Zahra Clare Baker was born in Wagga Wagga, Australia. When she was reported missing in October of 2010, she was just 10 years old. And when her dismembered remains were found in November, her killing became news all over the world.
She was the daughter of Emily Dietrich and Adam Baker. Her mother suffered postpartum depression and eventually relinquished custody to Adam. He moved with Zahra and his parents to Queensland in 2004 and took a job at a sugar mill.
The following year, Zahra was diagnosed with bone cancer and had the lower part of one leg removed. She also suffered a bout of lung cancer and had to wear hearing aids.
Adam Baker brought his daughter from their native home all the way to North Carolina after meeting Elisa Fairchild. The two had made a connection online, and she visited him in Queensland. Before long they were married, and the family relocated. After living briefly in several other locations, they settled in the town of Hickory.
But there were some important things about his new bride that Adam didn’t know.
She had six previous marriages and sometimes was married to two or three men simultaneously, because she never bothered to get a divorce. And as far back as 1999, there had been allegations of child abuse. Elisa had a son and a daughter from a previous marriage and a daughter born out of wedlock.
Elisa Baker’s MySpace page at the time identified her as “GothicFairy6668”. There were illustrations of skulls and bones, and a song called “Living Dead Girl” by Rob Zombie played. She showed “Never, neverland” as her hometown and Queensland, Australia, as her state and country of residence. The page had photos of Zahra on it, and in one she was wearing all black and the title read “The Dark Child!!! lol”. Elisa’s “mood” on the page was listed as “crazy” on the last day she signed in. That was October, 8th, 2010…one day before Zahra was reported missing.
After the move to North Carolina, Zahra attended public school for a while but then was removed, supposedly to be home-schooled. It’s not known if she ever received any real education after that, as reports of physical and mental abuse soon began to surface. In fact, Child Protective Services had visited the family at their previous residences as well. Once, in Hudson, fourth-grader Zahra had gone to school with a black eye.
On October 9, Elisa called 911 to report a fire in the back of the family home. When the police arrived, they found a ransom note. And the smell of gasoline was coming from Adam’s company truck.
Later the same day, Adam Baker made a second 911 call, reporting that Zahra was missing. He said that he had found the $1 million ransom note on his truck the night before and it had been addressed to his boss and landlord, Mark Coffey. He wove a tale involving the fire having been started to divert attention from a kidnapping, in which Zahra had been mistaken for Coffey’s daughter.
Multiple searches were conducted for the missing child, but she could not be located.
Meanwhile, Elisa failed a polygraph test she had taken early in the investigation. She was asked if she had hurt Zahra, if she knew of anyone who had harmed Zahra and if she knew who wrote the ransom note.
On October 10, search and rescue dogs were sent to search the Bakers’ house and cars. They gave positive alerts to the smell of human remains on both of vehicles on the premises. The police took swabs of what they thought could be blood from one of them.
That same day, Elisa Baker was also arrested and jailed for various crimes, including communicating threats, writing bad checks, larceny and driving with a revoked license. None of the offenses was related to the death of Zahra. She was further charged with obstruction of justice after admitting that she had written the ransom note.
Later that month, a Catawba County judge increased Elisa’s bond because he believed her to be a flight risk. One of her older daughters had testified at the hearing that Elisa said she was thinking of leaving the state the day before she was jailed. She further disclosed that her mother was involved in an online relationship with a man from England who had sent her thousands of dollars. And the prosecutor revealed that Elisa had failed to appear for other court dates in the past.
On Oct. 23, 2010, Elisa’s lawyer advised the district attorney’s office that her client had information that would solve the mystery of the disappearance of Zahra Baker. But there were conditions.
First, there had to be a guarantee that prosecution would be limited to a charge of second-degree murder. And, if she was found not to have been truthful and instead was prosecuted for murder in the first degree, none of her statements could be admitted as evidence.
After talking with law enforcement about the chances of finding Zahra’s remains, the prosecutor’s office agreed to the arrangement.
Elisa said that Zahra died on September 24 and was dismembered shortly after that. She stated that her prosthetic leg was left in a dumpster at Fox Ridge Apartments in Hickory. A prosthetic leg was found in late October off a road in Caldwell County and was matched by its serial number to Zahra’s medical records.
In November, Elisa started leading police to different areas in Catawba County and Caldwell County to find Zahra’s scattered remains. Numerous bones were discovered, but her head was not located. She told them that she disposed of Zahra’s mattress in a dumpster, and a mattress fitting the description was found in a landfill.
A car cover and bed cover used to hide and transport the body, were in another dumpster behind a store. Elisa also said they would find some of Zahra’s remains in the drain trap of the bathtub and that plastic gloves that she used were still in her bathroom.
In February, Elisa Baker was indicted for second-degree murder. The indictment handed up by a grand jury in Catawba County, N.C., asserted that Baker had “a history and pattern of physical, verbal and psychological abuse of the victim” and that she had “desecrated the victim’s body” to hinder detection.
She pleaded guilty to the charge and in September 2011 was sentenced to 18 years in prison. In 2013, she was given an additional 10 years for drug-related charges.
Zahra’s father was not named as a suspect in connection with his daughter’s death.