Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Hunt for Zahra Baker

Abuse Accusations


Elisa and Zahra Baker at a doctor's appointment
Elisa and Zahra Baker at a doctor's

According to family members and former neighbors, there was reason for concern about Zahra's home life. Some said Zahra, who was believed to have been home-schooled, had been abused, and others portrayed Elisa Baker as a woman with a quick temper who was fast to dole out physical punishment. Some said that her nasty temper made her more apt to use her fists to settle a dispute and that all too frequently Zahra had become the focus of her anger.

"She was always beating her," Karen Yount, a former neighbor, told a Fox News reporter. "I told her to stop, but she wouldn't listen to anyone. That poor girl."

Another former neighbor, Kayla Rotenberry, said that she had been good friends with the Bakers when they had lived in Sawmills, before the Bakers moved to Hickory, and that she and her fiancé had frequently seen Zahra. Rotenberry said that earlier in 2010 she had noticed Elisa's hand had been swollen, and had asked her about it.

Zahra Baker, her prosthetic leg visible
Zahra Baker, her prosthetic leg visible

"She told me that she was trying to spank Zahra, but hit her on her prosthetic leg," Rotenberry said. "When Adam asked her about the injury, she said she fell and hurt her hand. She didn't want him to know. She knew he would be mad."

Brandy Stapleton, another former neighbor, confirmed the injury to Elisa Baker's hand, saying that Elisa had told her the same story about how she had injured it.

"She wasn't the person everyone thought she was," Stapleton said.

Yet another person, a family friend who spoke on condition of anonymity, believed that Elisa had been somehow involved with Zahra's disappearance.

"I hate to say it, but I don't feel good about this," the family friend said. "I really think Elisa had something to do with it."

Elisa Baker had previously been the subject of child abuse investigations, but caseworkers had not found any evidence of wrongdoing, and the investigations had been closed.

On Wednesday morning, October 13, 2010, Elisa Baker appeared in court on the obstruction of justice charge, and the judge set bond on that charge at $40,000. When combined with the additional charges she faced, her total bail amounted to $72,200. Baker's court-appointed attorney, Scott Reilly, indicated that he would file a motion to get her bail reduced.

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