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The Hunt for Zahra Baker

Backyard Fire

The Hunt for Zahra Baker
Zahra Baker
The tragic plight of freckle-faced 10-year-old Zahra Clare Baker had begun well before Saturday, October 9, 2010, when, at approximately 5:20 a.m., the Hickory, N.C., fire department arrived at a residence on the 21st Avenue Northwest block in response to a small grass fire in the backyard of the home. The fire was reported by Elisa Baker, 42, a resident of the house. She said she had spotted the flames upon getting out of bed that morning. She and her husband, Adam Baker, observed the firefighters at work as they extinguished what proved to be a burning mulch pile.

Adam and Elisa Baker
A few minutes later Officer Rollins of the Hickory Police Department arrived at the home after being called by one of the fireman. According to official documents, a fireman had observed that the passenger side doors of a silver 1996 Chevrolet Tahoe at the scene bearing North Carolina license plates were open and that a Duke Energy business envelope was located on the vehicle's front windshield. When Rollins approached the Tahoe, he could smell gasoline fumes coming from inside it and saw that the Duke Energy envelope had handwriting on it. When he examined it, he saw that the handwriting said [punctuation added], "Mr. Coffey, you like being in control. Now who is in control? We have your daughter and your pot smoking red head son is next unless you do what is asked. 1,000,000 unmarked. Will be in touch soon." Also written at the top and bottom of the note was, "No cops." Rollins noted that a burgundy Toyota Camry was also parked on the property. It, too, bore North Carolina plates.

Mark Coffey, Rollins subsequently learned, owned the house at which the Bakers resided, and the Bakers rented it from him. The Chevrolet Tahoe in fact belonged to Adam Baker. Rollins and others contacted Coffey and his daughter at the home that morning, and both appeared to be fine despite the threatening intimations of the poorly-written note. Labeling the grass fire as arson, Rollins and the firemen left the home a short time later after learning that Coffey was Adam Baker's boss. Initially, authorities didn't know what to make of the strange note at that time.

Second Call

At approximately 2 p.m. that same day, Adam Baker called the Hickory Police Department to report that someone had poured gasoline inside his Chevrolet Tahoe, presumably during the previous night. He mentioned the note left on his car's windshield, and indicated that he thought that his young daughter, Zahra, had been kidnapped. An officer was sent to the house and, with the Bakers' consent and assistance, searched the residence for the missing girl. However, he did not find Zahra.

By the next day, news of the missing girl had circulated through the community and made its way to the FBI. For reasons that were not made public at first, Elisa Baker, Zahra's stepmother, was taken into custody by police at 10:45 a.m. on charges that included writing bad checks and failure to return property. Police were careful to note that the charges against Baker were unrelated to the case of her missing stepdaughter.

As a result of the kidnapping report, Maria Claxton, who worked with the South Carolina Search and Rescue Dog Association, was requested by the FBI and the local police to report to the Baker residence with a dog trained to locate people or bodies. Upon her arrival at approximately 12:45 p.m., Claxton walked a search and rescue dog in and around the Baker home and the vehicles located on the property. Roughly 15 minutes later, the dog "gave a positive alert for the presence of human remains in or on both vehicles, the silver-in-color Chevrolet Tahoe...and...burgundy in color Toyota Camry," according to a search warrant document. Both vehicles were taken to a secure location at the Hickory Police Department where investigators from the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) as well as agents with the FBI began processing it in their search for clues that police hoped might shed some light on what had happened to Zahra. An AMBER alert was also promptly issued.

Meanwhile, local police officers spent much of the afternoon going door-to-door throughout Zahra's neighborhood, showing the girl's photograph to neighbors and asking if anyone had seen her. They also asked for permission to search outbuildings, such as sheds, and wooded areas of adjacent properties. By the end of the day, however, they came up empty-handed—it didn't seem that Zahra was anywhere to be found.

Missing Person

Elisa and Zahra Baker
According to Elisa Baker's account to police, she, her husband and Zahra had gone to the Oktoberfest in Hickory on Friday evening, October 8, 2010, between 7:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. and had then returned home. Elisa said Zahra had gone to bed soon after they arrived at their house. Around 2:30 a.m., she said, she had gotten out of bed and had gone to check on Zahra and then returned to bed. She had woken up again at about 5:20 a.m., seen the small fire outside, and reported it to authorities. Elisa Baker told police that Zahra must have been taken by someone when the fire broke out. She said she believed the fire had been a ruse used to get her and her husband out of the house.

In a disturbing twist to the case, Adam Baker, interviewed separately, told police that he had not seen Zahra since Wednesday, October 6, 2010. Had Elisa deliberately lied to the police about the time frame in which Zahra was last seen? Or had he or she simply been somehow mistaken? The cops were determined to find out. By the next day, Sunday, October 10, 2010, police begin gathering and viewing surveillance tapes from businesses near the Baker's residence in an effort to identify any events, suspicious or mundane, that might shed light on the child's disappearance.


Cute, freckle-faced Zahra Baker was born in 2000 in Wagga Wagga, Australia, in the state of New South Wales about halfway between Sydney and Melbourne. By 2004 she was living in Giru, Australia, a small sugar-producing town of 400 people in Queensland, in the northeast part of the country on the Coral Sea coast. Her father had taken a job at a mill there and his mother, Karen Baker, helped look after Zahra for him. While living in Giru, Zahra came down with bone cancer in 2006, when she was only six. When the cancer worsened, doctors decided to amputate her left leg above the knee. The brave little girl told an older woman who was herself fighting cancer that losing her leg was not to be worried about.

"It's okay," she said, "because I'm going to be getting a Barbie leg, so I don't want you to be upset."

Months later, in 2007, doctors discovered the cancer had spread, finding tumors in the little girl's lungs. She received chemotherapy at Royal Brisbane Children's Hospital that year. Although the treatment seemed to stop the growth of the tumors in her lungs, it affected Zahra's hearing, requiring her to wear hearing aids in both ears.

"She was always hopping around on her crutches flat-out through the ward and was always full of life, energy and was always happy, considering the illness she had been fighting," acquaintance Wendy Wieck said, according to the Winston-Salem Journal. "My husband and I used to marvel at the obvious love her dad and grandma had for her and how they had both put their lives on hold to help her with her treatments."

Wieck met Zahra at the hospital while her own daughter was being treated for an illness there. She said that the girls played together and did their school homework together.

"They don't make them much tougher than little Zahra Baker," reporter Jessica Johnston wrote in an article about Zahra in the Townsville Bulletin. "The eight-year-old Giru girl has overcome more challenges than most people would in a lifetime, but nothing could wipe the smile off the bubbly youngster's face...."

Estranged from Zahra's mother since the girl was eight months old, Adam Baker took Zahra and left Australia in 2008 to move to North Carolina after meeting Elisa Fairchild online, where she described herself as a 40-something gothic fairy. The online image she chose for herself depicted her as having red angel wings. She also purportedly told stories about being a police officer who had been shot in the line of duty, and about having been a bounty hunter. It is believed that the stories were untrue.

Elisa Fairchild purportedly told friends that Adam Baker was her soul mate and that she wanted to spend her life with him.

"Who says long distance relationships don't work?" she wrote on her MySpace page, which depicted skulls and crossbones and played the song, "Living Dead Girl" by Rob Zombie.

The couple married soon after Adam and Zahra's arrival in America, but, when all was said and done, Elisa proved to be not a gothic fairy, but a fairy-tale wicked stepmother.

Zahra Didn't Want to Leave Australia

Before Zahra left for America, the local community, a school, and charities raised money to buy Zahra a wheelchair, as well as a laptop computer so that she could complete her school assignments from home. She also had a memorable experience with the Australian military before she left as part of a camp outing. The soldiers gave her a helmet to wear and allowed her to sit on an armored vehicle for photos with them. In one of the photos Zahra was seen giving two thumbs up, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

When she was with the soldiers her grandmother, Karen Baker, said that "her eyes couldn't have been any bigger."

"She loves the whole army business," her grandmother said. "She handles everything with a smile. She has been on a camp [Camp Quality—a charity for child cancer patients] a couple of years ago, but she hadn't been well enough to go again until this year."

When she did the obstacle course involving ropes, other children asked her how she could do the ropes with only one leg. Zahra responded, "Because I want to."

"She was the life of any camp we went on," one of Camp Quality's managers said. "The kids loved her. Other kids were inspired by her enthusiasm and her fight to live against all odds."

A family friend said that Zahra did not want to leave Australia to go to America, mostly because she did not want to leave her grandparents and friends behind.

Good Morning, America

On Monday morning, October 11, 2010, Adam Baker, along with Hickory Police Chief Tom Adkins, appeared on Good Morning America, where they provided details of Zahra's disappearance and made a heartfelt plea for anyone with information about the girl to come forward. Baker also reportedly said at the time that it was possible that his wife may have been involved in the girl's disappearance. Although he claimed he hadn't seen his daughter since Thursday, October 7, 2010, due to his work schedule, it was previously reported that he had also stated that he hadn't seen Zahra since Wednesday, October 6, 2010. The police report on the girl's disappearance noted that he, Elisa and Zahra had attended Oktoberfest on Friday, October 8, together as a family. As a result, many people—including police—were left wondering when Adam Baker had really last seen his daughter and why there were such blatant discrepancies about it.

Later that day, police called a news conference and revealed that detectives had not been able to find anyone who had seen Zahra in recent weeks.

"We can't confirm anyone has seen Zahra within the past month," Chief Adkins said. "Without this information, we cannot positively select the area to search for her ... [and] cannot confirm with any confidence how long Zahra has been missing."

Police also announced that search warrants had been issued for the two vehicles belonging to Adam and Elisa Baker, which had been impounded from their home. Several swabs of what appeared to be blood were collected from the Tahoe and sent to the crime laboratory. Assorted drug paraphernalia were also seized.

At one point that day, police went to Morganton in neighboring Burke County and searched the property of a tree service company where Adam Baker was employed as a laborer, according to police. A search team, with police dogs, spent several hours at the site after the dogs picked up suspicious odors in log and mulch piles there, as well as a wood chipper, according to the Hickory Daily Record and Fox News. The company was about 19 miles from Baker's home.

The next day, Tuesday, October 12, 2010, in a move that came somewhat abruptly, the AMBER alert for Zahra was canceled by the Hickory Police Department when Chief Adkins announced that Elisa Baker had admitted to writing the ransom note found on the Tahoe's windshield. Investigators believe the note was an effort to mislead police in their search for Zahra.

Elisa was also charged with obstruction of justice and a dozen other charges including writing bad checks, larceny, communicating threats and driving with a revoked license. Soon after making the arrest announcement, Adkins began referring to the case as a homicide investigation although a body had not been found. According to Adkins, the shift to a homicide investigation was a result of Elisa Baker's admission to having written the ransom note.

Police spent much of that Tuesday using backhoes and other equipment to search in a 50-foot-wide mulch pile at the tree service company. Crime lab personnel also carefully examined the wood chipper, but at day's end authorities didn't appear to be any closer to finding out what had happened to Zahra.

Abuse Accusations

According to family members and former neighbors, there was reason for concern about Zahra's home life. Some said Zahra, who was believed to have been home-schooled, had been abused, and others portrayed Elisa Baker as a woman with a quick temper who was fast to dole out physical punishment. Some said that her nasty temper made her more apt to use her fists to settle a dispute and that all too frequently Zahra had become the focus of her anger.

"She was always beating her," Karen Yount, a former neighbor, told a Fox News reporter. "I told her to stop, but she wouldn't listen to anyone. That poor girl."

Another former neighbor, Kayla Rotenberry, said that she had been good friends with the Bakers when they had lived in Sawmills, before the Bakers moved to Hickory, and that she and her fiancé had frequently seen Zahra. Rotenberry said that earlier in 2010 she had noticed Elisa's hand had been swollen, and had asked her about it.

"She told me that she was trying to spank Zahra, but hit her on her prosthetic leg," Rotenberry said. "When Adam asked her about the injury, she said she fell and hurt her hand. She didn't want him to know. She knew he would be mad."

Brandy Stapleton, another former neighbor, confirmed the injury to Elisa Baker's hand, saying that Elisa had told her the same story about how she had injured it.

"She wasn't the person everyone thought she was," Stapleton said.

Yet another person, a family friend who spoke on condition of anonymity, believed that Elisa had been somehow involved with Zahra's disappearance.

"I hate to say it, but I don't feel good about this," the family friend said. "I really think Elisa had something to do with it."

Elisa Baker had previously been the subject of child abuse investigations, but caseworkers had not found any evidence of wrongdoing, and the investigations had been closed.

On Wednesday morning, October 13, 2010, Elisa Baker appeared in court on the obstruction of justice charge, and the judge set bond on that charge at $40,000. When combined with the additional charges she faced, her total bail amounted to $72,200. Baker's court-appointed attorney, Scott Reilly, indicated that he would file a motion to get her bail reduced.

Zahra Possibly Raped

On Thursday, October 14, 2010, police received a tip from a known source that Zahra recently had been at a house on Burke County Road with two men, according to a statement of probable cause signed by Capt. Thurman Whisnant of the Hickory Police Department. The source, according to the statement, was told on October 12, 2010, about another man who had been told about Zahra being at the house from a relative. Although the information was third-hand hearsay at best, the informant told police one of the men had said that he had "done something very bad and needed to leave town." The source said that when the mother returned, the little girl had blood on "private area and legs" and that the two men had raped her. The informant claimed that Elisa Baker and one of the men had "some kind of relationship." The informant said that he had asked the man who related the information to him if they had killed the little girl, and the man said that they may have hit her in the head.

The next day investigators went to the house in question where they found a large mattress lying on the ground in the side yard. Detectives observed that it had a large dark stain in the middle of the mattress. A male occupant of the house told one of the investigators that the mattress was his and that he had removed it from the residence to allow it to "air out" because he had urinated on it. The man said that he knew Zahra Baker but to his knowledge she had never been to the house. The mattress was seized as possible evidence.

By this time police said that they were running down more than 100 leads that had been reported by the public, including people who said that Zahra may have been mistreated at home. An apartment manager at one of the Bakers' former residences said that she had seen Zahra when the family moved there in July 2009, but had never seen her again despite the fact that they lived next door.

Meanwhile, investigators wrapped up their search for evidence at the tree service company where Adam Baker worked and announced that no evidence had been found there.

The next morning, Friday, October 15, 2010, police conducted another search of the Baker residence after obtaining Adam Baker's permission, according to the Hickory Daily Record. K-9 units were part of the search effort and evidence, including a mattress, was seized. The significance or evidentiary value of that particular mattress was not immediately revealed, nor was it stated publicly whose mattress it was or from which bedroom it had been taken.
Investigators also searched the Baker's former apartment in another county, where a bed frame and mattress were removed. Managers of the complex told police they believed Zahra had been kept in the attic there, and said there appeared to be signs of a struggle inside a closet, according to WBTV News.

As concerned neighbors and well-wishers continued to fill the Baker's lawn with flowers, notes, and stuffed animals, Adam Baker thanked the police and the public for their efforts to find Zahra.

"I just hope they keep looking," he said. "Try to find my baby."

Black Eye, Bruises, Beatings

Cell phone photo of Zahra with possible black eye.
According to the Daily News, employees at a Hickory furniture store had seen Zahra with her stepmother on September 25, 2010. It was possibly the last time she had been seen by anyone other than her parents. Workers remembered seeing Zahra in part because they had noticed her prosthetic leg, and had heard Elisa Baker refer to her by her name. One of the store's managers said that Zahra had watched cartoons on television while there.

"As I walked past, I touched her on the shoulder," floor manager Pat Adams said. "She just looked up at me and smiled."

Meanwhile, a photo of Zahra that had been taken by a family friend on a cell phone on August 9, 2010—the last day the family friend ever saw Zahra—surfaced. It depicted a visible bruise beneath her right eye, according to ABC News. Elisa Baker at first had not wanted the friend to take the photo, but the friend had insisted because Zahra had appeared down and the friend had thought the photo might help cheer her up. The friend said she hadn't thought much about the bruise at the time because Zahra's stepmother had been always complaining that Zahra was clumsy.

A former neighbor said that Zahra had frequently had bruises, but that her stepmother always had an explanation for them.

"It's always she fell down, or she rolled out of bed, or she didn't have her leg on right and couldn't walk right and fell," the former neighbor said. "It's always Zahra's fault for her injuries."

According to Brittany Bentley, a relative of the missing girl, Zahra "was beat almost every time I was over there for just the smallest things." Bentley said the beatings were carried out by Elisa Baker.

"Elisa would get mad, she would take it out on Zahra, things the kid didn't deserve," Bentley said on CBS's The Early Show. "She just had a horrible home life."

According to Bentley, Zahra had been kept locked in her bedroom most of the day and was only let out for about five minutes to eat. She said that nearly everyone close to the family believed Zahra's disappearance had been inevitable, that it "was something...we knew was going to happen."

Former neighbors, including Renee Bobbitt, described Elisa Baker as a cold and harsh parent to the little girl.

"Just the way she yelled and screamed at her, and I did see her hit the child a couple of times," Bobbitt said. She said Zahra had been sent to school once with black eyes, prior to school officials being notified that Zahra would be home schooled. "I should have called and said something then. I wish I had a million times, because no child deserves anything like this. It's really got the whole neighborhood upset because we all loved the child."

"I think the images you see, the smile, a handicapped girl that age, is just emotionally upsetting," District Attorney Jay Gaither said. "Law enforcement doesn't show it, but I think that they are affected by it."

Gaither said the investigation was a "very emotional time" for the law enforcement community.

At one point it was reported by ABC News that Elisa Baker's MySpace page featured a slideshow that included several photos of Zahra. The caption for one of Zahra's photos read, "The Dark Child!!!lol."

Searching the Landfill

Later that same month, investigators turned their attention in their search "for a piece of evidence" to a Caldwell County landfill located about 20 miles from Zahra's home. Hickory Police Chief Tom Adkins would not say what investigators were looking for, but acknowledged they had been searching many of the services used by the Baker family, including trash disposal.

"We hope that if we find this evidence that it will provide a good, solid timeline that will assist us in working this case," Adkins said, according to ABC News.

Police decided to search the landfill after conducting a number of interviews. They also made the decision to search the landfill after determining the model and serial numbers for Zahra's prosthetic leg from her medical records. But when the search was completed they had not found Zahra's leg, nor any other evidence related to the case.

During this time, police released the 911 calls from Adam Baker related to his daughter's disappearance. During the call he claimed to have last seen his daughter at 2:30 a.m. on Saturday, October 9, 2010, yet only days later he said on Good Morning America that he had not seen Zahra since Thursday due to his work schedule.

"The police were out here last night after finding a ransom note for my boss's daughter," Baker said to a dispatcher in the 911 call. "I got up a little while ago and it appears they took my daughter instead of my boss's daughter ... I don't know if they set a fire in the yard to distract us to go out and then they snuck in the door, or, I don't know ... My daughter's coming into puberty so she's in that brooding stage, so we only see her when she comes out, when she wants something."

Meanwhile, additional investigation into Elisa Baker's background found that she had been married at least seven times, according to the Associated Press. Detectives learned of one period in her life in which she was married to three men at the same time. The bigamous marriages seemed to start in the 1990s, and police found that she had been still married to another man when she had wed Adam Baker. Bigamy was added to the growing list of charges she faced.

Searching for Remains

By now having doubts they would ever find Zahra alive, police on October 24, 2010, drove Elisa Baker to a location near her former home in Hudson, N.C., to search for the missing girl. Police would not say at that time what prompted them to take the action. Later, however, police said she had led them to the location and had allegedly told investigators that they could find Zahra's blood, bones, and bodily fluids in the drain pipes of the residence. Elisa Baker's cell phone records may have also played a part in determining the areas police would search. The sudden perceived cooperation by her spurred speculation that some kind of plea deal with the district attorney's office may have been reached, though such speculation was swiftly downplayed by the authorities.

The process was repeated the next day when investigators took her to another location off Dudley Shoals Road and Christie Road, also near where the family once resided, according to WBTV News.
On October 27, 2010, police found Zahra's prosthetic leg at the Dudley Shoals Road location. The discovery prompted an intensive search of the area, including along the banks and water of a nearby creek, for additional evidence. They eventually found a bone in that area in early November and sent it to the crime lab for DNA testing. A week later, on November 10, less than a week before Zahra's 11th birthday, searchers found additional possible human remains along the banks of Little River, the same general area where the bone had been found.

Later a logger working across the road from where Zahra's prosthetic leg had been located discovered a briefcase in the woods. It contained a blanket stained with a dark substance, possibly blood. Investigators said the briefcase and its contents were sent to the crime lab in Raleigh, N.C., and emphasized that they would not know if it was related to the case until the items had been forensically examined.

According to The Charlotte Observer and MSNBC, a number of the police search warrants indicated that investigators now believed that Zahra had been dismembered. Although the various warrants did not indicate how the young girl had died, police now believed her remains had been concealed in a bed comforter and car cover and discarded in a trash receptacle behind a grocery store.

Zahra's Biological Mother Speaks Out

Emily Dietrich with Zahra
Meanwhile, in early November 2010, Emily Dietrich—Zahra's biological mother—gave her first media interview since Zahra's disappearance and told a reporter for Australia's Channel 7 News that she had not seen Zahra since relinquishing custody of Zahra to Adam Baker while Zahra was still an infant. She said she granted custody to the girl's father because she suffered from post-partum depression. She told Australian reporter Robert Ovadia that Adam Baker had disappeared with the child shortly after she had granted him custody, and that she had tried time and again to find him and Zahra. Problem was, she claimed, that he had disappeared each time she found him.

"He had no right to do any of it, to keep her from me," she said in the Channel 7 News interview, which has since made its way onto YouTube.

Dietrich, from Wagga Wagga, said she had most recently tracked Zahra and her father using the Internet and found them in North Carolina only three days before Zahra disappeared and was feared slain.

"Why did it happen that I only found her and three days later this happens?" she said, sobbing. "I never got to say goodbye. I never got to say hello."

Dietrich said she believed Zahra was dead.

"I don't feel it [that she is still alive]," she said. "Mothers just have this bond with their children and just having no hope in me makes it hurt even more, with what they're finding and the way they're saying she was treated. The only hope I have in me now is that she is gone, so that she's not being hurt anymore."

She said she feared that the police in North Carolina would find additional evidence in Zahra's disappearance, evidence that "would tell a story I don't want to hear."

Dietrich's interview occurred around the same time that Hickory investigators revealed that they had found the bone that could be Zahra's.

A week later, Dietrich traveled to the U.S., along with an Australian news crew, and visited the memorial outside the home where Zahra had lived with her father and stepmother. She wept almost incessantly as she viewed the stuffed animals, photos, notes and letters placed at the shrine by those mourning Zahra. Many of them were from other children about the same age as Zahra.

Dietrich provided her DNA to detectives so that it could be compared to the DNA of the bone that had been found, as well as to any other body parts that might be located.

"She [Elisa Baker] had no place to just dispose of something that was in the way," Dietrich said later, according to The Charlotte Observer.

"I want her to sit in jail and I want her to live every day of her life remembering why she's there and what she's done," she added. "She needs to sit there and rot."

Death Confirmed

According to Chief Adkins, the remains found at the various locations were finally positively identified as Zahra's. He said that detectives had found sufficient evidence to prove that Zahra was dead.

"It is with great regret that I stand before you today," Adkins said at a news conference. "I've been dreading this moment since early on in this investigation. As investigators we are trained to follow leads, but never give up the hope the evidence may take us in the wrong direction and the outcome may be different ... Investigators, agents and officers who worked on this case are devastated that they could not find Zahra alive and bring her home safely...we have recovered enough physical evidence to believe we have found Zahra."

Adkins said that DNA taken from the bone matched a DNA sample taken from Zahra's belongings where she lived. The additional remains were still being checked against Zahra's DNA sample, but they were consistent with those of a child, Adkins said. Police were also using DNA samples obtained from Adam Baker and Zahra's birth mother to test against the remains.

"This case isn't over and we won't rest until we have all the information we need to bring the people to justice who hurt Zahra," Adkins added.

"We're continuing to put a case together," District Attorney Gaither said. "The DA's office is working with law enforcement and hope to see some resolution in this case that will result in charges being filed in the near future."

According to ABC News, jailhouse letters allegedly written by Elisa Baker to a crime memorabilia dealer claimed that neither she nor her husband had killed Zahra. She contended, however, that Adam had done something "horrifying" to the child after she had died.

"We really didn't kill her, but what he did after the fact is kinda horrifying," she purportedly wrote. "Makes me scared of him ... he knows what happened to Zahra, and yet I'm the one in here at least for now ... the cops know where she is and what he has done ... So I probably am gonna go ahead and file [for divorce]. I have lost my whole life anyway."

Dismemberment Allegations

In January 2011, according to court documents and The Charlotte Observer, it was revealed that Elisa Baker had allegedly told police that Zahra had died on September 24, 2010, two weeks before she had been reported missing, and that Adam had dismembered her body. She allegedly claimed that Zahra had died naturally. She claimed that she and Adam had disposed of her body parts the following day. She claimed that she and her husband's actions had resulted from them not knowing what to do after the girl died. The date provided by Elisa Baker conflicted with information provided earlier by the furniture store manager, who had stated that he had seen Zahra and her stepmother in his store on September 25.

Police uncovered additional information indicating that Elisa Baker, and possibly her husband, along with another man, had participated in role-playing games on the Internet site where she had met Adam. One of the games involved a "chainsaw massacre" and had allegedly been played on September 22, two days before Elisa Baker's claim that Zahra had died on September 24.

Adam Baker, meanwhile, denied any involvement in his daughter's dismemberment.

"There's no way I would do that to my baby," Baker told WBTV News. "There's no way in the world I would hurt my daughter."

Adam Baker's attorney said that Elisa Baker's claims were only a "desperate" attempt at distraction.

Autopsy and Charges

In February 2011, an autopsy released by the North Carolina Medical Examiner ruled out the possibility that Zahra had died a natural death, countering Elisa Baker's claims. Noting that many of Zahra's bones were not available for examination, the autopsy concluded that she had died from "undetermined homicidal violence." Her skull, right arm and most of both legs have not been recovered.

On Monday, February 21, 2011, a grand jury returned a second-degree murder indictment against Elisa Baker stating that she had "a history and pattern of physical, verbal and psychological abuse of the victim." The grand jury also alleged that she had "secreted" Zahra from her relatives prior to the homicide to hinder the investigation and "desecrated (Zahra's) body to hinder detection, investigation and prosecution of the offense."

No charges related to Zahra's disappearance or death have been filed against Adam Baker.

"At this time, the state has no credible evidence to suggest that anyone other than Elisa Baker was involved in the murder of Zahra Clare Baker," Gaither told reporters at a news conference.

Adam Baker also spoke about how he felt regarding the investigation into his daughter's disappearance and death.

"I'm extremely grateful that Hickory police and everybody else has taken their time, gone through everything properly, and come to the conclusion that they should have come to," Adam Baker said to a reporter for WBTV. "I had no involvement with Zahra's death or dismemberment ... Elisa is very manipulative, um, abusive to me. Very controlling. Plus with my work, I was gone first thing in the morning and didn't get home 'til late. Um, was told that Zahra was in bed because Zahra normally went to bed early. I checked every night and from what I could tell she was in bed. It looked like she, something was in bed."

He said he believed Zahra would still be alive if he had not brought Elisa into their lives.

"The members of 'Team Zahra' have been working toward this milestone in this case since the first words spoken on the 911 call made on October 9, 2010," Chief Adkins said. "There has not been a day gone by without members of our team thinking about Zahra or this case."

According to a former lawyer of Elisa Baker's, the defendant avoided a possible death penalty case by agreeing to help investigators find Zahra's remains.

She had not entered a plea to the murder charges at the time this story was written. Under heavy guard, she did plead not guilty in May 2011 to two counts of identity theft and two counts of obtaining property by false pretenses, both of which are felonies. In June 2011 she pleaded not guilty to a variety of federal charges that she had distributed and planned to distribute drugs, including oxycodone and hydrocodone.

No trial date has been set on the federal charges, but she is slated to go to trial in August 2011 on the second-degree murder charges. If convicted of the murder charges she could be sentenced up to 30 years in prison. She is being held in the Catawba County Jail without bond. There are still many unanswered questions related to this case that may be answered at trial. Chief Adkins has vowed that his investigators will continue in their search for evidence until the first day of trial.
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