Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Hunt for Zahra Baker

Autopsy and Charges


In February 2011, an autopsy released by the North Carolina Medical Examiner ruled out the possibility that Zahra had died a natural death, countering Elisa Baker's claims. Noting that many of Zahra's bones were not available for examination, the autopsy concluded that she had died from "undetermined homicidal violence." Her skull, right arm and most of both legs have not been recovered.

Elisa Baker
Elisa Baker

On Monday, February 21, 2011, a grand jury returned a second-degree murder indictment against Elisa Baker stating that she had "a history and pattern of physical, verbal and psychological abuse of the victim." The grand jury also alleged that she had "secreted" Zahra from her relatives prior to the homicide to hinder the investigation and "desecrated (Zahra's) body to hinder detection, investigation and prosecution of the offense."

No charges related to Zahra's disappearance or death have been filed against Adam Baker.

"At this time, the state has no credible evidence to suggest that anyone other than Elisa Baker was involved in the murder of Zahra Clare Baker," Gaither told reporters at a news conference.

Adam Baker also spoke about how he felt regarding the investigation into his daughter's disappearance and death.

"I'm extremely grateful that Hickory police and everybody else has taken their time, gone through everything properly, and come to the conclusion that they should have come to," Adam Baker said to a reporter for WBTV. "I had no involvement with Zahra's death or dismemberment ... Elisa is very manipulative, um, abusive to me. Very controlling. Plus with my work, I was gone first thing in the morning and didn't get home 'til late. Um, was told that Zahra was in bed because Zahra normally went to bed early. I checked every night and from what I could tell she was in bed. It looked like she, something was in bed."

Adam Baker
Adam Baker

He said he believed Zahra would still be alive if he had not brought Elisa into their lives.

"The members of 'Team Zahra' have been working toward this milestone in this case since the first words spoken on the 911 call made on October 9, 2010," Chief Adkins said. "There has not been a day gone by without members of our team thinking about Zahra or this case."

According to a former lawyer of Elisa Baker's, the defendant avoided a possible death penalty case by agreeing to help investigators find Zahra's remains.

She had not entered a plea to the murder charges at the time this story was written. Under heavy guard, she did plead not guilty in May 2011 to two counts of identity theft and two counts of obtaining property by false pretenses, both of which are felonies. In June 2011 she pleaded not guilty to a variety of federal charges that she had distributed and planned to distribute drugs, including oxycodone and hydrocodone.

No trial date has been set on the federal charges, but she is slated to go to trial in August 2011 on the second-degree murder charges. If convicted of the murder charges she could be sentenced up to 30 years in prison. She is being held in the Catawba County Jail without bond. There are still many unanswered questions related to this case that may be answered at trial. Chief Adkins has vowed that his investigators will continue in their search for evidence until the first day of trial.

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