Nancy told Mary Lou to burn the papers, Nancy told Mary Lou that it would make her feel better emotionally:

"And make sure that you sit down with a glass of wine and a box of Kleenex when you burn 
Kristen's. And get it out of  your system and move on,"

A case worker by the name of Carla Danovsky was assigned to the case of Kristen. She made phone calls to Nancy Walmsley, though the calls were not always returned. Carla was trying to find Kristen and Nancy was NOT helping her to do that:

"She told me not to call her back, not to go to their house, to keep my big mouth shut or
lose our contract' and I'll lose my job," said Walmsley. Those were her exact words." 

It is obvious that the state employees failed Kristen Tatar. Proving, once again, that the system doesn't always work, especially when the system is only looking out for number one. In order to cover their own mistakes and their own responsibility in the deaths of children, they will lie, forge documents and place the blame on everyone other
than those who are partly responsible.

Monument dedicated to Kristen Tatar.

Death Occurred in the state of Pennsylvania

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