Details of Disappearance
Katelyn's parents, Jennifer Helton and Robert Rivera, met in Pennsylvania in 1995. Their photos are posted with this case summary. It is unclear if Jennifer was aware of Robert's criminal history at the time they began dating.
Jennifer told authorities that Robert hit her at least ten times while she was pregnant with their daughter. Katelyn was born in December 1997 and Jennifer maintained that Robert beat her six additional times after the child's birth.
Jennifer took Katelyn and moved out of the family's residence in July 1999. She said that Robert attacked her again when she attempted to remove some of her belongings from the apartment later in the month. Jennifer filed charges against Robert, and he was arrested for assault. The court ordered that Robert should only only allowed one-hour weekly supervised visits with his daughter.
Jennifer attended Robert's preliminary hearing during the morning of August 10, 1999 in Boothwyn, Pennsylvania. Robert was not taken into custody at that point and he saw Jennifer and her aunt sitting in a car in a nearby store's parking lot after the proceedings were completed.
He attacked both women, then drove to Katelyn's babysitter's residence in Boothwyn. The sitter told authorities that Robert broke her front door down, then abducted Katelyn. She claimed that she heard something hit the door as Robert left with the child. The sitter heard him call out, "Her head!"
The sitter said she feared Katelyn's head may have collided with the door jamb. Robert later claimed only his hand hit the jamb.
Robert was driving his former girlfriend's vehicle at the time of Katelyn's abduction. His girlfriend said that he was scheduled to meet her for lunch, but he did not arrive until 5:20 p.m. and he was accompanied by Katelyn. She claimed Robert was abrasive in his manner and was driving erratically at a high rate of speed, with Katelyn in the front seat of the car and herself in the back.
His girlfriend testified they drove from her workplace in Essington, Pennsylvania to Interstate 95 towards Delaware. She said that Robert called Jennifer along the way and arranged to meet her at a nearby K-Mart store to retrieve their daughter, but he passed the establishment shortly thereafter.
Robert's girlfriend told authorities that they stopped at Jennifer's residence and he began shouting for her to come outside. His girlfriend said that Jennifer told him to wait a moment, and Robert feared she was calling the police to report Katelyn's abduction.
He sped away from the home and dropped his girlfriend off several blocks away. Robert told his girlfriend that he would return Katelyn to her mother's home, but he continued driving elsewhere.
Robert and Katelyn were seen at a Sunoco gasoline station in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania at approximately 7:17 p.m. that evening. He had been driving around Pennsylvania for the majority of the day with his daughter.
An employee at the station stated that Robert purchased $2 worth of fuel at the time and departed with Katelyn in the vehicle. The witness said that she was crawling on the front seat of the car, wasn't crying and didn't appear to be injured.
The worker said that Robert returned alone approximately two hours later and traded his watch for $10 worth of fuel. Robert was arrested shortly afterwards, but Katelyn was not recovered.
Robert initially told authorities that he gave Katelyn to an unidentified couple at Longwood Gardens, a horticultural display garden in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. A sketch of the woman he supposedly gave Katelyn to is posted with this case summary. He described the woman as 20 to 30 years old, Caucasian, 5'7 tall, with dark eyes and straight brown hair pulled back.
The man, Robert said, was Caucasian, in his late thirties, 5'10 tall with a heavy build, with short dark hair and sideburns. He said the couple was driving a 1996 to 1998 Dodge Caravan with blue and white Maryland designer license plates with a picture of a bird standing on one foot.
Investigators initiated an extensive search for the child, but uncovered no evidence as to her whereabouts. Katelyn has never been heard from again.
Robert was charged with Katelyn's abduction and presumed murder in March 2000. Two law enforcement officers testified at Robert's pre-trial hearing and said that he insinuated he killed his daughter during interviews with authorities, telling them he would spend the rest of his life in jail if he revealed her whereabouts.
Jennifer testified at Robert's trial, saying that he physically abused her and also phoned her and sent letters from prison. He refused to divulge Katelyn's whereabouts in all communications with Jennifer.
Prison informants testified that Robert admitted he suffocated his daughter and buried her body intact near Elkton, Maryland on the night of August 10. He stated he removed her clothes before burial and threw them out his car window onto the median strip of southbound Route 202 in Delaware.
When investigators checked this location in September 1999, they found Katelyn's size four sneaker and one yellow sock.
Robert testified in his own defense, against the advice of his attorneys. He admitted that he never gave Katelyn to anyone at Longwood Gardens, but claimed he was telling the truth during his trial.
Prosecutors pointed out that Robert's version of Katelyn's disappearance changed nearly 30 times during his conversations with authorities. He claimed that he took his daughter away from Jennifer to 'protect' her, but he offered no evidence to support his statements.
He admitted he had assaulted Jennifer many times, but stated he had never abused his daughter. Robert continued to refuse to divulge Katelyn's whereabouts, but he maintained that he did not kill the child.
Robert was convicted of second-degree murder and kidnapping, and was sentenced to life plus twenty-seven years in prison. If he had been convicted of first-degree murder, he could have faced the death penalty.
Katelyn's remains have never been located. She was declared legally dead in 2002, three years after her disappearance.