Warning: This article contains information regarding child abuse and neglect. Reader discretion is advised.
MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — A man and his girlfriend were accused of abusing the man’s children for months. In 2010, the children go missing. This is the story of Natalie and Chase DeBlase.
WKRG News 5 is looking back at the crimes that shocked the Gulf Coast. Natalie and Chase’s story is the twenty-second in the series.
John Joseph DeBlase was born and raised in Mobile, Ala. After he graduated high school, John met a woman named Corrine and started a romantic relationship. Their first child, Natalie DeBlase, was born on Nov. 4, 2005. Their second child, Chase DeBlase, was born on Dec. 29, 2006. The relationship eventually became toxic, which lead to the two separating.
John was given primary custody of the children in May 2009 because Corrine’s circumstances were not suitable for raising a child, according to court documents. The last time Corrine saw her children was on Nov. 17, 2009.
In Oct. 2008, John Deblase met Heather Keaton online. At that time, Keaton was enrolled as a student at Spring Hill College. Keaton was visually impaired and in 2009, she became really sick and moved back into her family’s home in Louisville, Ky. She recovered and returned to Mobile where she moved into John’s parents, Richard and Anne Deblase, home with John and the children.
Ann and Keaton did not get along and eventually Richard kicked her out. On Dec. 23, 2009, Keaton, John, Natalie and Chase moved out of the DeBlase home and moved in with Dana Mullins. The four stayed with Mullins for a month before moving in with the Rios family.
According to court records, John and Keaton fought while at the Rios home because Keaton wanted to move back to Kentucky. Keaton told Heather Rios, the wife, that she did not want to raise John’s children but John wanted the four to be a family. The arguments between John and Keaton became so bad that the Rioses kicked them out. Heather Rios contacted John’s parents and told them she was concerned about the kids not properly being taken care of.
In February 2010, John, Keaton, Natalie and Chase went back to the Rioses’ house for a birthday party. At the party, Natalie and Chase appeared extremely hungry and ate a large amount. Also at the party, Chase had diarrhea and smelled bad. Heather Rios gave him a bath. The Rioses told Keaton and John that they needed to get Chase medical attention. The birthday party was the last time the Rioses saw Natalie.
John, Keaton and the children then visited Roger Champion and his family in Chunchula in January 2010. The two adults and two children were planning to move into the Champion’s trailer when they moved to north Alabama.
The night before the Champion family was supposed to move, John bought hamburgers for him and Keaton. Natalie and Chase had to split one small salad. In the morning, they had to share one snack-sized box of cereal.
The Champions were loading their furniture into a moving truck when they heard screaming and crying from the children. Champion’s wife went to check on everything when she saw Keaton holding Natalie by her hair while she was beating her with a belt. She also saw Keaton push Chase to the floor. Keaton was apparently upset because the children had eaten a piece of a chocolate pie that was sitting on the counter.
When Champion confronted John, John said Keaton was in charge of disciplining the kids and that it was only a spanking. Champion knew John’s parents and called them to let them know the children were at risk of harm. Champion also called a mutual friend with John and asked him to check on the kids once Champion left the area.
The friend attended a cook-out with the Champion family and DeBlase/Keaton family and witnessed Keaton abusing the children. Keaton said the children were “just horrible” and “like demon spawn from Hell.” The friend said Keaton was out of line and told Keaton if she continued to treat the kids that way he would call the police.
The friend visited the family in February 2010 to check on the children. When he arrived at the trailer, the friend found John on the floor in pain and Keaton upset. Keaton claimed that John’s parents and aunt and uncle had broken into the home and injured John’s ribs while trying to push Keaton to the floor. Keaton then made the comment “I hope this baby dies,” which is when the friend learned Keaton was pregnant.
Richard and Ann DeBlase told investigators that the story about the break-in and assault was simply not true. They said that because they had not seen the children since Dec. 23, 2009, they wanted to give the kids their Christmas presents. The DeBlases found out where the family was living from some of John’s friends and went to the trailer to give them the gifts.
When they arrived, John did not seem happy that they were there, but he let them come in and the kids open their presents. Keaton came out of a room in the trailer and started yelling and cursing at Ann, so she and Richard decided to leave. That would be the last time Richard and Ann saw their grandchildren.
John, Keaton and the children moved into an apartment at Peach Place Apartments toward the end of February. The manager at the apartment complex said she saw the two children outside in the parking lot unattended near a high-traffic street. Chase also appeared as though his diaper was always dirty and “saggy.”
During the first week of March, the Rios family ran into John at a local grocery store. John told them Chase was in the car with Keaton, so they decided to go see him. They asked Keaton where Natalie was and she said that Natalie was with a friend. During the trial, the Rioses said they were worried when they saw Chase because he looked “emergency room sick.”
John started attending Blue Cliff Community College and took classes in massage therapy. While at the school, John met a classmate named Renee. Renee would give him rides to school and said John would talk about his children who he referred to as his “little princess” and “little flirt.”
John took a leave of absence from school between January and March 2010 and when he returned Renee said he seemed different. Renee said he was “weird” and seemed dirty. He eventually dropped out of school in July 2010.
John and Keaten were evicted from their apartment in July and briefly lived with Keaton’s grandmother in Georgia before moving to Louisville where her mother and her mother’s fiance lived. Her mother’s fiance had a retired police officer friend that lived next door to Keaton and John. That friend was told the children were living in Las Vegas with relatives.
In November, Keaton’s mom overheard Keaton say, “so, you are going to be like that. You’re not with me because you love me, you are with me because…” and heard John say, “I’ll tell.” Her mom asked what was going on, which is when she said something had happened to Natalie and Chase. Keaton’s mom called her fiancé who then called his police friend to ask for advice.
The friend contacted Lt. Kevin Thompson and arranged for some officers to do a welfare check at the home. Keaton went willingly with the officers to meet with Thompson where she portrayed herself as the innocent, handicapped victim of abuse from John.
Keaton told detectives that on March 4, Natalie was throwing up “black stuff” and John put her on a tarp in the closet. Keaton allegedly became concerned and called John who said he would check on her when he got home. By the time John got home, Natalie was dead. Keaton said Natalie was put in the back of their van and driven to a location where they disposed of Natalie’s body.
Keaton then said on June 20, Chase showed the same symptoms Natalie had and became unresponsive. Chase was also put into the back of their van and taken to a remote location where they left his body. Thompson testified that he believed Keaton was lying during the interview.
Thompson contacted the Mobile Police Department about the missing children and Sgt. Angela Prine was assigned to the case. Sgt. Prince contacted Corrine, the kid’s mom, who said she had not seen the kids in over a year. Sgt. Prine traveled to Louisville and went to a women’s shelter to interview Keaton. Keaton refused to be interviewed and left the shelter. Detectives were able to get an arrest warrant for Keaton on the charge of child abuse. She was arrested and extradited back to Mobile.
John traveled to Florida and stayed with a friend. That friend received a call informing him that police were looking for John about his missing kids. John’s friend confronted him and he said he had not killed his children. John was mad and left the friend’s home on foot. Deputies with the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office found him and arrested him.
In John’s interview, he said he disposed of Natalie’s body near Citronelle and disposed of Chase’s body in Vancleave, Miss. John claimed before he left for school on March 4, Keaton had duct-taped Natalie’s arms and legs together and put her in a suitcase. Keaton used this as a form of punishment to “change her attitude.”
When John got back from school he found the suitcase was closed and when he opened it, he found Natalie’s dead body. That’s when he disposed of her body near Citronelle.
Keaton allegedly duct-taped Chase to a broom handle on June 19 as punishment for not being potty trained. John said when he woke up the next morning, he saw Chase was still duct-taped and had a sock in his mouth. Chase had died overnight and was disposed of in Mississippi.
In December 2010, the remains of Natalie and Chase were both recovered. There was duct tape found near the bodies among other evidence that was used in the trial.
Due to all the evidence, both Keaton and John were charged with capital murder. A jury found them both guilty and they were both sentenced to death.
In October 2020, Kenton’s sentence was overturned. Her defense alleges that she did not have a chance to speak to the court before her sentencing in 2015. Keaton was given a resentencing, and the judge sentenced her to death by lethal injection. Keaton was the first woman in Mobile County to be put on death row.