State News

Police: Skull found in 2012 belongs to murdered Hickory girl

Posted February 21, 2013

— A skull found in April 2012 belongs to Zahra Baker, a 10-year-old girl Hickory who was killed and dismembered in 2010, the Hickory Police Department said Thursday. Zahra's stepmother pleaded guilty in the case and was sentenced to 15 to 18 years in prison.

Zahra Claire Baker, 10 archive: Zahra Baker case

The State Bureau of Investigation's crime lab, state Medical Examiner’s Office and Marshall University's forensic science center in Huntington, W.Va., were able compare a DNA profile used during the prosecution of Zahra's murder trial to the skull found in Caldwell County to confirm the findings.

The examination of the skull did not provide any further details about how Zahra was murdered, police said.

“This information gives the members of 'Team Zahra' mixed emotions,” Hickory Police Chief Tom Adkins said in a statement. “It brings up the tragedy of Zahra’s death and the life she lived before she was killed, but it also gives us and the community a sense of finally bringing her home."

Elisa Baker, 43, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and obstruction of justice in the case and an aggravating factor of desecrating Zahra's body. She also pleaded guilty to unrelated charges of bigamy, four counts of obtaining property by false pretense and two counts of financial identity fraud.

The disappearance of and search for Zahra, who had lost a leg and her hearing to cancer, made international headlines in fall 2010. She and her father had moved from Australia to North Carolina so he could marry Baker, whom he had met online.

The case initially prompted an Amber Alert when Adam and Elisa Baker reported Zahra missing following an October fire at their Hickory home. A ransom note that turned out to be fake was found on the windshield of the family's car.

After police dogs picked up the scent of human remains inside the Baker house, investigators switched their focus from a missing person case to a homicide. Authorities searched several locations for her remains, which were eventually found scattered at sites in Catawba and Caldwell counties.

Court records in the case indicate that the girl was killed on Sept. 24, 2010, which was more than two weeks before she was reported missing. Zahra's death was caused by "undetermined homicidal violence," medical examiners said in documents.

Investigators said Baker led them to some of the remains. Her lawyer, Scott Reilly, said his client was "truly sorry" for all the pain she caused and pleaded guilty to help bring closure to the girl's family and the community.


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  • free2bme Feb 21, 2013

    Our judicial system is really disapointing. People get away with murder maybe that why so many people are killing. Why should this lady be allowed to get a deal after what she has done? The criminals have the rights and who looks out for victims- so sad. The only comforting thing for the family is that beautiful Zahra is no longer suffering. She can be at rest now.

  • LordHelpUsAll Feb 21, 2013

    do unto others people, do unto others...... RIP sweet child. Very sad that you were not allowed to become all that you could have been, and that your perpetrator lives on every day.

  • sweetcountrygirl32 Feb 21, 2013

    May she now rest in peace.

  • daydreamer4668 Feb 21, 2013

    Took a longtime to figure that out........

  • jcthai Feb 21, 2013

    Great headline, WRAL. So I guess now that they know this skull belongs to this little girl, they can give it back to her? Has she been missing it? Lovely......

  • Walkin Man Feb 21, 2013

    The sentence hardly fits the crime. ALL of this little girl's life was taken from her.

  • zenonx6 Feb 21, 2013

    Politically correct is not socially correct.

  • anastasia Feb 21, 2013

    I didn't realize the identity of these remains hadn't been made before now? Why did it take so long, I wonder?

  • Milkman Feb 21, 2013

    Horrible that poor child will have no justice. 15 years (so that's maybe 7 with good behavior) for killing and dismembering her, raping her, bigamy and identity theft, of course the judge didn't see fit to make all the sentences consecutive or anything like that, sad that judge is probably still on the bench.

  • airbornemonty Feb 21, 2013

    Both Adam and Elisa baker, Zahra's parents are as guilty as sin, they just got away with murder.

    Adam high tailed his behind to Australia ASAP and she, Elisa, received such a short time in prison that with good behavior we will see her out on the street in about five years perhaps less.