The Hunt for Zahra Baker
The tragic plight of freckle-faced 10-year-old Zahra Clare Baker had begun well before Saturday, October 9, 2010, when, at approximately 5:20 a.m., the Hickory, N.C., fire department arrived at a residence on the 21st Avenue Northwest block in response to a small grass fire in the backyard of the home. The fire was reported by Elisa Baker, 42, a resident of the house. She said she had spotted the flames upon getting out of bed that morning. She and her husband, Adam Baker, observed the firefighters at work as they extinguished what proved to be a burning mulch pile.
A few minutes later Officer Rollins of the Hickory Police Department arrived at the home after being called by one of the fireman. According to official documents, a fireman had observed that the passenger side doors of a silver 1996 Chevrolet Tahoe at the scene bearing North Carolina license plates were open and that a Duke Energy business envelope was located on the vehicle's front windshield. When Rollins approached the Tahoe, he could smell gasoline fumes coming from inside it and saw that the Duke Energy envelope had handwriting on it. When he examined it, he saw that the handwriting said [punctuation added], "Mr. Coffey, you like being in control. Now who is in control? We have your daughter and your pot smoking red head son is next unless you do what is asked. 1,000,000 unmarked. Will be in touch soon." Also written at the top and bottom of the note was, "No cops." Rollins noted that a burgundy Toyota Camry was also parked on the property. It, too, bore North Carolina plates.
Mark Coffey, Rollins subsequently learned, owned the house at which the Bakers resided, and the Bakers rented it from him. The Chevrolet Tahoe in fact belonged to Adam Baker. Rollins and others contacted Coffey and his daughter at the home that morning, and both appeared to be fine despite the threatening intimations of the poorly-written note. Labeling the grass fire as arson, Rollins and the firemen left the home a short time later after learning that Coffey was Adam Baker's boss. Initially, authorities didn't know what to make of the strange note at that time.