Zahra Baker Case Now a Homicide Probe; Stepmom Denies Involvement in Disappearance

Stepmother denies she is responsible for disabled girl's disappearance.

October 05, 2010, 4:48 PM

HICKORY, N.C., Oct. 12, 2010— -- The search for missing 10-year-old Zahra Baker was reclassified today as a homicide investigation as a MySpace page believed to belong to the girl's stepmother surfaced showing a picture of the missing girl with the words "The Dark Child!!! lol."

Police Chief Tom Adkins of Hickory, N.C., struggled to keep his composure today as he announced that he was canceling the Amber Alert for the little girl, who had lost her hearing and her left leg in a childhood battle with cancer.

"The decision to focus this investigation from a missing child, or abducted child, will turn into a homicide investigation," Adkins said between long pauses.

He also said that the girl's stepmother, Elisa Baker, who is already in custody on unrelated charges, admitted to police that she wrote a ransom note that was left on one of the Baker's cars Saturday, the day Zhara was reported missing. Police are charging Elisa Baker with felony obstruction of justice, Adkins said, marking the first time she's been charged in connection with her disabled stepdaughter's disappearance.

A lawyer for Elisa Baker said today his client claims she had nothing to do with Zahra's disappearance.

"I spoke to her at 3 a.m. this morning. I went to see her at 7 a.m. this morning. She still hadn't had any sleep," attorney Scott Riley told ABC News' Charlotte affiliate WSOC. "She's very emotional, very upset."

A MySpace page apparently run by Elisa Baker under the username "gothicfairy6668," and is covered in gothic images including a skull and crossbones background. The page, first reported by WBTV, features a slideshow of what appear to be personal photographs including several pictures of the missing girl.

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 welll as photos of her husaband 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."

Commenters have filled the pages with angry tirades against her.

Though the girl was first reported missing on Saturday, police cannot find anyone outside her immediate family that's seen her in the past few weeks and an extensive search -- which included help from federal authorities and volunteers -- has proved fruitless.

"We understand the public wants to help find Zahra. The problem is we cannot confirm with any confidence how long Zahra has been missing," Adkins said. "Without this information, we cannot positively select the area to search for her."

Search warrants for the Bakers' two cars and home contained confounding details in the case, including the discovery of a $1 million ransom note left on one of the family's two vehicles. The note, however, was not addressed to Zahra's parents but to her father's boss, Mark David Coffey.

"Mr. Coffey, you like being in control who is in control now we have your daughter and your pot smoking red head son is next unless you do what is asked 1,000,000 unmarked will be in touch soon [sic]," read handwriting on the note, according to the warrant.

"No cops" was also written twice on the note.

Coffey reportedly owns the property on which the Bakers live and was present the day Zahra was reported missing.

"The police have told me that we're not actually involved," Coffey told ABC News today. "They feel like the ransom note was just a distraction. You know, that my family is not in any imminent danger.

"Just pray for the little girl and let's pray that, you know, we can find her alive," he said. "She was a sweet little girl -- is a sweet little girl."

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

Relative, Neighbors Claim Zahra Baker Was Abused by Stepmother

Brittany Bentley, a relative of Zahra's, said today 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.

Former neighbors in nearby Sawmills, N.C., also described Elisa Baker to ABC News as a stern and cold parent to Zahra.

"Just the way she yelled and screamed at her, and I did see her hit the child a couple of times," one former neighbor, Renee Bobbitt, told ABC News. Bobbitt also claimed Zahra was once sent to school with black eyes.

"I should have called and said something then," Bobbitt added. "I wish I had've a million times, 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. And it's just unreal what was going on."

Kayla Rotenberry, who lived next to the Bakers for about a year in Sawmills, said Elisa Baker would force Zahra to walk long distances on her prosthetic leg, threatening punishment if she slowed down.

Rotenberry's fiance, Bobby Green, said he sensed Elisa Baker "was jealous of Zahra because she got more attention from Adam, her dad, than Elisa did."

As for Zahra, Rotenberry said, she "was the best young'un you could ever ask for."

"That poor little girl," Rotenberry said today. "She never had a mom. All she wanted was a mom, and then she got one that was crazy."

Police revealed new twists in the investigation of Zahra's disappearance Monday, including the existence of the $1 million ransom note, positive dog alerts for human remains in cars belonging to both of her parents, and doubts about the parents' timeline dating back as far as a month.

Adkins appealed for anyone who has seen the little girl in the last month to step forward, saying the parents' timeline of events had "inconsistencies." Because the girl was homeschooled, police said they're having trouble contacting anyone other than her parents who saw her recently.

"At this point in the investigation, we are having a very difficult time establishing a true timeline," Adkins told reporters Monday. "We are running out of time, folks. The longer this thing goes, the likelihood this outcome will not be positive. So we need help. ... This is going all over the place.

"We need teachers, we need doctors, we need store clerks. We need anyone that has seen this girl in the last week, in the last month, anything that they feel is important for us to know," he said.

The warrant also revealed that a search dog gave a "positive alert for the presence of human remains in or on both vehicles" belonging to Elisa and Adam Baker.

Dad Says Stepmother Possibly Involved

Investigators seized several items from the Baker home, including two gas cans, burn samples from the morning fire and drug paraphernalia, the warrant states. Two samples of "possible blood" were taken from one of the cars, according to a warrant.

Adam Baker told "Good Morning America" Monday that the girl's stepmother may have been involved in the girl's disappearance.

When asked if he believed his wife was involved in Zahra's disappearance, Baker said, "I wouldn't like to think so. It's kind of what I've heard so far. It could be possible."

Police have said that no one, including Elisa or Adam Baker, has been ruled out as a person of interest in the case.

Zahra had attended a local elementary school for fourth grade, but did not report to school this year. Instead, the school received a call and was told the child would be homeschooled this year, a Caldwell School District official told ABC News Monday.

Adam Baker said that because of his work schedule he hadn't seen his daughter since Thursday night.

Elisa Baker has been arrested on charges of making threats, writing bad checks, larceny and driving with a revoked driver's license, according to The Associated Press. She is being held on $31,500 bond.

The Hickory Police department requests that anyone with information regarding the case call the station at (828) 328-5551.

ABC News' Michael S. James, Emily Stanitz and Scott Hanson contributed to this report.

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