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Stepmom charged with murder

February 21, 2011

District attorney Jay Gaither
speaks at a press conference Monday.

Editor's note: For complete details from this story, including reporting on autopsy reports and a timeline of events for investigations conducted by departments of social services in Caldwell and Catawba counties, be sure to see the Tuesday print edition of The Observer News Enterprise.

HICKORY, N.C. (AP) — More than four months after a 10-year-old disabled girl disappeared, her jailed stepmother was charged with murdering her with the indictment coming the same day authorities revealed that they haven't been able to find the dismembered girl's head.

Elisa Baker, 42, was charged with second-degree murder Monday and authorities said she desecrated Zahra Baker's remains to cover up the slaying. Zahra's death was caused by "undetermined homicidal violence," medical examiners said in documents.

An autopsy was done even though authorities haven't recovered many bones, most notably the girl's skull, months after she was reported missing. Several bones showed cutting tool marks consistent with dismemberment. The revelation of the missing skull came in documents released by the state's chief medical examiner shortly after officials in western North Carolina held a news conference about the charge against Baker.

Prosecutor James Gaither Jr. said at the news conference that there was no credible evidence to suggest anyone else was involved in Zahra's slaying. Hickory Police Chief Tom Adkins called the murder charge "a milestone of holding someone accountable that members of team Zahra have been working toward since the first words spoken on that 911 call."

Attorneys for Elisa Baker did not return calls seeking comment Monday.

Investigators would continue to pursue leads until the trial begins, Adkins said.

Documents show that police learned months ago that the girl was dismembered after she died. The lack of a head may help to explain the absence of an exact cause of death — and why it took four months for a charge.

Warrants in the case have indicated that Elisa Baker at one point was providing police information about what happened to Zahra's body. The warrants have never revealed how Zahra, who was reported missing Oct. 9 but was last seen weeks earlier, may have died.

Police eventually found the girl's remains in different places around western North Carolina, and Elisa Baker told authorities that she had been dismembered, according to warrants. Elisa Baker has been jailed since the weekend Zahra disappeared, charged with obstructing justice in the investigation by writing a fake ransom note that was found when the girl was reporting missing.

The second-degree indictment cites aggravating factors, saying Elisa Baker had a history of physically, verbally and psychologically abusing Zahra, who used a prosthetic leg and hearing aids after being stricken with cancer.

Two social services agencies said Monday they investigated reports just months before Zahra was killed that she was being improperly treated. Officials in Caldwell and Catawba Counties said investigators interviewed each family member in those cases but closed each one by concluding that there was no evidence of maltreatment or child safety issues.

The reports included allegations of improper discipline, improper care and an injurious environment.

Elisa Baker has claimed that her husband, Adam Baker, dismembered the body. Adam Baker has denied that, something he reiterated in an interview Monday with WBTV. He also told the station that he's "grateful" for how the investigators handled the case.

The warrant also said cell phone records indicate Adam Baker was not in the locations where Zahra's remains were found on the day Elisa Baker indicated, but that cell phone records showed she was in those places.

Elisa Baker led a nomadic life, with dozens of different addresses over a seven-year period. She was also married seven times and was wed to more than one man on several occasions. She met Adam Baker, seven years her junior, on a website where users create three-dimensional characters to represent themselves.

Adam Baker is free on bond, facing numerous charges not related to his daughter. He moved to North Carolina with Zahra from Australia after meeting Elisa online.


What the heck...?

February 22, 2011 by Backbone (not verified), 4 years 13 weeks ago
Comment: 187

Man, I can't see how the charges could be reduced to Murder 2! This reeks of incompetence on the DA's part and Hickory Police Department's part!

This is going to make us look like a bunch of saps to the rest of the State!

Need a new DA...someone older with more experience under their belt and someone who can tackle tough issues and not worry about how things poll!

Disgraceful Justice

February 23, 2011 by racenbug (not verified), 4 years 13 weeks ago
Comment: 193

How this case isn't being decided as a Co-Conspiracy is beyond me.
We look sappy to many more States than simply NC. Every News brief, every crime show on national tv has questioned the facts as well as the punishment...or, LACK OF... where Adam Baker is concerned.

We want more

February 22, 2011 by Seymore Beaver (not verified), 4 years 13 weeks ago
Comment: 185

How can this idiot behind bars outwit and outplay our entire legal system? I have read over and over how she has manipulated the DA's office, picked her charges and now has a decent chance of getting acquitted. E. Baker cannot be that smart. After all, she is in jail and has been since late summer.

She wrote a not too convincing kidnap letter, she hasn't covered her tracks too well evidenced by the bigomy charges, worthless checks, and letter writing campaign while incarcerated and there are co-conspirators who will talk when the leverage goes against them. Those are all loose ends and should be considered sloppy when you are committing murder.

What is going on here? She did not do this alone. Someone else needs to be charged as we know there are other parties involved.

Adam Baker was not at the scene of the body parts being dumped because his cell phone indicates he was somewhere else. Guess what. My cell phone indicates I was at home Sunday but actually I was at work in Hickory because I left my phone at the house.

We all want to be educated on what has come to pass around here. You want harm anything as we all understand that they trial will be held somewhere else. Share the logic behind the charges.

It really is beginning to look like we all let Zahra down. Are we going to be satisfied that there is a park named after this little girl? Will we feel justified if we name some law to help protect children down the road and the sponsoring politician has a smug smile and names it the “Zahra Law”? How can we sleep at night knowing the best that we could do was light a few candles, leave a few teddy bears, and promise to do better?

Some one in office better start explaining things.


February 21, 2011 by TySlothrop (not verified), 4 years 13 weeks ago
Comment: 183

A 10-year-old child is killed, then chopped up and spread all over the region, and the most serious charge the D-A can deliver is second-degree murder against the "step-mom?" And he can't even determine how evidence at the very least warrants charges for the Australian father, who turned a blind eye to the abuse of his own child?
I guess when you dance with the devil, and cut a deal with her attorney, the best you can hope for is recovery of a body and an 8-year jail term. That's assuming prosecutors can even get a conviction - and judging from D-A's track record on big cases so far, chances of that aren't great.

Don't Second Guess A Genius

February 22, 2011 by Seymore Beaver (not verified), 4 years 13 weeks ago
Comment: 186

What about not charging co-conspirators? This vile woman did not act alone; it might not have been the dad, but someone helped in the murder, dismemberment, and disposal of the body.

I thought First Degree meant that the murder was premeditated? So this girl was killed on a whim and they just happened to have the tools handy to dissect a human, transport the pieces to various locations, and keep it all nice and tidy. Tidy enough that it wasn’t readily apparent to initial law investigators or the father. It sounds to me that this was premeditated, but what do I know.

Thankfully we have a system where we elect the most competent person for the office. We don’t vote in lesser candidates strictly for their party backing or affiliation. Yep, we have the best person in office representing us because we aren’t afraid to cross party lines and vote out incompetence, we aren’t afraid to vote against the old wealth backed candidates, or vote for someone who might be a democrat.

Justice is in Unsteady Hands Now

February 21, 2011 by Seymore Beaver (not verified), 4 years 13 weeks ago
Comment: 182

Can we borrow a DA from somewhere for a few months? Don't get me wrong I like our DA; he would be the life of a party and a great guy to hang around with but to handle something of this magnitude? We need an "ace in the hole" to deliver justice. The eyes of the world are watching us and we can't look like we are going after her with a guy who has slept on the couch of a frat house more than he has seen a jury.


February 23, 2011 by racenbug (not verified), 4 years 13 weeks ago
Comment: 192

I'm totally in agreement with all but....I didnt vote for this Preppy acting idiott.
Who are we kidding? Adam Baker lied on his phonecall to 911, he also either lied about last seeing his daughter around 2:30a.m. OR he saw her blood-drained dead body
Unless I missed something....He and Elisa Baker were still living together, SO how is it possible that he isn't at the very least, being prosecuted for Misleading the Police????
Is he related to Att. Mark Killian? Why is it that said Att. cannot open his dang eyes when interviewed & stare his interviewer in the face?
What a deliberate farce within the Catawba County Justice system!
Can We Say... "Impeachment?" J.G. is a joke & an embarrassment!

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