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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Who Killed Zahra Baker? N.C. DSS & Family Responsible

Mystery Deepens Over Slaying Of Zahra Baker

Police were confident a freckle-faced disabled 10-year-old girl was killed, but the mystery of how she died deepened when police said a set of remains was uncovered five miles away from where one of her bones was found.

The bone, discovered in some brush alongside Zahra Baker's prosthetic leg, was discovered in an area near where the family lived until mid-September. Zahra's stepmother, Elisa Baker, is currently in jail, charged with trying to throw off investigators with a bogus ransom note. Her father, Adam Baker, has been arrested on charges unrelated to Zahra's disappearance and is free on bail.

Recently, Elisa Baker began cooperating with police and led them to the areas where the remains and the bone were found, though she has not been charged in Zahra's death.

"I've been dreading this moment from early on in the investigation," said Hickory Police Chief Tom Adkins, who explained that investigators matched the bone with the child's DNA. "We have recovered enough physical evidence to think we have found Zahra."

Soon after Zahra was reported missing, investigators cast doubt on accounts given by her father and stepmother. Police had trouble finding anyone other than Zahra's parents who had seen her alive in the weeks before her disappearance, and a suspicious early morning fire occurred at the family's home several hours before she was reported missing.

It was then that police discovered a ransom note addressed to Adam Baker's boss on the windshield of Baker's car. Police went to that man's house, and found him and his daughter to be fine. Elisa Baker, 42, admitted writing the note and has been charged with obstruction of justice, police said.

Adam Baker, 33, is facing one count each of assault with a deadly weapon and failure to return rental property, two counts of communicating threats and five counts of writing worthless checks, authorities said.

Zahra, whose cancer forced her to use a prosthetic leg and hearing aids, was reported missing by her parents Oct. 9. They said she was last seen in her bed at their home in Hickory, about 50 miles northwest of Charlotte.

Zahra was born in Australia and moved to North Carolina about two years ago after her father met his soon-to-be wife online. Zahra's friends and relatives in Giru, Australia, described her as an outgoing, happy girl despite the cancer, and said she didn't want to come to the U.S.

"Investigators, agents, officers and staff who worked on this case are devastated that we were not able to find Zahra alive and bring her home safely," said Adkins, who wouldn't answer any questions at a news conference.

District Attorney James Gaither Jr. refused to say if the girl was dismembered or if any more charges were imminent.

"I'm not going to discuss that right now," Gaither said.

Neighbors and relatives have said that Elisa Baker had a short temper and was abusive toward her stepdaughter. Caldwell County Department of Social Services investigated the family because Zahra went to school with bruises and a teacher alerted school officials, who have said they are prohibited by law from discussing the case.

Zahra's friends and family in Australia were less than thrilled when she moved away, especially since her medical treatments were free there. Kim Wright, who became something of a surrogate mother to Zahra in Australia, told The Associated Press they became friends four years ago at a cancer fundraising event. She was sitting in a chair waiting for her head to be shaved to raise money when Zahra approached, took her hand and told her not to be scared.

Zahra was diagnosed with bone cancer about five years ago. She had her leg amputated and a few months later, doctors discovered tumors in her lungs. She had chemotherapy, but the treatment led to a partial hearing loss. Still, she remained upbeat, attending a camp for children with cancer and inspiring her fellow campers by taking part in all the physical activities.

Remains To be Confirmed As Zahra Baker

A source close to the investigation tells NewsChannel 36 Hickory Police will hold a 4 p.m. news briefing on Friday in which investigators will announce that remains found are in fact that of Zahra Baker. NewsChannel 36 and will carry the event live on television and online.

Hickory police confirmed that they will hold a press conference, but did not say anything specific about the reason or topic of the conference.

Zahra Baker was reported missing by her father and stepmother, Adam and Elisa Baker, on Oct. 9.

As police moved further into their investigation they discovered that no one, except for Adam and Elisa Baker, could confirm seeing Zahra after Sept. 25.

Elisa Baker was arrested on Oct. 10, the day after reporting Zahra missing, on charged unrelated to the child’s disappearance. She was charged with obstruction of justice in connection with the case on Oct. 11. Police say Elisa Baker wrote a bogus ransom note and refused to cooperate with investigators.

Adam Baker was arrested on Oct. 25 on five counts of writing worthless checks, two counts of communicating threats, assault with a deadly weapon and failure to return rental property.

Hickory Police Chief Tom Adkins said at the beginning of the investigation that Adam Baker had outstanding warrants for worthless checks and that officers would execute those warrants at the appropriate time.

Police said Elisa Baker began talking to investigators on Sunday, but would not say if it was information from Elisa Baker that lead them to the search sites where they found evidence.

* On Oct. 25, a mattress was found in the Caldwell County landfill. It's still being tested for DNA, but police believe it belonged to Zahra.
* On Oct. 27, investigators uncovered the girl's prosthetic leg in the brush off Christie Road in Caldwell County.
* On Nov. 3, investigators discovered a bone at another search site. The bone is still being tested to determine if it belonged to Zahra.

The search for Zahra has grabbed international attention. The 10-year-old was born in Australia and lived there until moving to North Carolina two years ago. Zahra battled two forms of cancer before moving to the United States, bone cancer at age 5 and lung cancer a few years later.

Zahra's biological mother, Emily Dietrich, arrived in Hickory this week.

Zahra Baker's Biological Mom Arrives In Hickory

When Eddie Mitchell saw a woman with a camera crew kneeling outside the makeshift memorial at the Baker's home on 21st Street Ave. NW across the street from his, he didn't know what to expect.

When he walked over to speak with her, he says it was unnerving to see her face.

"When she got up and turned, it was like looking at Zahra," he said.

That woman was Emily Dietrich, who traveled to Hickory early Thursday from Australia with a camera crew from Channel Seven News in Australia. Dietrich is Zahra's biological mother. She tells Channel Seven she gave custody to Adam Baker when Zahra was a baby because she was suffering from post-partum depression. She says she'd been trying to locate her ex and their daughter when she learned that Zahra had disappeared.

"She was so emotional about the whole thing and she just said to tell the people that she's very, very grateful," Mitchell said.

It is not clear where else Dietrich visited, or if she is talking with investigators.

Hickory Police Thursday were tight-lipped about the investigation, though a source has confirmed that human remains discovered Wednesday are being tested at a state lab.

NewsChannel 36 has confirmed that Zahra's father Adam Baker, who is free on bond on unrelated charges, spoke with investigators at the Hickory Police Department Thursday. His lawyer, Mark Killian, was present. He says Baker is and has always been cooperating with the investigation.

Investigators Looking Into Elisa Baker's Finances

Nearly a month since 10-year-old Zahra Baker was first reported missing, her stepmother, Elisa Baker, remains in a jail cell.

Elisa Baker was charged with obstruction of justice in connection with Zahra's disappearance.

According to a cousin who paid a visit a visit to the Catawba County jail, Elisa Baker is upset and not doing well.

Baker’s cousin did not want NewsChannel 36 to use her name.

“This is very sad for us,” she said. “Our first concern is finding Zahra, the second is finding out the truth.”

Investigators say Elisa Baker has been cooperating in the investigation. She has been taken to sites where investigators have searched in the past weeks, including Christie Road in Caldwell County. Zahra’s prosthetic leg and a bone that could be human were both found in that area.

Baker’s cousin wouldn’t discuss any of the specifics of her conversations with Elisa.

"Sorry, but what our conversations are about have to be private. She's very upset."

Investigators issued a subpoena for Elisa Baker's financial records. The subpoena was issued to a bank branch located in a Wal-Mart in Granite Falls.

The subpoena says she may have used as many as eight different aliases and also requested any financial transactions made by Baker's daughter from a previous marriage, Amber Fairchild.

Baker's attorney would not comment on the subpoena. Police will only say it is part of the investigation.

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Sources: WBTV, WCNC, WRAL, Google Maps

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