Zahra Baker Case: Father Arrested on Unrelated Charges

Police following new lead in search for missing 10-year-old, presumed dead.

October 15, 2010, 12:52 PM

Oct. 25, 2010— -- The father of missing North Carolina 10-year-old Zahra Baker was arrested early today on charges unrelated to the disabled girl's disappearance, including assault with a deadly weapon.

Adam Baker, 33, was arrested at 3:12 a.m. on five counts of worthless checks, two counts of communicating threats, one count of assault with a deadly weapon and one count of failure to return rental property. Adam Baker was taken into custody while at the Hickory Police station after voluntarily coming in to give a statement, a police official told ABC News.

Zahra, who lost her left leg and hearing in a childhood battle with cancer, was reported missing on Oct. 9, the same day a $1 million ransom note was found on their property. Zahra's stepmother, Elisa Baker, was arrested the next day on unrelated charges but eventually admitted she penned the ransom note, police said last week. She has been charged with felony obstruction of justice.

Police embarked on a new, "promising" search today for Zahra's remains on property less than a mile from a home where Elisa Baker lived three years ago, an investigator told WSOC. It's the latest target of a search that expanded quickly from the Baker's home to the surrounding area, to a wood chipper and mulch piles at the end of a dead end street, to old family homes and, most recently, to a landfill roughly 20 miles from the Bakers' current home.

Investigators concluded the landfill search Friday without finding a specific piece of evidence they were looking for: a mattress that belonged to Zahra. Police had hoped the mattress would provide DNA evidence in the case, WSOC reported.

Last week, Elisa Baker's bond was raised from $40,000 to $65,000 by a judge who cited "disturbing and unsettling" allegations surrounding the obstruction of justice charge. During the bond hearing, Elisa Baker's adult daughter, Amber Fairchild, took the stand to say that she feared her mother.

Adam Baker was being held on $7,000 bail at the county jail, police said. It wasn't clear if he has a lawyer.

Outside of Zahra's parents, who said they last saw her in bed the morning she went missing, authorities have only been able to find a single witness, a furniture store owner, who said they had seen the girl in the past few weeks.

Hickory police said that early in the investigation Adam Baker was cooperating fully, but county officials remained suspicious of him.

"He seems concerned. I don't know how sincere his concern is," Burke County Sheriff John McDevitt said days after Zahra disappeared. When asked if he believed Adam Baker, McDevitt said, "I don't."

Adam Baker Contradicts Statements in 911 Call

Last week police released two 911 calls made by Zahra's father, Adam Baker, and stepmother on the same day their daughter was reported missing.

In the first call, obtained by WSOC, Elisa Baker reports that a fire has broken out in the family's back yard.

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," a seemingly calm Adam Baker said to one dispatcher, before he was transferred to a second dispatcher, who took down his information.

On a recording of the second call obtained by ABC News, Adam Baker said that the last time he saw his daughter was at 2:30 that Saturday morning. But two days later on "Good Morning America," Adam Baker said that because of his work schedule, he hadn't seen the girl since Thursday. The girl's stepmother, Elisa Baker, was the last one to see her alive at 2:30 a.m. on Saturday, Adam Baker said.

Adam Baker has said that it is possible Elisa Baker was involved in his daughter's disappearance.

Baker can be heard on the call describing how the police had been out to his house the night before on a seemingly different case.

"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.

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

"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."

It was that ransom note that Elisa Baker admitted to writing, in order to throw off the investigation, police said.

Later in the call, Baker chuckles 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.

Through her court-appointed attorney, Elisa Baker continues to deny she had anything to do with Zahra's disappearance.

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 Associated Press reported Adams said she went to police after seeing the girl's picture on the news and recalling the visit.

MySpace Page, Search Warrant Could Offer Clues

A MySpace page apparently run by Elisa Baker under the username "gothicfairy6668" was covered in gothic images including a skull and crossbones background, before it was taken down. The page, first reported last week by WBTV, features a slideshow of what appear to be personal photographs, including several pictures of the missing girl. The caption of one image of Zahra reads, "The Dark Child!!!lol"

Much of the biographical information on the page coincides with that of Elisa Baker, from the user's age of 42, her husband's name Adam, as well as photos of her husband and Zahra.

The last time the user logged on was Oct. 8, the day before Zahra was reported missing. In the "Details" section of the page, the user wrote that she's a "proud parent." Under "Mood," she wrote "crazy."

While executing search warrants for the Bakers' two cars and home, police recovered possible blood samples, samples of the materials burned in the fire as well as drug paraphernalia.

Police are looking into claims by a relative and former neighbors that Zahra was physically abused by her stepmother before she vanished.

A photograph of missing 10-year-old Zahra Baker with a bruise under her eye surfaced earlier this month in which the girl has what family friend Brandy Stapleton called a visible bruise under her eye.

Stapleton said she took the photo, obtained exclusively by ABC News, on Aug. 9 -- the last day she saw the little girl.

Stapleton said on the day she took the picture of Zahra, the child seemed down and so she thought a picture could cheer her up. Baker initially told her not to take the picture, Stapleton said, because Zahra's eye was bruised. But Stapleton insisted because she wanted to see the little girl smile.

At the time, Stapleton said she didn't think much of the bruise because Zahra's stepmother would often say her daughter was clumsy.

Bobby Green, a former neighbor, told reporters last week that Zahra frequently had bruises but that Elisa Baker would always explain them away. "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. It's always Zahra's fault, for her injuries," Green said.

Brittany Bentley, a relative of Zahra's, said the girl "was beat almost every time I was over there for just the smallest things" by her stepmother.

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

Bentley, who is married to Elisa Baker's nephew, said Zahra was locked in her room most of the day and only allowed out for five minutes to eat.

"I just think this was something for a long time that we knew was going to happen, everybody that was close to the family," Bentley said, apparently referring to Zahra's disappearance.