By Calvin Palmer
The stepmother of a 10-year-old cancer survivor who was reported missing at the weekend appeared in court today charged with obstruction of justice.
Elisa Baker, 42, of Hickory, North Carolina, showed no emotion as the charge was read out and was told she could be sentenced to up to 30 months in prison if convicted.
Zahra Claire Baker was reported missing last weekend. Elisa Baker is accused of trying to throw off investigators with a fake ransom note.
The 10-year-old had battled bone cancer, which cost her left leg. She wore a prosthetic but would tell people she lost the leg to an alligator.
Zahra also suffered from impaired hearing and wore hearing aids in both ears.
Cadaver dogs detected the presence of human remains in the cars of Elisa Baker and her husband, Adam Baker, and also at the place where he worked – Real Tree Services in Morganton, but searches have so far have failed to turn up any evidence.
Last night, Hickory police switched the investigation from missing person to homicide.
Neighbors of the Bakers have painted a gloomy picture of the life Zahra led.
Bobby Green, who helped Adam get a job with the tree trimming company, described Zahra’s mother as a mean woman who could not be trusted.
“I think she’s evil,” Green said. “She lied about everything all the time. She had a short fuse, especially with Zahra, because she was jealous of the time she spent with her father.”
Green said Elisa was physically abusive toward her stepdaughter and thinks she is behind Zahra’s disappearance. He also suspects that Adam Baker may also be involved in the crime.
Fred Causby operates Real Tree Services from his home on Hartland Road north of Morganton and hired Baker as a laborer about six months ago.
Describing Elisa Baker, Causby said, ““I think the elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top. She seemed very controlling.”
Family members say they suspect Zahra’s stepmother physically abused her.
Brittany Bentley, of Granite Falls, is married to Elisa Baker’s nephew and said she would have Zahra over for weekends and knew something was wrong.
Zahra “was locked in her room, allowed five minutes out a day to eat, that was it,” Bentley said. “She was beat almost every time I was over there for just the smallest things.
Elisa would get mad. She would take it out on Zahra, things the kid didn’t deserve. She just had a horrible home life.”
Zahra was born in Wagga Wagga, Australia, and moved to North Carolina with her father last year after he met Elisa Baker on the Internet. The couple married in July.
Zahra’s mother lives in Australia but is believed not to have had any contact with her daughter since Zahra was a baby.
An air of revulsion hangs over this story. Zahra deserved a far better fate than the one that has apparently befallen her. If she could not trust and depend on people close to her, whom could she trust? To have battled and survived cancer, no easy feat by any stretch of the imagination, only to fall prey to evil, in whatever human guise, kind of leaves me sick to my stomach at the depths to which some people will descend. And for what?