Authorities working on the Zahra Baker homicide case convened a press conference Wednesday announcing that a prosthetic leg had been found in some brush alongside the road in nearby Caldwell County. According to CNN, police are attempting to ascertain whether or not the leg belonged to the 10-year-old girl who was reported missing on Oct. 9. If so, the leg would be the first tangible evidence that harm might have befallen Zahra Baker and someone had attempted to dispose of or hide her body. Hickory (N.C.) Police have been working under the assumption that Zahra was no longer alive and that her death was the result of a homicide since the third day of the investigation.
Hickory Police chief Tom Adkins told reporters that the prosthetic leg was “consistent with” what they knew of Zahra and her disability. The 10-year-old lost her leg to bone cancer and acquired the prosthesis in Australia, her native country. She also wore hearing aids.
Police were hoping that they would be able to find a match between the artificial leg’s serial number and Zahra Baker’s medical records. Authorities have requested local medical records and reached out to Zahra’s biological mother in Australia in an effort to obtain the little girl’s records from there as well.
Chief Adkins reported that the leg had been found in a brushy area in Caldwell County not far from a former residence of Zahra Baker’s stepmother, Elisa. Elisa Baker was jailed the day after the 10-year-old was reported missing, arrested on over a dozen unrelated charges from outstanding warrants that stretched back over several years.
Hickory Police also returned to the Baker residence Wednesday with a backhoe. Search teams scoured the property, sifting through mulch piles and loads of excavated dirt. Adkins said that “new information” in the case had directed them back to the property.
An investigator was also seen leaving the house with a bag, possibly containing potential evidence in the case.
Unlike the previous trips to the Baker residence in Hickory, Adam Baker was not present for the searches. Although he had remained cooperative throughout the investigation, according to most investigators, he had been arrested early Monday morning on unrelated charges after he was picked up at a nearby international airport. Baker said he was there to pick up a relative flying in from Australia.
Just a couple hours later that same morning, Elisa Baker, Adam’s wife since 2008, was taken from her Catawba County jail cell to accompany investigators to several search areas. Sources noted that, although the searches went to several locations, Elisa never exited the police vehicle in which she was being transported.
Police announced Tuesday that Elisa Baker had begun cooperating with the investigation, something she had not done since Oct. 11, two days after Zahra Baker was reported missing. On that day, she admitted to writing a bogus ransom note that had been found on one of the Bakers’ vehicles parked in their yard. Police labeled her a person of interest in the investigation and the next day, Oct. 12, announced that they would proceed with the case as though it were a homicide investigation.
Hickory Police and various other state and federal law enforcement agencies have been accumulating potential evidentiary material for over two weeks against one, perhaps both, of the Bakers. Although authorities have remained reticent about most of the information gathered, some information has been made public and some information has been reported via various sources.
Search warrants issued for the Baker home in Hickory have produced the alerting of cadaver dogs to both the Baker vehicles. In one of those vehicles, a substance consistent with blood was found and sent off to be tested. Cadaver dogs also were reportedly alerted to a wood chipper and a mulch pile on the property in Burke County where Adam Baker’s employer kept equipment for his tree-trimming business. For several days the past week, investigators spent hours combing through garbage at a nearby landfill, ostensibly looking for a “specific piece of evidence,” a mattress supposedly belonging to Zahra that was discarded recently. Police announced that employees at the Foothill Environmental Landfill in Lenoir found a mattress Tuesday that they believe belonged to the missing girl. Material from the mattress was sent to be tested for DNA evidence.
Authorities have been hampered throughout the investigation by an inability to establish a credible timeline for Zahra Baker’s whereabouts prior to her being reported missing. It wasn’t until employees at a Hickory furniture store came forward to say they saw Zahra in their workplace two weeks before she reportedly disappeared that investigators had information that the 10-year-old had been seen inside of a month. Adding to the problem were reports by relatives that they hadn’t seen the child in weeks and neighbors who had never seen her at all in the three months the Bakers lived in Hickory.
The case has garnered international attention. Zahra Baker’s story of survival in the face of a debilitating disease and possible tragic fate have touched a responsive chord. Reports from neighbors and relatives that the 10-year-old, who was described as always smiling and cheerful, might have been mistreated has generated widespread outrage. Elisa Baker’s attorney has denied any mistreatment took place.
Both Elisa and Adam Baker remain in jail. Elisa, who was also charged with felony obstruction of justice for writing the bogus ransom note, was denied a bond reduction last week. Her daughter, Amber Fairchild, testified for the prosecution and the judge, citing Baker as a potential flight risk, raised the bond $20,000 to $97,200.
Oct. 27 marked the 19th day of the Zahra Baker investigation.
“Prosthetic leg found, believed to belong to missing N. C. girl,” CNN.com