Relatives of missing 10-year-old Zahra Clare Baker appeared on CBS’ “Early Show’ Tuesday, revealing that the home life of the disabled little girl was “miserable.” Authorities announced Tuesday that the bulk of the investigation would concentrate on the case as a homicide. Although it could not be ruled out completely that Zahra Baker wasn’t kidnapped (the police had found a ransom note at the girl’s house), evidence obtained from warrants and inconsistencies in the stories of Elisa Backer, Zahra’s stepmother, indicated that foul play might have been involved in the disappearance.
Brittany Bentley, who is married to Elisa Baker’s nephew, told “Early Show” host Maggie Rodriguez that she suspected the stepmother. “Elisa had something to do with it,” she said. “I just think this is something for a long time that we knew was going to happen — everybody that was close to the family.”
Zahra Clare Baker, who wears hearing aids and a leg prosthesis as a result of her battles with bone cancer, was reported missing early Saturday morning after Hickory (N. C.) Police responded to a yard fire at the Baker house. They found a ransom note attached to the windshield of a family vehicle, addressed to the employer of Adam Baker, Zahra’s father, demanding ransom money and threatening to abduct another child if the demands weren’t met. It was then that the Baker’s reportedly realized that Zahra was missing.
Adam Baker told authorities that Elisa Baker told him that she had last seen Zahra at 2:30 a.m. The fire was reported at 5:00 a.m.
But subsequent search warrants have led Hickory Police investigators to doubt the validity of the stories they’ve been told. There has been no follow-up to the ransom note. Neighbors and relatives have not seen Zahra Baker for at least a couple weeks. Cadaver dogs sensed human remains in the family’s vehicles.
And Elisa Baker, arrested Sunday on several non-related charges, confessed Monday to writing the ransom note herself.
Bentley also told a horrified Rodriguez that Zahra Baker was allegedly abused. “She was locked in her room,” Bentley said, “allowed five minutes to eat, that was it. She was beaten almost every time I was over there for just — just the smallest things. Lisa would get mad and take it out on Zahra — things the kid didn’t deserve. She just had a horrible home life. One time, I remember she had a black eye and she said it was from the door. But we all knew, suspected it was from Elisa.”
Bentley’s allegations were corroborated by a former neighbor of the Baker’s. Renee Bobbitt told ABC News, “Just the way she yelled and screamed at her, and I did see her hit the child a couple of times.”
Bobbitt said she regretted not reporting Baker’s actions. “I wish I had’ve a million times,” she said, “because no child deserves anything like this. And it’s really got the whole neighborhood upset because we all loved the child. She would play with our kids and she was just the normal, happy 10-year-old.”
Brittany Bentley’s mother, Kim Drum, told the “Early Show” she suspected Elisa Baker from the beginning. “I knew it from the moment my father had called and told me — this is Elisa.”
She said that too many aspects of Elisa Baker’s story had bothered her. Drum said that police had found Zahra Baker’s hearing aids but not her prosthetic leg. She said Zahra never went to bed with the prosthetic on.
Adam Baker reportedly has been cooperating with the investigation and has not been charged. Elisa Baker has been charged with obstruction of justice due to the fraudulent ransom note but has not been cooperative.
As to why, if Zahra Clare Baker’s home life was such an ordeal, nothing was done to intercede on the 10-year-old’s behalf, Brittany Bentley allowed that the DSS (North Carolina Division of Social Services) had been notified and had responded. “I don’t know how much was done,” Bentley said. “But yes, it was reported.”
But Zahra Baker’s disposition did not reflect her home life. Drum said, “She was a happy child. … She was an amazing child. She was never angry, depressed. Always happy. Always loving. So I didn’t understand. The only time I ever saw any anger in her is when she would come stay with us on the weekends. When it was time for her to leave, she would just get mad. ‘I hate you, I hate you.’ I explained to her mother, I understand why, because she didn’t want to go home. Because her home life was miserable.”
Police have had difficulty in their search for the missing girl because of not being able to pinpoint exactly when she went missing. Although an Amber Alert was issued soon after Zahra Baker was discovered missing, it was canceled Tuesday when police announced that the investigation was focusing on the possibility of homicide.
Even Adam Baker has admitted that his wife might have had something to do with the disappearance of his daughter. “I wouldn’t like to think so,” he told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “It’s kind of what I’ve heard so far. It could be possible.”
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