Hickory, N.C. — 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.
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.