Eli Hart murder investigation: Police drove mom home before finding 6-year-old's body in trunk

A newly-filed search warrant is raising questions as to why the mother of 6-year-old Eli Hart was allowed to go home after a traffic stop that eventually led to the discovery of the boy’s body in the trunk of her car. Julissa Thaler was pulled over after driving on her rim and with a window smashed out. 

In new documents filed in connection with the murder investigation, Orono police officers said they saw what appeared to blood on her hands, face and clothing. They also saw a bullet hole and spent shell casings. 

Police wrote that Thaler told officers the blood was from the removal of a tampon, and that suspected body tissue in the car was from deer meat she recently picked up from a butcher. 

After 30 minutes, Julissa Thaler was given a ride home by police. It was after that when 6-year-old Eli’s body was found in the trunk. Thaler was later arrested after seen walking. 

FOX 9 reached out to Orono police to ask why Thaler was released.

Memorial held Friday 

About 200 people gathered at the Westonka Library on Friday to remember Eli Hart. Organizers held the memorial at the library because Eli went there regularly with his father Tory Hart, who attended the event while clutching a bag holding his son's ashes.  

Eli wanted to be a firefighter, so the Mound Fire Department dedicated a helmet to him and made him an honorary member.

Brian Gnerer, the boy's foster father, also attended.

"It's sad to see that it has to come from a little boy passing away in a violent death, but it's great to see the support from the community. It's great to see people have come out to support his family and just come out together and remember Eli, remember the happy times," Gnerer said.

'They ignored us'

Court documents show Eli Hart's father, Tory Hart, had been fighting for custody of his son. Tory Hart's fiancé, Josie Josephson, told FOX 9 the boy's mother struggled with drug addiction and mental health issues. 

"No matter how many cries we cried, they ignored us. No matter how many warning signs there were," said Josephson. 

Despite their repeated calls for help, Josephson says his biological mom was recently awarded full custody. 

"Not only did we express concerns to multiple people, multiple times…every time the response was, ‘This is something for family courts.’ (CPS) said laws do not allow us to address this, unless (they) see physical abuse, (they) have no grounds to remove him from her home," said Josephson.

"Numerous people were saying they feared for Eli's safety if he was returned to her, and that was ignored," foster mother Nikita Kronberg told FOX 9.

Murder charges

Thaler, 28, of Spring Park, is charged with second-degree murder, with intent, in the killing of her 6-year-old son, Eli Hart, on Friday, May 20.  Thaler's boyfriend was also taken into custody in connection to Eli's death, but was later released as the Hennepin County Attorney's Office told FOX 9 there is insufficient evidence at this time to charge him in connection with the case.

According to the criminal complaint and Orono police, at about 7 a.m. on Friday, May 20, police officers conducted a traffic stop on a Chevrolet Impala, driven by Thaler, that was missing one of its front tires and was riding on the rim. The back window of the vehicle was broken out and there appeared to be blood on Thaler’s hand. There was also a shotgun shell and a spent casing in the vehicle, as well as blood and what looked like a bullet hole in the back seat, charges said. 

Police determined there was probable cause to search the vehicle and that it couldn’t be operated safely. That’s when police searched the trunk, finding Eli, who had been shot. There was also a shotgun in the trunk, the complaint states. 

Before police found Eli’s body, Thaler had been released from the scene, the criminal complaint said. The charging documents do not say why she was released. 

When officers discovered Eli’s body, they responded to Thaler’s apartment but she’d left and the washing machine was running, charges said. Police found the clothes Thaler was wearing at the time of the traffic stop being washed in the machine. 

Thaler was found leaving the area on foot and was arrested, charges said. She had blood and what looked like brain matter in her hair. 

A witness saw Thaler’s vehicle at the Shell gas station on Three Points Boulevard not long before the traffic stop, the complaint said. Police searched the dumpsters at the gas station, finding a backpack, blood, bone and what looked like brain matter. 

Police "followed damage done to the roads" by Thaler’s vehicle's rim, as well as information from witnesses, leading officers to "multiple locations" where blood and brain matter were discarded, charges said. Police found a bloody child booster seat in a dumpster, noting the seat had sustained damage "consistent with a shotgun blast."

Officers spoke to Thaler’s friend, identified in the complaint as RP, who said over the past week, Thaler wanted to learn how to use a gun, so they went to a gun range. He said she bought the shotgun on March 17, and they went to the gun rate the next two days. He also told police Thaler had been carrying the shotgun in and out of the apartment, and when she did, it was wrapped in a gray blanket.

Police further searched Thaler's car, finding "significant blood" and what appeared to be brain matter in the backseat, charges state. A gray blanket was also found in the trunk. 

A preliminary autopsy found Eli was shot multiple times, possibly up to nine times, including shots to the torso and head, the complaint said.