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Police dogs smell remains at home of missing child

Posted October 11, 2010

— Police dogs detected the smell of human remains on two cars at the home of a missing 10-year-old girl whose battles with bone cancer left her with a prosthetic leg and hearing aids in both ears, a search warrant said Monday.

The document filed in a Hickory court didn’t indicate that police found any remains in their Sunday search. The warrant said the dogs detected the smell on a sedan and SUV belonging to the father and stepmother of Zahra Clare Baker.

It's unclear when she was last seen alive.

The father and stepmother of 10-year-old Zahra Clare Baker told police that they discovered she was missing on Saturday and that one of them had seen her sleeping in her room hours earlier. Yet, Hickory Police Chief Tom Adkins cast doubt on their accounts during an afternoon news conference.

He said investigators were having trouble finding anyone else who had seen the home-schooled girl alive in the last few weeks.

“We don’t know the last time anyone saw her,” he said. “We’re having a difficult time establishing a true timeline.”

Zahra’s father, Adam Baker, said during an earlier TV interview that it was possible his wife could be involved in the disappearance, which was reported hours after a fire in the home’s backyard. Elisa Baker was arrested Sunday on about a dozen charges unrelated to the girl’s disappearance.

The search warrant said that police responding to the fire early Saturday found what appeared to be a ransom note addressed to Adam Baker’s boss on the windshield of Baker’s car.

“Mr. Coffey, you like being in control now who is in control we have your daughter,” the note said. It asked for $1 million dollars and said “no cops.”

A reporter saw what appeared to be remnants of clothes among burned branches from the fire at the scene.

Adkins said the father was cooperating with police, but Elisa Baker wasn’t.

“We’re running out of time folks,” Adkins told the news conference.

Zahra was described by family friends as a girl who was slow to open up to new people, but constantly smiled in spite of her health problems. The stepmother could be short-tempered toward her, two former neighbors said, but the woman also fought tears when a charity fitted her for hearing aids a few months ago.

Zahra Claire Baker, 10 Ransom note found at missing girl's home

“I just hope I can get my daughter back. I miss her so much,” Zahra’s father, Adam Baker, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” as he choked up. He was interviewed alongside Adkins.

The girl’s stepmother told her husband she last saw Zahra sleeping in her bed at 2:30 a.m. Saturday, about 2 1/2 hours before the fire was reported. Adam Baker said he was panicked after the fire, but didn’t immediately check on his daughter.

Investigators have collected surveillance video from businesses near the family’s home and used dogs to search the neighborhood. The police chief said he wouldn’t rule out any suspects, including Adam Baker.

Adam Baker was asked if he thought his wife was involved and said, “I wouldn’t like to think so. On what I’ve heard so far, it could be possible.”

On Monday, several of Adam Baker’s friends stood outside his one-story in Hickory, a city of 40,000 residents about 50 miles northwest of Charlotte.

“I just don’t have a good feeling about this,” said former neighbor Kayla Rotenberry. “She was such a sweet girl. This is just a nightmare.”

Rotenberry said she and her fiance were good friends with the Bakers when they lived in the nearby town of Sawmills, and saw Zahra often. The couple was skeptical of the girl’s stepmother, in part because she claimed to write songs for musician and “American Idol” finalist Chris Daughtry, and told other far-fetched stories, Rotenberry said. Daughtry’s manager said he was unaware of any connection between Elisa Baker and the singer.

Missing girl's dad: Wife's involvement possible Missing girl's dad: Wife's involvement possible

“We just got to the point where we didn’t believe her. We knew they were lies,” said Rotenberry, 23.

The stepmother also had a short temper, Rotenberry said.

Rotenberry said about six months ago she noticed that Elisa Baker’s hand was swollen. “She told me that she was trying to spank Zahra, but hit her on her prosthetic leg,” she 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.”

Another former neighbor, Brandy Stapleton, 22, of Lenoir, said that Elisa Baker told her the same story about how she injured her hand. “She wasn’t the person everyone thought she was.”

Adam Baker was from Australia, and met his current wife over the Internet, Stapleton said. Zahra’s mother lives outside the U.S.

Zahra uses two hearing aids, which were left at the house, and a prosthetic left leg from the knee down, police said. She was being home-schooled, but had attended public schools in the past.

The child had lost part of her hearing during chemotherapy for two bouts of cancer, her stepmother told the Independent-Tribune of Concord-Kannapolis in May during a charity event where she got free hearing aids.

Family friends said the girl also had the prosthetic leg because of cancer.

Elisa Baker was arrested Sunday on charges including communicating threats, writing worthless checks, larceny and driving with a revoked license. It was unclear whether she has an attorney.

She has two daughters and a son from a previous marriage. The mother and son don’t have much of a relationship, the man said, after he stayed with his father when they divorced. The daughters went to live with their mother.

Still, 22-year-old Douglas Proctor said he had spoken to investigators about his mother and was dismayed over news of the case.

“It’s not something that you want to open up a paper and see,” he said, adding he’d met Zahra only once.

79 Comments

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  • christyl321 Oct 13, 2:18 p.m.

    Okay so i just registered just so i could write this. JAT, I dont know what makes you think you know so much about these people, there lives and this case. You, just like everyone else are reading the same stories. Tell me this, if people could judge a persons characteristics based on a photo than why cant police find murderers out there. Your saying based on a picture you can tell if that person is ill hearted or not? You are dulusional.I can understand a strong negative intowishin from a photo but you ushally need to know the persons personality, characteristics and up bringing to know if they are ill hearted. Now my main question is in one of the stories it says the family moved to a new neighborhood 6 wks ago. People that live in that neighborhood said they have never seen a child there. The police said they have no idea how long she has actually been missing. The father never reported any beatings on his daughter? The father seems to be involved. Im just saying, they should stop p

  • dpaner Oct 12, 3:56 p.m.

    Incomprehensible. The death penalty or "life in prison" seems far too humane for the vermin responsible for this.

  • freedomrings Oct 12, 3:28 p.m.

    mshood7: You articulate very well what I am also thinking.

  • mshood7 Oct 12, 12:56 p.m.

    A mother who loves her children would defend them WITH HER LIFE! This child deserved better. And If these people are proven to have done this dispeakable act of cold and calculated murder of an innocent child, the the death penalty would be justice well served. Too illminate such vitrol from the face of the earth would be the only justice that fits this crime.

  • thisguy80 Oct 12, 12:45 p.m.

    JAT, common sense and experience? By looking at a picture? If you knew this woman and how she acted, her personality, her flaws, her atributes, THEN you could make an assumption that she caused this, but by simply looking at a picture of her, you immediately accused of her of being the culpret? You my new friend, are why there is so much hate and prejudice in this country!! You simply look at someone and judge their character and make an entire assumption. Yes, you are right, based on what we now know, she more than likely is the main suspect, but to look at her picture and say what you said? Really? Go back to living your sheltered, judgemental life and see how far it gets you! Oh, and thanks for confirming the typical american profile, uneducated and prejudice, no wonder we are so hated!!

  • angimomma Oct 12, 12:38 p.m.

    C'mon JAT, its one thing to exercise caution with a stranger based on a first impression but to form an opinion without education based on nothing more than "looks" is in fact prejudice. Have you never gotten to know someone who wasnt pleasant looking and learned they are a total sweetheart, or wrongly assumed someone was a good person because they were neat, tidy, and attractive only to find out they were a total (bleep) and really not very bright? Looks are deceiving, always have been...if they werent, people like Ted Bundy could never have thrived. You really cant judge a book by its cover.

  • JAT Oct 12, 11:59 a.m.

    "My own daughter was abused by her step-father and her mother refused to believe her. People sometimes make bad choices when they remarry and the new parent may not be parental material. " Bubba - don't blame it all on the steparent. If a parent marries someone like that, then they weren't good parental material to begin with. But, sadly, too many people (mostly women I'm afraid) are so scared of being alone that they would allow their child to be harmed just so they can keep the man. They don't care what happens - just don't leave me alone.

  • kittiboo Oct 12, 11:58 a.m.

    Just saw the breaking news. So sad. I was hoping for a different outcome though I knew it was a slim chance. I hope the people that did this are made to suffer half as much as that poor child has in her short life.

  • JAT Oct 12, 11:57 a.m.

    No, angimomma, it's called common sense and experience.

    If we do not pay enough attention to our surroundings to learn what people may be dangerous or scary or harmful, or learn who may be trying to trick us in some way, we're all just a society full of gullible fools. None of us want that.

  • pss2 Oct 12, 11:55 a.m.

    How can anyone be so heartless and cruel? A child....a innocent child. It is sickening to me how people keep doing this and getting a slap on the wrist. Death penalty needs to be enforced daily and some, if not all of this would stop. They both know what happened to her and what they did to her. Makes me sick.

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