State News

Landfill searched for evidence in missing Hickory girl's case

Posted October 20, 2010 10:00 a.m. EDT
Updated October 20, 2010 7:46 p.m. EDT

— Hickory police searching a Caldwell County landfill said Wednesday that they do not expect to find the body of a disabled missing 10-year-old girl, but are looking for evidence in the case.

Zahra Clare Baker, of Hickory, was reported missing Oct. 9, but investigators have said they don’t believe the story given by her father and stepmother. Police believe the girl is dead.

Police said that they are searching for evidence that could help establish a timeline that is crucial to solving the case. They did not elaborate on what kind of evidence they expect to find in the Foothills Environmental landfill at 2800 Cheraw Road in Lenoir.

"We have interviewed several people in this investigation, and from those interviews, it's lead us to this piece of evidence that we believe is in the landfill," Hickory Police Chief Tom Adkins said.

Hickory police and FBI and SBI agents expect to continue searching at the landfill for up to five days.

This is the first time authorities have searched for evidence outside of Hickory, about 50 miles northwest of Charlotte. Zahra, her stepmother Elisa Baker and father Adam Baker lived in Caldwell County until last month.

Lenoir residents of the county expressed hope that Zahra would be found soon.

"She's in all our hearts," Lenoir resident Marsha Melton said. "Everybody needs to pray that it's settled and they find out what happened."

Adkins said that in addition to agents searching the landfill, a separate investigative team is following up on other leads and tips.

"Know that the team of law enforcement professionals that are working on this case are determined to find the truth and seek justice for Zahra," Adkins said.

Investigators have asked for medical records from Zahra's native Australia, including details on the prosthesis the girl received after losing a leg to bone cancer. Her hearing aids were found at her home in Hickory, but not the prosthetic leg.

Investigators haven't said if they have also sought dental records, which are often used to identify a body.

Police say that Zahra could have been missing two weeks before she was reported missing and that they doubt the family’s claims that they last saw Zahra early Oct. 9, nearly 12 hours before they reported her missing.

Elisa Baker, 42, has been charged with obstruction of justice in the case. She is accused of writing a fake ransom note left outside their home.

In the 911 call, Zahra's father Adam Baker, 33, said that neither he nor his wife checked on his daughter after they found a fire and a ransom note in their back yard around 5 a.m.

Adam Baker told an emergency dispatcher that the fire might have been meant to distract him while kidnappers abducted his daughter in a case of mistaken identity. The ransom note claimed that the daughter of his boss had been kidnapped.

At a bond hearing Wednesday, Elisa Baker's adult daughter, Amber Fairchild, testified that on the day before her mother was arrested, she said she wanted to leave North Carolina. She was taking talking online with a man from England who sent her $10,000, Fairchild said.

Catawba County District Judge Robert Mullinax Jr. said there were “disturbing and unsettling allegations” in the case. He dismissed a request by Baker’s lawyers to reduce her bond on a charge of obstructing justice to $10,000 and, instead, raised it from $45,000 to $65,000.

Investigators say that Adam Baker has been cooperative in the case and that he has not been ruled out as a suspect.

Adam Baker met Elisa Baker online and moved from Australia to live with her several years ago. Investigators were keeping Zahra’s biological mother in Australia updated on developments

Baker said in an interview Friday with The Associated Press he wants to find Zahra and take her back to Australia if she wants to go.