Zahra Baker Case: Police Doubt $1M Ransom Note in Disabled Girl's Disappearance

Police say there are "inconsistencies" in parents' account.

October 5, 2010, 4:48 PM

HICKORY, N.C., Oct. 11, 2010— -- Police revealed new twists in the investigation of missing 10-year-old Zahra Baker today, including the existence of a $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.

The little girl who lost her hearing and her left leg in a childhood battle with cancer was reported missing from her Hickory, N.C., home Saturday afternoon.

Her stopmother, Elisa Baker, has been arrested on charges unrelated to the girl's disappearance.

Former neighbors of the Bakers in Sawmills, N.C., described a troubled relationship between Elisa and Zahra Baker, though they described Zahra as a "normal, happy 10-year-old" with good manners who played well with neighboring children.

Hickory Police Chief Tom Adkins appealed for anyone who has seen the little girl in the last month to step forward, saying that 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 said. "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.

Search warrants for the Bakers' two cars and home contained confounding details, 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 ransom note was discovered on the windshield of Baker's car by officers responding to a fire in the Baker's backyard about 5:30 a.m. However, it wasn't until 2 p.m. that Baker called police to report Zahra missing.

The father told police that someone had poured gasoline in his car during the night and left the ransom note, and that he believes his daughter was taken by whoever threatened Coffey.

Adkins said the police are "questioning the validity of that note" and have received no further demands.

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.

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.

Dad Says Stepmother Possibly Involved

This morning, Adam Baker told "Good Morning America" the girl's stepmother may have been involved in the girl's disappearance.

Elisa Baker was arrested over the weekend on several charges unrelated to her stepdaughter's disappearance. Police said that no one, including Elisa or Adam Baker, has been ruled out as a person of interest in the case.

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

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.

Elisa Baker has "submitted to initial interviews," Adkins said today in a news conference.

Former neighbors in Sawmills described the stepmother to ABC News as a stern and cold parent.

"Just the way she yelled and screamed at her, and I did see her hit the child a couple of times," said one former neighbor, Renee Bobbitt, who claimed Zahra once was 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.

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

"She had perfect manners," she told reporters. "I mean, she used to come to my house and play with my girls. She was a great kid."

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."

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

Cops: Longer Girl's Missing, Less Chance of Survival

Adam Baker said he was dealing with firefighters during the fire Saturday morning and did not know Zahra was missing until Elisa Baker came to him in a panic later. Zahra was gone with her prosthetic leg, but her hearing aid remained.

"She didn't know very much. She came out crying and panicking. She told me Zahra was gone," Baker told "GMA." Baker said he searched the house and then the block before calling the police.

"I think just about every officer in Hickory came to the house," the father said before getting overcome with emotion. "I just hope I can get my daughter back. I miss her so much."

Since Zahra was homeschooled, police are depending on interviews with neighbors and surveillance footage from local businesses in order orroborate the Bakers' timeline of events, police said. They're also trying to work up what "Zahra's life looked like before her disappearance."

"We think it's an important part of the investigation," Adkins said.

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.

Police issued an Amber Alert Saturday and, along with the FBI and U.S. Marshals, have been searching the neighborhood and surrounding woods.

"Obviously, the longer that we go without knowing where she is, the less of a chance she's going to have to survive," Hickory police officer Cory Smith told "GMA" Sunday. "So we need to do all we can to find her as soon as possible."

Other Hickory residents told "GMA" the family was new to the small neighborhood. Over the weekend, a boy asked police the question that had been on everyone's mind.

"How'd she get lost?" the boy said looking up at a police officer.

"We don't know, buddy. That's what we're trying to find out," the police officer told him.

Zahra's case marks the second time in recent months that a stepmother has come under scrutiny over the disappearance of a child in her custody.

In June, 7-year-old Kyron Horman vanished from his Oregon school. A massive search for the boy failed to find him, and his father and the boy's mother have accused stepmom Terri Horman of being involved in his disappearance. Terri Horman has not been charged in connection with Kyron's disappearance.

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

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

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