Stepmom's relative: Zahra died of natural causes

RALEIGH — A relative of Zahra Baker's stepmother said Wednesday that the jailed woman told her the 10-year-old girl died of an illness and that her parents "went wild," dismembering and hiding her remains.

Boncetta "Buzzie" Winkler, 76, told The Associated Press that she met this week with her niece, Elisa Baker, and talked about what happened to the freckle-faced Australian girl whose disappearance and death have riveted communities in North Carolina and her native country.

"She'd been sick two weeks before she died," Winkler said. "When they found her, I guess they didn't know what to do. They just went wild."

According to search warrants and other court documents unsealed this week, Elisa Baker has told police that Zahra died on Sept. 24, about two weeks before she was reported missing. Elisa Baker told police that the girl was dismembered after she died, and her remains scattered in various locations in western North Carolina.

No one has been charged in Zahra's death, and neither the hundreds of pages of court documents released so far nor statements from investigators have said how she died. Elisa Baker is currently in jail on charges of obstructing the investigation into Zahra's disappearance.

According to one warrant unsealed Tuesday, in a Nov. 19 interview with police in Hickory, Elisa Baker said her husband, Adam Baker, "dismembered Zahra Baker's limbs, and they disposed of them in various locations" after the girl died.

The warrant went on to say, though, that 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 present in those locations. Elisa Baker led police to the places where they found Zarha's remains, according to the documents.

The jailhouse meeting between the aunt and her niece was first reported by WSOC-TV.

"She's pretty upset, and she's lost a lot of weight," Winkler said of Elisa Baker.

Calls to Elisa Baker's lawyer were not immediately returned late Wednesday night.

Adam Baker is free on bond, facing numerous charges that are not related to his daughter.

Adam Baker moved to North Carolina with Zahra after meeting Elisa online. Zahra needed a prosthetic leg, having lost a limb to bone cancer. The chemotherapy she underwent also left her using two hearing aides.

The little girl was remembered by family friends as constantly smiling despite the hardship she endured, and her death shook the small town of Hickory, about 60 miles north of Charlotte. Hundreds of people attended a candlelight vigil there in November, on what would have been her 11th birthday.