911 Tapes Reveal Stepmother Reported a Fire the Day Zahra Baker Disappeared

Elisa Baker called 911 to report a fire the day Zahra disappeared.

October 15, 2010, 12:52 PM

Oct. 19, 2010— -- The Hickory. N.C., police department today released the tapes of the two 911 calls that Adam and Elisa Baker made, around the time their 10-year-old daughter, Zahra Baker, was reported missing.

WSOC-TV in Charlotte obtained the tape of the first call. On Oct. 9, the day Zahra disappeared, her stepmother, Elisa Baker, reported a fire in the back of the family's home in Hickory.

"My husband works for a tree maintenance company and our backyard is on fire. ... We've got big mulch piles and wood piles ... firewood and stuff," Elisa Baker told the 911 operator.

Police told WSOC-TV that they now believe the fire had been set deliberately, but no one has been charged in connection with the incident.

Eight hours later on the morning of Oct. 10, Adam Baker, 33, made a second 911 call to report his daughter was missing, police said.

"Hey, how are you doing? I need police," Baker said to one dispatcher, before he was transferred to a second dispatcher, who took down his information.

On the tape with the second dispatcher, of which ABC News obtained a recording, Baker can be heard describing how the police had been out to his house the night before on a seemingly different case.

Listen to the full recording of Adam Baker's 911 call HERE.

"The police were out here last night after finding a ransom note for my boss's daughter, I got up a little while ago and it appears they took my daughter instead of my boss's daughter," he told the 911 operator, saying that he last saw his daughter around 2:30 a.m. that night.

"I don't know if they set a fire in the yard to distract us to go out and then they snuck in the door, or, I don't know," he continued. "Somebody had put gas in my company's truck that I drive for work. They left the ransom note on the company vehicle to my boss saying they had his daughter and his son was next."

Later in the call, Baker can be heard chuckling with the dispatcher after he described his daughter's disappearance.

"My daughter's coming into puberty so she's in that brooding stage, so we only see her when she comes out, when she wants something," he said.

A prime suspect in the case, Elisa Baker, 42, is currently being held on an obstruction of justice charge, after police said she admitted to writing the fake ransom note and demanding $1 million in unmarked bills. Her court-appointed attorney said Elisa is "scared to death" and very emotional.Baker continues to deny she had anything to do with Zahra's disappearance.

Adam Baker told the Associated Press on Friday that he is still not sure that his wife was involved in his daughter's disappearance, adding that he just wants to find Zahra and take her back to his family's native Australia.

Hickory police also announced today that they are asking for Zahra's medical records, including the model, serial number and composition of the artificial leg she received from an Australian medical facility. Deputy Police Chief Maj. Clyde Deal told ABC News that this was standard procedure for any case. The 10-year-old had lost her hearing and left leg to cancer.

Authorities confirmed over the weekend that the missing girl was last seen alive on Sept. 25. On that day, the girl and her stepmother visited a Hickory furniture store, said the store's manager, Pat Adams. The AP reported Adams said she went to police after seeing the girl's picture on the news and recalling the visit.

Family Home Searched in Hunt for Zahra Baker

Police believe Zahra is dead and they are searching for a body. They also have continually expanded their search after previous efforts turned up few clues.

"It's a science," said Ernie Allen, president and CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

"They've searched kind of the obvious places nearby," he said. "The approach in cases like this would be to expand the radius."

Local police, aided by teams from area sheriff's offices and NCMEC's Adam Team, which deploys specialized search units, have already combed through the family's home, the wooded areas nearby, and the property where the 10-year-old's father worked.

Hickory police removed three pieces of bedroom furniture on Friday -- including a bed frame, mattress and box springs -- from the house where Zahra Baker lived with her parents, according to the Hickory Record newspaper. Police also carried out two bags of evidence.

Neither area police nor sheriff's offices returned calls seeking comment Friday.

Allen said those searches and the expanded efforts are all based on a profile of the family and Zahra herself -- where they went, who they talked to, what they liked to do.

And in a case like Zahra's, where police aren't sure exactly when she may have been killed, finding "where was the child last seen alive" can pose difficulties.

"Basically, what you're doing is ruling things out," he said.

And "you always hope you are wrong," said Allen. "You hope you don't find a body."

The search for Zahra was reclassified Oct. 12, as a homicide investigation.

In many of the high-profile missing children's cases, such as Chelsea King's or Elizabeth Smart's, the family becomes an ally to authorities.

Reports of Abuse Surface After Zahra Baker Disappears

That's not necessarily the case in Zahra Baker's.

Though Hickory police have told local media that Zahra's father, Adam Baker, had cooperated, he still remains an unofficial suspect for some, along with his wife.

But, Allen noted, "you always look at those closest to the child first."

Since news of Zahra's case went public, neighbors and one relative have come forward to say Elisa Baker had abused the little girl, prompting calls in the North Carolina community for better child protection and reporting of suspected abuse.

"I think there was more behind closed doors than what anybody knew," neighbor Kayla Rotenberry told ABC News. "There was once an incident where Zahra's stepmother was whooping Zahra, and she broke her hand on her prosthetic leg. She said when she was whooping her, she hit that youngin's leg and broke her hand."

The Hickory Record newspaper reported that police there have gotten more than 100 leads from the public and are relying on those tips as well as systematic searches of properties frequented by those who were close to the little girl.

Search dogs have been deployed not only in Catawba County, where Hickory is located, but also in nearby Caldwell and Burke counties, the Record reported today.

Police have also combed through woods and fields, and poured through the family's computers and phone records.

Dogs have found the "presence of human remains" in both of the Bakers' cars, police have said, and "possible blood" was found in one.

ABC News' Yunji de Nies contributed to this story.

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