Investigators returned to the wooded area above Morganton, North Carolina, Thursday for a fifth time, according to the Charlotte Observer, in an effort to locate the remains of 10-year-old Zahra Clare Baker, whom authorities now presume to be dead. Authorities are remaining tight-lipped about the investigation, which began after they were alerted to the Baker home Saturday afternoon when the Bakers reported the child missing. The 5-acre property is a owned by an employee of the tree-trimming company that Zahra’s father, Adam Baker, works for and is where company machinery and a wood chipper is stored. Adam Baker reportedly would have had access to the property.
The search turned up nothing for a fifth time. Over 50 investigators, including law enforcement officers and firemen from various counties, scoured the property. Aided by cadaver dogs, authorities searched the woods, drained a pond, and brought in a bulldozer to move logs and large mulch piles in their search efforts.
David South, speaking for the Burke County Sheriff’s Office, said, “There is not going to be a spot here unturned. I want to find her. I don’t want her to be out here. I want some closure.”
And closure is what many in the community want — for the family and for themselves. The disappearance and possible homicide of 10-year-old Zahra has shaken the small North Carolina community. A vigil was held at the First Baptist Church of Hudson Thursday evening for the missing girl. About 100 people were in attendance.
Zahra Baker, a bone cancer survivor who wore a leg prostheses and hearing aids because of the encroachment of the disease, had attended Hudson Elementary School last year. This year, Caldwell County school officials had been notified that the Zahra was being home-schooled.
Family members have spoken out about Zahra Baker’s alleged mistreatment at the hands of Elisa Baker on several talk shows and in news interviews over the past week, adding weight to speculation that the child has met with some tragic end.
The family moved to Hickory recently and Zahra hasn’t been seen by anyone outside of her immediate family — her father and stepfather — for about a month. Her father, Adam, reported her missing on Saturday afternoon. He told police his wife, Elisa, said she heard the girl cough at 2:30 a.m..
Strangely enough, police had been alerted to the home earlier that morning because of a yard fire. At around 5:00 a.m., police had retrieved a ransom note from the windshield on one of the vehicles parked in the yard. It demanded money from Adam’s boss, Mark Coffey, for his daughter and also threatened the man’s son. Officers were dispatched but found the family safe.
Elisa Baker was arrested Sunday on various charges unrelated to Zahra’s disappearance. However, on Monday, she confessed to writing the ransom note. Search warrants served on the Baker home found samples of what appeared to be blood in one vehicle and cadaver dogs were alerted to the scent of human remains in two of the vehicles. Hickory Police announced Tuesday that they were shifting the focus of the investigation from missing person to that of a homicide investigation.
Cadaver dogs would later also hit on the scent of human remains at the property in Burke County, according to a witness, most noticeably on a wood chipper stored there.
It appears that police have reason to believe that there is something evidentiary to be found at the Burke County property, or they would see no reason to continue returning to search. But if Zahra Clare Baker has been missing for at least a month and her remains were disposed of via a wood chipper, investigators just might have to search through the mulch piece by piece looking for bone fragments, because exposure to the elements and animals and decompositional bacteria might have eliminated all other corporeal evidence.
To date, Adam Baker has not been charged with a crime. He told ABC’s “Good Morning America” Monday that he supposed his wife, Elisa, was capable of doing something to his daughter. He has since gone silent about the matter. Authorities say he was less than cooperative when they searched the Burke County property.
Elisa Baker has been charged with obstruction of justice for writing the ransom note.
No other charges regarding the disappearance of Zahra Baker have been filed.