Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Hunt for Zahra Baker

Black Eye, Bruises, Beatings

According to the Daily News, employees at a Hickory furniture store had seen Zahra with her stepmother on September 25, 2010. It was possibly the last time she had been seen by anyone other than her parents. Workers remembered seeing Zahra in part because they had noticed her prosthetic leg, and had heard Elisa Baker refer to her by her name. One of the store's managers said that Zahra had watched cartoons on television while there.

"As I walked past, I touched her on the shoulder," floor manager Pat Adams said. "She just looked up at me and smiled."

Cell phone photo of Zahra with possible black eye.
Cell phone photo of Zahra with possible black eye.

Meanwhile, a photo of Zahra that had been taken by a family friend on a cell phone on August 9, 2010—the last day the family friend ever saw Zahra—surfaced. It depicted a visible bruise beneath her right eye, according to ABC News. Elisa Baker at first had not wanted the friend to take the photo, but the friend had insisted because Zahra had appeared down and the friend had thought the photo might help cheer her up. The friend said she hadn't thought much about the bruise at the time because Zahra's stepmother had been always complaining that Zahra was clumsy.

A former neighbor said that Zahra had frequently had bruises, but that her stepmother always had an explanation for them.

"It's always she fell down, or she rolled out of bed, or she didn't have her leg on right and couldn't walk right and fell," the former neighbor said. "It's always Zahra's fault for her injuries."

According to Brittany Bentley, a relative of the missing girl, Zahra "was beat almost every time I was over there for just the smallest things." Bentley said the beatings were carried out by Elisa Baker.

"Elisa would get mad, she would take it out on Zahra, things the kid didn't deserve," Bentley said on CBS's The Early Show. "She just had a horrible home life."

According to Bentley, Zahra had been kept locked in her bedroom most of the day and was only let out for about five minutes to eat. She said that nearly everyone close to the family believed Zahra's disappearance had been inevitable, that it "was something...we knew was going to happen."

District Attorney Jay Gaither
District Attorney Jay Gaither

Former neighbors, including Renee Bobbitt, described Elisa Baker as a cold and harsh parent to the little girl.

"Just the way she yelled and screamed at her, and I did see her hit the child a couple of times," Bobbitt said. She said Zahra had been sent to school once with black eyes, prior to school officials being notified that Zahra would be home schooled. "I should have called and said something then. I wish I had a million times, because no child deserves anything like this. It's really got the whole neighborhood upset because we all loved the child."

"I think the images you see, the smile, a handicapped girl that age, is just emotionally upsetting," District Attorney Jay Gaither said. "Law enforcement doesn't show it, but I think that they are affected by it."

Gaither said the investigation was a "very emotional time" for the law enforcement community.

At one point it was reported by ABC News that Elisa Baker's MySpace page featured a slideshow that included several photos of Zahra. The caption for one of Zahra's photos read, "The Dark Child!!!lol."

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