Oct. 27, 2010 -- Investigators have discovered a prosthetic leg that matches the description of the one worn by missing disabled girl Zahra Baker, police announced today.
The leg was discovered in a "brushy area," but was not buried, off a road in Caldwell County, N.C., late Tuesday afternoon, Hickory Police Chief Tom Adkins said in a news conference. The find was made a few miles from a former home of Zahra's stepmother, Elisa Baker.
"The prosthetic leg is consistent with what Zahra's would be like," the chief said.
He said police were determined to find out what happened to the 10-year-old girl.
"We will continue to follow every lead and every tip we receive in hopes that we can come to some kind of conclusion to this investigation and bring peace to Zahra," Adkins told reporters.
Zahra, who was reported missing by her parents on Oct. 9, lost her left leg and hearing in a childhood battle with bone cancer. Elisa Baker was taken into custody on unrelated charges soon after police began searching for the little girl. A $1 million ransom note was discovered on the Bakers' property on Oct. 9, a note Elisa Baker later admitted to writing. She has since been charged with felony obstruction of justice.
The announcement concerning the leg came just hours after police said that Elisa Baker had begun providing them information in the search for Zahra.
Hickory police announced ealier today they had seized a mattress discovered in a Caldwell County landfill that they believe was used by Zahra. The mattress had DNA evidence investigators plan to test, police said in a statement.
Zahra's father, Adam Baker, was taken into custody on Monday on several charges unrelated to his daughter's disappearance.
After 17 days of wide-spread searching based on several leads, police have not publicly revealed any major clues about the girl's location until today.
Police are working to ensure the leg is the one used by the girl whom they believe is dead.
Police returned to the Bakers' home today, but Adkins would only say "information" led them back to the home where the mysterious case began.
Zahra Baker's Father, Adam Baker, Taken Into Custody
Zahra's father, Adam Baker, was arrested Monday on charges unrelated to the disabled girl's disappearance. He was charged with 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 Monday.
Police embarked on a new, "promising" search Monday 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 to a landfill roughly 20 miles from the Bakers' current home.
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 disappeared, authorities have only been able to find a single witness, a furniture store owner, who said they had seen the girl in the weeks before she was reported missing.
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 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.
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.
Relatives, Neighbors Claim Abuse
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.
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.
ABC News' Yunji de Nies contributed to this report.