We will never know the full extent of the physical and mental suffering of Zahra Baker. Born in Brisbane, abandoned by her mother at two years, Zahra suffered and survived severe cancer, and was then taken to America by her father. Bad enough you would think. There have been many platitudes given about Zahra, but the fact of the matter is that both her parents failed her, failed to protect and nurture their daughter.
Zahra’s mother may have suffered from depression, but where was the rest of the extended family? It must have seemed to Zahra as though everyone in her family had deserted her; why else did she not have the confidence in them to write and tell them what was happening to her? She believed no-one really cared. At five, Zahra lost her left leg above the knee to bone cancer, and then she lost her hearing; she almost died in the struggle to overcome the disease. Later, she had an operation for lung cancer and her recovery was very slow. Just to survive that much in her first ten years is truly heroic. Did her pain and suffering become too much of a burden for her mother, or was her mother too self-centred to care? Perhaps she did not have enough support.
Zahra’s father, Adam Baker married an American woman he met on the internet, and left Australia for good to live in America. But for Zahra, her father’s decision to leave Australia, where Zahra’s medical treatment was free, for North Carolina, where it’s not, was stupid and selfish. The new Mrs Baker had no medical insurance and family members advised Adam not to go. He had little money and his needy daughter was deprived of the regular medical care she needed. There is no evidence that Adam Baker ever took Zahra to a doctor in America. The weak man that her father was, should never have left Australia with his daughter; her needs were great and should have come first. Most dads would agree with that, no matter how lonely they might be. Excuses just don’t cut it here. Instead, Zahra was placed in the trailer-home world of a vicious step mother who began to beat and torment this defenceless child. She was shifted from small town to small town. Zahra’s strength of character would prove her undoing; she didn’t complain to anyone. However, Adam Baker knew Zahra was suffering. The North Carolina Department of Social Services admitted with some embarrassment that its staff had visited Zahra four times last year to investigate allegations of abuse by her stepmother.
Adam would not talk to News Limited this week, except to say that his first wife, Emily, Zahra’s mother, who was expressing her grief for Zahra back in Australia, had “never been a mother to Zahra”. Well, he obviously had never been a father to Zahra. Adam Baker did not create the person that is Mrs Elisa Baker. But he would have known during his two years in North Carolina that his daughter was being neglected and ill treated. The most telling and troubling thing that has come out of this heartbreaking case, is that Adam Baker called the police fifteen days after Zahra had gone missing from his home.
Mrs Baker had beaten her own three children to the point where, in a bail hearing shortly after Zahra’s remains were found, Mrs Baker’s daughter, Amber Fairchild, 25, testified her mother was a flight risk and a danger to her children. Mrs Baker has had seven husbands – some in bigamist circumstances. Shirley Mims lived right next door to the Bakers but only saw Zahra once, when they first moved in. “We never even knew a child lived there,” Mrs Mims says. “There was screaming, hollering, cussing – they were very violent. They were asked to leave.” In late 2009, Elisa, Adam and Zahra moved to a trailer home in Granite Falls, and the young girl was sent to the nearby Hudson Elementary school. It was then that Mrs Baker’s mistreatment of Zahra began attracting the attention of authorities, but Adam says he noticed nothing amiss.
The two people who probably had more dealings with the family than anyone else in North Carolina were their trailer-park neighbours, Bobby Green and Kayla Rotenberry. “The whole time, everything Ms Baker ever told us about her life was nothing but lies,” said Ms Rotenberry.Every time something bad would happen to Zahra, Mrs Baker said it was best for Zahra. The reason Mrs Baker told people Zahra was confined to her room permanently was because she was a hospital baby, that she was used to it. Then Zahra appeared with a black eye, which was also her fault. “Everything was Zahra’s fault.” Mr Green got Adam a job working with him at Mark Coffey’s RealTree company, mulching, tree-lopping and landscaping, but Mrs Baker did not work. The neighbours say they never saw Mrs Baker hit Zahra, but they knew something was wrong. “I got the feeling Zahra was scared,” says Mr Green. “One night, the Bakers had to go somewhere and they was gonna leave Zahra by herself. Ms Rotenberry said she could stay here with her”. Zahra never left Ms Rotenberry’s side all night. “When we said, ‘There’s your mum and dad back home’, she ran and hid in the bedroom. She didn’t want to go home. The red flag started going up.” The neighbours say they made no complaints because they had no evidence and they knew welfare was already involved. Mrs Baker’s own daughter, Amber, who also lived in the park, publicly attacked her mother for forcing Zahra to walk up the steep hill on her prosthetic leg, even though it was obviously causing the poor little girl great discomfort. What Zahra wanted more than anything was a bike. Her step mother told her she’d never get one unless she walked, hard, all the time.
Residents living in the trailer park, complained to police that Mrs Baker was threatening them with violence when they questioned her treatment of Zahra. Mrs Baker then moved out of the trailer park to Hickory, taking Zahra out of Hudson Elementary where she had completed fourth grade. No-one ever saw Zahra at the new address, or ever again. Adam Baker called the police to report his daughter missing. His tone in that recorded call is flat, unengaged, matter-of-fact. He says he had last seen Zahra at 2.30am, when he checked on her. The 911 dispatcher sounds more shocked than Adam. Adam tells the dispatcher a garbled story about a ransom note, explaining that it seems the kidnappers thought the Coffeys lived at his address, and took the wrong child: Zahra.
Somehow, with the apparent threat of a kidnapping in the air, from 5.30am, Adam did not bother to check on Zahra until he made the 911 call at 2pm – 8 1/2 hours later. Interviewed by police, Adam changed his story, saying he had not seen Zahra since Wednesday.
That afternoon, Mrs Baker failed a polygraph test. Asked whether she had hurt the child, whether she knew anyone who had hurt the child or whether she had written the ransom note, police assessed she had shown deception on all three answers. On Monday, October 11, Adam Baker appeared on Good Morning America, pleading for information about his lost daughter. Later on the same day, Mrs Baker admitted to police that she had written the ransom note, saying she was “mad” at her landlord, Coffey. She was held on charges of obstructing justice, along with other outstanding warrants.
On November 19, Mrs Baker told Hickory police that Zahra had died on September 24 and had been cut up and dumped the following day. She said Adam dismembered Zahra and they both had disposed of her in various woodland locations around Granite Falls and Hudson, claims he denies. Despite telling police he had not seen his daughter for a number of hours, then a few days, before reporting her disappearance, he finally told a Hickory TV station, immediately after Mrs Baker was charged, that he had not in fact really seen Zahra for some time. His mother told the Herald Sun: “Adam was working long hours. He would go into Zahra’s room and [Mrs Baker] had made up the bed to make it look like she was in bed asleep.” This means he didn’t talk to his sick little daughter, who was living in the same house, for 15 days.
It also means he slept in the house, on the evening of September 24, when Zahra was dead, and he came home on the evening of September 25, after she’d been dismembered and taken away, and noticed nothing. Increasingly, it looks as though Mrs Baker had become an active meth user, if not distributor, in the Granite Falls and Hudson areas. There is speculation that police do not yet know how she killed Zahra. The girl’s remains that were found have told only the story of her dismemberment, with evidence that cutting tools were used on her body. Zahra’s skull, which could reveal her cause of death, has not been found and is the likely reason why Mrs Baker is facing a second-degree murder charge, rather than first-degree, which in North Carolina carries the death penalty. Her indictment states she wilfully and with premeditation murdered Zahra. As yet, no-one knows exactly how Zahra died.
Rest in Peace, Zahra.
Update 16 September 2011
Source: Herald Sun
Zahra Baker’s stepmother, Elisa Baker, has pleaded guilty to killing and dismembering her body, WCNC-TV reported. Elisa Baker, 43, was charged with second-degree murder, and has since been sentenced to a maximum of 18 years in prison, with a minimum of 15 years. Adam Baker has been cleared of any involvement in his daughter’s murder.
Zahra Baker may have been raped by associates of Elisa Baker, in North Carolina before she was killed and dismembered, according to court documents. Zahra was probably murdered to cover up her sexual abuse and rape.
The information was contained in search warrants issued in connection with the case that were unsealed by a judge today in the US state of North Carolina. This information would not have been revealed at the trial unless the plea bargain of second-degree murder was agreed to.
In one warrant, a source told police they had information that two men raped Zahra – and when asked if those same men killed her, the source said: “They might have hit her in the head,” The Charlotte Observer reported. It was claimed one of the men had a relationship with Elisa Baker, Zahra’s stepmother.
The documents released today also revealed Elisa Baker’s lawyer told police that remains might be found in the bathtub of the home where the Baker family lived in Hickory, North Carolina, 93km northwest of Charlotte. When police searched the home they removed drain pipes and traps looking for blood, along with sections of a wall.
A mattress with a dark stain on it was recovered from the home, while Elisa Baker told police she and Adam Baker had discarded another mattress at a dump in Granite Falls. Elisa Baker previously provided information to police as to where they should direct their search for Zahra.It was also revealed her dismembered body was concealed in a bed comforter and car cover, and discarded in a skip behind a grocers, according to court documents released overnight.
Elisa Baker had directed investigators to the Fox Ridge apartments in Hickory. Through her lawyer, she admitted that she and Adam Baker wrapped Zahra’s prosthetic leg in a white trash bag and threw it in the apartment skip. On October 10, a dog trained in recovery of bodies gave a positive alert for the presence of human remains in or on two vehicles at the Baker home in Hickory. Zahra’s prosthetic leg was recovered at the first site and later a bone, identified as belonging to Zahra, was recovered.
Zahra’s biological parents, Adam Baker and Emily Deitrich, have pleaded for Elisa Baker to give them more information to enable them locate the rest of Zahra’s remains, including her skull. Meanwhile, a memorial for Zahra that was to be held on Thursday local time has been rescheduled to a later date, The Hickory Record reported. The family asked that the date remain private.