On Facebook, Jen Hart frequently wrote about her children, discussing what all six of them were up to in lengthy, paragraphs-long posts. But according to Bruce and Dana DeKalb, the Harts’ neighbors in Woodland, Washington, those posts provide a stark contrast to their own interactions with the six Hart children.
At first the DeKalbs rarely see the Harts, save a few chance encounters in their driveway. But this changes on Thursday, March 15, 2018 when Devonte approaches Bruce while he's working outside and asks him for tortillas. The following morning, the DeKalbs answer a knock at their door: It's Devonte again, this time asking for bread. Devonte shows up at the DeKalbs' home asking for food on seven separate occasions that week.
While Jen is sharing pictures of Devonte on Facebook, smiling and seemingly happy, Bruce and Dana DeKalb are seeing something vastly different: A child who is afraid and hungry. Dana uses each one of those visits to gently prod for more information about the family.
What was going on inside the Hart family’s home? Here’s field reporter, Lauren Smiley, with the DeKalbs:
Devonte eventually opens up to the DeKalbs, stating that he and his siblings are being abused by Jen and Sarah. Upon hearing this, Dana DeKalb takes action, calling Child Protective Services on Friday, March 23, to report the information she has collected about her neighbors. Officials show up within a couple of hours, but when they knock on the door, neither Jen nor Sarah answers. That evening the two moms will pack up their Yukon with their six children and leave hurriedly, knocking over their stone wall in the process.
On Saturday, March 24, the Harts’ phones pinged off cell towers along the Oregon coast into California, and on Sunday, the 25th, Jen shows up in a Safeway surveillance video in Fort Bragg: Alone, wearing eyeglasses and a hoodie, she pays $20.08 in cash for groceries.
On Monday, March 26, a Washington State CPS investigator calls 911 to request that a deputy go out to the Harts’ house.
That afternoon a German tourist spots the Harts’ tan 2003 Yukon XL upside down at the bottom of the cliff in Mendocino County. The bodies of Jen, Sarah, Markis, Abigail, and Jeremiah are found at the crash site; a foot, believed to be Hannah's, is also discovered. Sierra’s body washed ashore about two weeks later. Devonte is still missing.
No one in the car was wearing a seatbelt. Jen’s blood alcohol level was over the legal limit, and toxicology reports show that Sarah and two of the kids had allergy medication in their system that could have made them drowsy. The car’s computer shows that moments before the crash, Jen had stopped on a gravel pullout 70 feet from the edge of the cliff, only to then accelerate. According to a Carfax report, the brake pads had been replaced the previous July. Per industry experts, the average brake pad lasts for around 40,000 miles—implying that the brake pads were likely in working order.
Were Jen and Sarah running from a longer tail of child abuse allegations? Did those who knew them earlier in life have any indication as to what was going on? That, and more, next time on Broken Harts.
Subscribe now to our new podcast, Broken Harts, from Glamour and HowStuffWorks and based on this story from the October 2018 issue of Glamour. New episodes will air each Tuesday; find them on Apple, Google, Spotify, or wherever you like to get your podcasts. For the full transcript of this episode, click here. Have any tips, feedback, or questions? Email us at email@example.com
Top photo by Holly Andres.
Published at Tue, 01 Jan 2019 05:01:00 +0000