Search for Zahra at Christie Road over for now; officials await - WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC

Search for Zahra at Christie Road over for now; officials await bone test results

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Wednesday Crews prepare to drain a pond near where Zahra's prosthetic leg was found. Wednesday Crews prepare to drain a pond near where Zahra's prosthetic leg was found.
Zahra Baker (Photo courtesy of Charlotte Motor Speedway) Zahra Baker (Photo courtesy of Charlotte Motor Speedway)
Adam Baker, Zahra's father, was taken into custody on Monday, October 25 Adam Baker, Zahra's father, was taken into custody on Monday, October 25
Elisa Baker's first court appearance.  Zahra with Santa in a past Christmas. (Source: MySpace) Elisa Baker's first court appearance. Zahra with Santa in a past Christmas. (Source: MySpace)
Adam Baker and Elisa Baker (Source: MySpace) Adam Baker and Elisa Baker (Source: MySpace)

HICKORY, NC (WBTV) - Officials await results on Monday from tests administered to the bone recovered in the search for the missing 10-year-old girl last week.

The State Bureau of Investigation lab began testing the bone, found near Christie Road in Caldwell County, last Friday. Once that examination is complete and if it is determined to be related to this case, it will be sent to the NC Medical Examiner's Office lab in Chapel Hill for further testing.

Also on Friday, search teams collected more evidence from the Christie Road area in Caldwell County.  Law enforcement officials said that the items found quite possibly have nothing to do with the investigation, but they will all be tested as a precaution. 

WBTV has also learned that the search at the Christie Road site is over for now, though officials reserve the right to return if necessary. 

Related: Zahra's real mother thinks her daughter is dead | Video interview

Follow the case from the beginning:  The Search for Zahra

Investigators say that the bone is not a small piece and is not a chip of a bone, but seems to be a complete bone. Meanwhile, that bone was sent to the NC State Bureau of Investigation lab where tests began Friday.

Tests on the bone are not DNA, officials have said. 

Results from the SBI lab may not come through until Monday or Tuesday.

Last Thursday, search crews were back out at the Christie Road search area in Caldwell County, more than a week since a prosthetic leg was found belonging to a missing 10-year-old girl. Wednesday, searchers returned to that same area to drain a pond and look for more clues related to her 3 week disappearance. The bone was found in that area, officials announced on Wednesday afternoon.

About 2 dozen people were searching off Christie Road in Caldwell County looking for anything related Zahra Baker, whose stepmother, Elisa, is still being held in jail. Near noon on Wednesday, crews with a pump arrived and began draining a pond in that area. The bone was not found in the pond, which was drained later on Wednesday.

Bone discovery comes just hours after WBTV came into possession of some letters that were allegedly written by Elisa Baker. The letters were allegedly written to someone at a web site that began a letter-writing relationship with Baker since she has been in jail. (Click here to read the letters and learn more about them)

The search off Christie Road, which is closed to traffic, involves a "line search" where crews walk in a line about 15 feet about through woods checking for anything that looks suspicious.

 

Earlier this week, the owner of the Baker home in Hickory is evicted Adam Baker, the father of the missing 10-year-old, WBTV has learned.

According to reports, Baker, who was briefly jailed last week on un-related charges, has spent about the last two and a half weeks with relatives.  Investigators have ripped out parts of the floor, walls, ceiling, and plumbing during their search for evidence in the house.

On Monday, investigators confirmed that the prosthetic leg discovered last Wednesday off Christie Road in Caldwell County is, in fact, the one belonging to  Zahra Baker. 

Hickory Police Department said on Monday that medical records obtained from Australia, where the prosthetic leg was originally fitted, matched the serial number on the leg.  A scanner was used to extract the serial number from a transponder placed inside the prosthesis, which was used as Zahra's left leg.   

 

Also on Monday, Elisa Baker, the stepmother of Zahra Baker, was indicted by a Catawba County Grand Jury on an obstruction of justice charge related to the investigation of the missing girl.

As she was being indicted in one county, Elisa Baker appeared in court in Burke County on Monday afternoon to face a felony larceny charge unrelated the 10-year-old girl's disappearance.  No evidence was presented in that case and it was continued until Dec. 6 when Baker will have to be back in Burke County Court.

Related: Read more about Elisa Baker's previous police charges

Over the weekend, the search resumed in Caldwell County along Christie Road, where the child's prosthetic leg was found early Wednesday. The search was expanded from the area the leg was found to include both sides of the pavement along the two-and-a half mile road.

Two teams with investigators and cadaver dogs walked along the highway. "They weren't cutting back brush, just walking and looking," said Caldwell County Sheriff Alan Jones.

Back at the house in Hickory, investigators were gone by lunchtime, but an SBI investigations truck was parked in the driveway, crime scene tape was still up around the property, and two Hickory Police cars with officers inside could be seen.

One guarded the front of the property, the other, the back. Officials acknowledged it was a sign that they are not finished looking at the house and the property just yet.

Since last Wednesday, crews have been sifting through mulch piles, wood piles and holes dug by a backhoe. SBI investigators were also spotted inside the house.

Officials say it has been a week of progress with the prosthetic leg being found, a mattress in question being discovered at the landfill and Elisa Baker talking with police.

Despite that, they say a lot of work is still ahead before they have the answers to the mystery surrounding the disappearance of the ten year old girl.

The stepmother of Zahra Baker was scheduled to make another appearance in a Catawba County courtroom on Friday, but this time, the charges against Elisa Baker are not related to the disappearance of the missing 10-year-old.

Baker was not present alongside her attorney Scott Reilly Friday morning as he spent all of 30 seconds speaking before a judge on her worthless check charges. 
 
Reilly, who is representing Baker on her felony obstruction charge, asked to be appointed to Baker's worthless check charges and was granted a continuance until December 17th. 
 
Baker is due back in court the morning of November 3 for a probable cause hearing on her obstruction charge. 
 
Meanwhile, the search for clues continued Friday at the Baker family home in Hickory and at the home off of Christie Road in Caldwell County, where investigators discovered what they believe is Zahra's prosthetic league.

Police were at the Baker home all day Thursday in their search for evidence, one day after discovering the leg.

Also, Adam Baker, who first reported Zahra missing in a 911 call on Oct. 9, bonded out of the Catawba County Jail just after 6 pm. Baker had been jailed on a $7,000 bond on charges unrelated to his daughter's disappearance.

Police said just two hours earlier Wednesday, the investigation brought them to a home along Christie Road in Caldwell County, where they found the prosthetic leg, which they think belongs to Zahra, who lost her real leg during two battles with cancer.

 

Also on Wednesday afternoon, various crews were back at the Adam and Elisa Baker house  -- digging with a backhoe and rummaging through mulch piles -- a day after a mattress believed to Zahra's was found in a landfill.

On Tuesday afternoon, authorities released two key pieces of information in the Zahra Baker case: confirmation that the missing girl's stepmother started cooperating with police on Sunday and the fact that crews Tuesday accidentally found a mattress similar to Zahra's in the landfill they spent four days in last week.

Sources also say that the jailed stepmother of a missing 10-year-old Hickory girl  -- cooperating with authorities since Sunday -- was taken from her cell early Monday and driven to at least two areas that were later searched by officials for clues about the missing girl.

Meanwhile on Tuesday afternoon, a mattress fitting the description of Zahra Baker's was found at the Caldwell County landfill that was searched for 4 days last week. DNA was on the mattress, police said.

Police said Tuesday that 42-year-old Elisa Baker was talking with investigators and had been taken this week to a home where she once lived. Hickory Deputy Police Chief Maj. Clyde Deal wouldn't elaborate, but says Baker's lawyer approached police to offer her help.

The mattress discovery was made late Tuesday afternoon by employees as they were regarding the landfill in the area that had been searched last week, Hickory police said.

"This mattress possessed DNA evidence that will be tested in the future to confirm if it is involved with this investigation," Hickory police said in a statement.

On the same day that Zahra Baker's father, Adam Baker, was charged, Hickory Police took stepmother Elisa Baker to various areas in Caldwell County where they later searched for the girl -- or clues for the girl who has been missing since Oct. 9

Adam Baker, the father of Zahra Baker, was hit with unrelated charges early Monday morning, unlike Zahra's stepmother, Elisa Baker, who is being held on an obstruction of justice charge related to the search for the girl.

On Tuesday, searchers went to a new location of Caldwell County on Christie Road near Hudson, which is reportedly near a former Baker residence. It's also a place where trash is known to be dumped.

Tuesday's search area is different from Monday's at Dudley Shoals Road and Burns Road which is in Caldwell County, about four miles northeast of Granite Falls. That location is reportedly near where Elisa Baker lived in 2006-2007 before she married Adam Baker and before his daughter, Zahra moved to the United States.

On Tuesday, sources told WBTV that Elisa Baker was removed from her jail cell early Monday and was taken to various search areas with police. Officials say that Baker never got out of an SUV that she was riding in for the tour of future search areas.

Adam Baker, who first reported his daughter missing in a 911 call Oct. 9, was charged Monday with five counts of worthless checks and five counts of failing to appear in court -- one of those cases being assault with a deadly weapon. He was arrested at Charlotte Douglas Airport and is being held in the Catawba County Jail on a $7,000 bond. 

Other charges that Baker allegedly did not appear in court for are communicating threats. His next court date is set for November 18. Authorities said that although Adam Baker was arrested at the airport Monday, he was not there to take a flight, but was instead picking up someone from the airport.

The charges against Baker came after authorities said Friday that they had completed their search of a Caldwell County landfill and that they had been looking for a specific mattress associated with the missing 10-year-old girl, Zahra Baker.

Dozens of law enforcement officers from various agencies descended on the landfill earlier this week and were seen pulling mattresses out it on Thursday. On Wednesday, police said that they were combing the landfill for a "key piece of evidence." 

Friday, they confirmed the mattress was the focus of the search -- but also said their search was not successful.

"The search focused on a mattress belonging to Zahra that had been disposed of by Zahra's parents sometime during early October, days before Zahra was reported missing," a press release from Hickory Police said.

 Police said that they hoped to "use the mattress to confirm interviews with persons associated with this investigation."  They also said that the mattress would be used to reinforce the timeline of Zahra's disappearance. 

Several mattresses were found in the landfill and police took samples of those mattresses with them. However, it is not believed that investigators found the "key piece of evidence" they were looking for.

Lastly, police said they hoped the mattress -- in the landfill for at least 2 weeks now -- could provide some DNA evidence. 

Last week, Zahra's stepmother, Elisa Baker, appeared in court for a bond hearing on Wednesday and the judge increased her bond amount.

Officials kept urging the public to come forward if they have seen Zahra since Sept. 25 or within the last month.

Hickory Police Chief Tom Adkins said different family members have told police various timelines as to when they last saw Zahra. 

"We are just looking for someone outside the family to tell us when they have seen her," Adkins said.  

Adkins said officers were working in two teams: one team is following up on leads and the other team is actively working at the landfill.

"We hope if we find this evidence, it will provide a good, solid timeline in this case," Adkins said.

Last Wednesday morning, Zahra's stepmother appeared in Catawba County court for a bond hearing.  Elisa Baker was charged last week with felony obstruction of justice after police say she admitted to writing a ransom note to distract police from finding Zahra.

Baker appeared in court via video monitor.  Her attorney was hoping to the judge would reduce Baker's bond amount.  Instead, Judge Robert Mullinax Jr. raised Baker's bond from $40,000 to $65,000 citing some "unsettling allegations" against her.

Before the judge did this, the State called evidentiary witnesses to the stand including one of Baker's biological daughters.

Amber Fairchild said she had never seen her mother work and that her mother had received about $10,000 from a man in London during the last year. 

Reporter Derrick Rose was watching the video monitor and saw Baker sitting with her hands folded and she appeared stoic even when she heard that her bond amount would be increased. 

If she is able to post bond, there are restrictions Judge Mullinax has set in place.  She will be required to wear an electronic monitoring device, and she will have a curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.   She will also be required to surrender her passport.

On Tuesday, the HPD released the 911 call in which Zahra's father, Adam Baker, made right after he discovered his 10-year-old was missing, or possibly kidnapped.

In the nearly 5-minute phone call on Oct. 9, Baker talked about how a fire was set at his house the day before and he theorized that a group of kidnappers, who allegedly left a ransom note for his bosses' daughter, had instead taken Baker's daughter.  (Click here to read a transcript and listen to the full 911 call)

Since the 911 call was made 11 days ago, police say Zahra Baker's stepmother has admitted to writing the ransom note that was found in a vehicle parked outside the family's home.  She is charged with obstruction of justice and police are pursuing the case as a homicide investigation.

In the 911 call, Adam Baker suggests that Zahra was taken during the melee when a fire was set in the back yard at his house, possibly by mysterious kidnappers who he repeatedly refers to.

"We checked in there last night about 2:30 a.m. and she was there," Baker says of Zahra, who had twice survived cancer, but suffered hearing loss and lost part of a leg in the battle against the disease.

"I don't know if they set a fire in the yard to distract us to go out and then they snuck in the door," he said.

When the 911 operator asked when Baker last saw Zahra -- since the call was 12 hours after someone last saw her -- he explained that he was used to not seeing her and laughed about the 10-year-old's "brooding."

"My daughter is, I think, coming into puberty, cause she is hitting that brooding stage (laughter) so we only see her when she comes out when she wants something, and that's about it," Baker said.

Baker goes on to briefly describe Zahra, and also tells the dispatcher that the "kidnappers" took her prosthetic leg.

* * *

Authorities have already contacted the girl's biological mother in Australia to request copies of the 10-year-old's medical records.

Clyde Deal with the Hickory Police Department told CNN that investigators were trying to obtain Baker's medical records.

The medical records, which usually contain dental records, could be used to positively identify the Zahra once she is found. 

According to CNN, Deal said his office was in constant contact with Zahra's biological mother. 

"We're speaking to her on a regular basis, she's very concerned, and she's very appreciative of everything being done to solve this case," Deal told CNN.com 

Adam Baker and his daughter are originally from Australia.  Zahra's birth mother reportedly abandoned Zahra when she was an infant.

Zahra and her dad left Australia a couple of years ago and moved to North Carolina after he met Elisa Baker met online.  They were married within the last two years.

On Monday, Chief Tom Adkins with the Hickory Police Department said investigators were searching active areas and following up on leads.  As of 3 p.m., the chief said canine teams were continuing to search areas identified by tips and investigators.  Adkins, however, would not specify further as to the location of those areas.

The HPD is also trying to find out more information about a non-profit organization called the Spiritual Counseling Network which claims on their web site to "Support the efforts of law enforcement to investigate and prosecute the case surrounding the abduction/homicide of Zahra Claire Baker."

In a statement released Monday afternoon, the HPD said it has not been contacted by this group or been given information about the group's intent in using the collected funds.   

WBTV has learned that one of the co-organizers of the Spiritual Counseling Network is on probation for obtaining property by false pretenses.

* * *

On Saturday, the HPD confirmed the last time Zahra was seen by someone other than a family member was on Sept. 25 which is several days before she was reported missing by her father on Saturday, Oct. 9.  

Employees at a furniture store in Hickory told WBTV on Friday they remember seeing Zahra and her stepmother, Elisa Annette Baker, 42, in the store 14 days before Zahra was reported missing.  This is the same information in which police are using to establish their timeline of the last time the girl was seen by someone other than a relative.

Linda Austin says she noticed the little girl had a prosthetic leg and heard Elisa Baker call Zahra by her name.

"I thought that was a strange name, which it is, it's different, pretty, but different," Austin said.

"She was standing in the aisle way, and as I walked past, I put my hand on her shoulder and said, 'Excuse me, sweetheart' and she looked at me and smiled," Pat Adams added.

Employees at the store called police and a statement was taken.  The store has surveillance video, but it was not turned on at the time.

Before police received this tip, they had not found anyone else who had seen Zahra in the last month. 

Last Friday, investigators were back to Zahra's home looking for more clues into her disappearance.  Cadaver dogs searched the yard and then went inside the one-story home.

Investigators removed mattresses and bed rails from the house that were wrapped up in plastic.  Those items will presumably be taken to a lab for testing.  Authorities, however, won't comment on what they were looking for or what they found.

Zahra's father, Adam Baker, was at the house with police, but he did not say anything when he left around 12:30 p.m.  Police said the search was just another step in looking for answers. 

Friday afternoon, police searched a home in Hudson in which the Bakers lived in between July and November of last year.

Managers of the Congress Street Apartments believe Zahra was kept in the attic.

Shirley and Darrell Mims said they went to investigate a smell in the home, and when they went upstairs, they found the closet door missing and footprints on the closet walls.

On closer inspection, Darrell Mims found sheet rock in the attic torn door, "...like someone was laying on it."  The Mims also say they never saw Zahra, except once when the family was moving in.

"We use to hear noise in the middle of the night," said Darrell Mims.  "I don't know if it was the little girl staying up here or what, but we've heard no more noises since they've been gone."

A K-9 searched the area around the home, but it's unclear if anything was found there.

Meanwhile, the residents of a trailer park in Caldwell County where Zahra lived until mid-summer are still hoping the girl will be found alive, but they admit that hope is fading.  Search teams combed the woods around the trailer park last Wednesday.

"They need to come back and do some more," said Tabitha Haas. 

Haas said Adam and Elisa Baker were spotted in the neighborhood about three weeks ago.

"They came here at night," Haas said.

Peggy Johnson claims a few days later, "the most awful smell was coming up out of the manhole in my yard."

She said authorities lifted the lid and looked inside, but only for a few seconds.

"They's another manhole in the holler that they need to come back and look at," Johnson said. 

The place she talked about is hidden in a valley area behind a vacant trailer.  It is in the same area where the couple was spotted.

A two-day search of 60 acres of land in the Hartland Road Community of neighboring Burke County ended with no trace of Zahra Thursday evening.

Zahra's father works for a landscaping company that uses a portion of the land to store equipment and dispose of brush.

"The dad had access to equipment and the property, so we needed to search it," said Burke County Sheriff John McDevitt.

Cadaver dogs went over the entire property and a pond was drained Wednesday night, but they did not find anything.

* * *

Adam Baker has not been charged in connection with the disappearance of his daughter, but police are calling the child's stepmother, Elisa Baker, a person of interest in the disappearance of the girl. 

Related story:  MySpace page may reveal details about stepmother

Zahra was reportedly last seen by her stepmother on Saturday, Oct. 9, at 2:30 a.m. while sleeping at her home on 21st Avenue Northwest in Hickory. 

According to the Hickory Police Department, the girl was not reported missing by her father until some 12 hours later.

Elisa Baker was arrested Sunday, Oct. 10, for several misdemeanor charges including driving with license revoked, larceny by employee, unsafe tires, six counts of worthless checks, and four counts of communicating threats.  

At the time, police said inconsistencies with Elisa Baker's information concerning Zahra's disappearance indicated "...she [Elisa] has not been truthful." 

On Tuesday, Oct. 12, the HPD canceled the AMBER alert for Zahra, and for the first time, the police chief described the case as a homicide investigation.

This is the same day in which Elisa Baker was served with a warrant for felony obstruction of justice after police say she admitted to writing a ransom note to distract police investigators in their search for Zahra. 

A search warrant provides details about the ransom note which demanded $1 million.  The search warrant also revealed that police dogs detected the scent of human remains on a Chevy Tahoe and a Toyota Camry registered to Adam and Elisa Baker. 

Related: Read the search warrant (pdf document) | Read story about the search warrant 

Baker made her first court appearance on Wednesday, Oct. 13, for the felony obstruction of justice charge.  When the judge asked Baker if she understood the charges against her, she replied, "Yes."

Last week, Baker's son, Douglas Proctor released a statement to the media in which he asked for prayers for the family. Click here to read the full statement.

Baker is still being held in the Catawba County Jail on a $72,200 bond.  Baker's attorney, D. Scott Reilly, told the judge he planned to file a motion to have the $40,000 bond amount relating to the felony charge reduced. 

Baker is scheduled to have a bond hearing on Wednesday, Oct. 20.

According to the judge, if Baker is convicted on the felony charge, she could spend 30 months in prison.  

* * *

For the last year, Zahra was home-schooled by her stepmother according to family friends.

At Hudson Elementary School where Zahra attended last spring, grief counselors were on hand the week after she was reported missing for students and teachers who wanted to talk about Zahra's disappearance.  Counselors were also at Granite Falls Elementary where Zahra had previously attended school.   

Authorities pleaded for students and parents to come forward if they had seen Zahra in the past month. 

People who know Zahra prayed that she would be found alive.

"There is always hope," said Kayla Rotenberry who lives in the mobile home in Caldwell County next to where Zahra lived until this summer.  "She was such a sweet little girl."

Rotenberry showed people a drawing Zahra made, and a bunny made out of a sock that the missing girl had given her daughter.

Rotenberry's fiance, Bobby Green, said, "I wish all kids were like Zahra."

Green said he saw the little girl with black eyes and bruises in the past, but said the girl's step-mother Elsa Baker "...always said it was Zahra falling down, Zahra doing this, Zahra doing that..." 

Green said he didn't believe the stepmother and thought something was wrong.

The CBS Early Show interviewed two of Zahra's relatives in Hickory on Tuesday, Oct. 12.

"She [Zahra] just had a horrible home life," said Brittany Bentley.  "One time, I remember, she had a black eye.  She [Zahra] said it was from the door, but we all knew it was from Lisa.  I never saw Adam spank her or punish her--do anything.  But he would sit there and watch Lisa do it to his child."

Zahra, who is hearing impaired and has loss a leg due to bone cancer, uses hearing aids and a prosthetic leg.  Police said the girl's hearing aids were found in the house after she was reported missing.  Despite her disabilities, relatives say Zahra was well adjusted. 

"She was a happy child," Bentley said.  "She could walk faster on her leg than we could walk on two legs.  She was an amazing child.  She was never angry or depressed.  She was always happy, loving."

The Department of Social Services has neither confirmed nor denied that social workers were ever called out to the Bakers' home.

Zahra is about 5'1" tall, weighs 85 pounds, has blue eyes, and short reddish, blond hair.  She was last seen wearing a camouflage army T-shirt and black knee-length tights. 

If you have seen Zahra, call the Hickory Police Department 828-328-5551, 911, or *HP. 

Copyright 2010 WBTV. All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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