HICKORY, NC (WBTV) - It has been more than five years since Zahra Baker was reported missing from Hickory and an intense search for the ten-year-old girl gripped the nation, and tugged at heart strings here in the Carolinas.
Baker was who was diagnosed with bone cancer in 2005, later suffered a bout of lung cancer as well. She had the lower part of one leg amputated and had to wear hearing aids. Her prosthetic leg was found shortly after she was reported missing in October 2010.
Search warrants released in the investigation say the 10-year-old girl was dismembered and her body concealed in a bed comforter and car cover. The body parts were scattered throughout Catawba County.
Later, human remains were found and sent to the state medical examiner to determine if they belong to Baker. One person with a critical role in the case is now speaking out.
Clyde Gibbs is an investigator with the North Carolina Medical Examiner's Office. His work environment is one of unsolved puzzles. His responsibility is to identify the remains of those connected to unsolved death cases across the state.
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As law enforcement agencies scoured the foothills of North Carolina searching for her, it was just a matter of time before the medical examiner's office in Raleigh started receiving dismembered body parts connected to the child's death.
Her skull was discovered in April of 2012, more than a year and a half after investigators first started looking for her.
"It was only after we recovered the skull that we were really able to put the case together saying we have Zahra completed," Gibbs said.
The case file and the autopsy report Gibbs revisits can be described as graphic, and he concluded Zahra Baker was the victim of blunt force trauma.
"We definitely found indications of sharp force injuries that would indicate at some point that individuals that the suspect was trying to dis-articulate the individual for disposal," he said.
In laymen's terms the investigator said the intent was clear.
"To cut up the body and to easily dispose of the remains somewhere else," Gibbs said.
In September 2011, Elisa Baker, Zahra's stepmother plead guilty in the case.
Her admission came months before a positive ID was made. Clyde Gibbs holds on to the memory that the victim's father, Adam Baker, was cooperative during the case.
"He was the main individual that was the person who did receive her remains before they went back to Australia," Gibbs said.
Closure not only came for Zahra's family, but also for individuals who invested countless hours in the case.
"It was very good to say we have Zahra Baker," Gibbs said.