When Zahra Baker and her father left Australia to come to America, the future appeared bright and promising. However, life quickly became bleak and dangerous, especially for 8-year-old Zahra. Rather than gaining a sense of security from the newly completed family, Adam Baker’s marriage quite literally divided members, one in particular, in the most gruesome of ways.
No matter what challenges life threw at Zahra Baker, the spunky little girl managed to beat them all. Due to her extensive health struggles, one would think that they would prove the foreboding obstacle. They weren’t. There was something darker and even more sinister lurking. In an unjust twist of fate, one of the closest people in Zahra’s life cut her perseverance short, committing one of the evilest and most demented acts North Carolina had ever seen.
New Horizons and an Optimistic Future for the Zahra Baker Family.
Being a single parent is difficult. Single parent to a child with extensive health challenges, even more so. Such was the plight of Adam Baker, father of 8-year-old Zahra Baker. According to an article by Bernard Lagan of The Sydney Morning Herald, he braved the wilds of internet dating in search of a woman who would complete his family, becoming a wife to him and a mother to his child. Greig Johnston of The New Daily reports that Zahra’s mother, Emily Dietrich, gave Adam Baker custody of their daughter when the postnatal depression got the better of her, leaving him alone to raise her. In 2008, Adam was sure that marriage to Elisa would fill the gap. He and Zahra packed their bags and made the journey from Australia to North Carolina, USA.
The Sydney Morning Herald describes Hickory, North Carolina, as a town with a reputation for providing refuge to children battling illness. Though an unassuming and undeniably humble place made up of churches, bungalows, and wooded stretches, Hickory made its mark on history back in 1944.
The arrival of a polio epidemic threatened to devastate children by the hundreds. Parents of little ones were left in a state of paralyzed fear with nowhere to turn. After couldn’t finding no refuge in the overcrowded hospital in Charlotte. Hickory seized the opportunity by building the hospital in record time. This throwing open doors for all the untreated polio victims.
Doctors from around the US traveled to North Carolina to lend a hand in treating the children, making for a redemptive outcome to a frightening situation. It would seem stepping into the arms of a town with the such great history of caring for children would have been a stroke of good luck for Zahra. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Elisa Fairchild Angel or Devil?
To say that Zahra Baker endured more pain and suffering at age 8 than anyone can endure in a lifetime is an understatement.
She’d defied the odds, maintaining a sunny demeanor despite the disadvantages hemming her in on all sides. The daycare workers who watched her while Zahra’s father worked in CSR’s Invicta sugar mill in Giru, Australia, said she seemed well taken care of and loved by Adam Baker and his mother.
In July of 2008, Adam Baker wed Elisa Fairchild after a courtship based solely on internet communication and the avatars with which they’d chosen to represent themselves. Adam’s avatar was a black creature with bat wings. Elisa was a fairy with red angel wings. One would think that the crossbones and song “Living Dead Girl” adorning her MySpace page might cause concern. Yet, they didn’t deter Adam, who invited her to Giru for a small matrimonial ceremony in his parent’s front yard. Much to the chagrin of his mother, Karen Baker, Adam swiftly ushered his newly assembled family off to the US soon after the wedding, leaving her in the question of his whereabouts. This was the first of many ways Elisa would divide the Baker family. The following way would involve Zahra.
Tough Circumstances Made Worse for Zahra Baker
As if the absence of Zahra’s birth mother, her battle with cancer, her disability, and being swept away from her home country weren’t disruptive enough, things had room to grow significantly worse for the child. Her father’s internet marriage rapidly went South within the first year. The family got evicted from the home in 2009, which they shared with Elisa’s father due to Elisa’s alleged drug use, forcing them to move to Granite Falls.
The turbulence of Adam and Elisa Baker’s marriage made a cozy home impossible for Zahra. According to The Sydney Morning Herald, Shirley Mims, the Baker’s landlady, reported constant violence in their apartment. “They would come and go, all day, all night, everything.” The following observations were even more chilling: “The little girl was never with them. We kept hearing all these noises in the attic. I truly believe that’s where she was. In my heart that’s where she was because, when they moved, we didn’t hear the noises anymore. Later on, my husband went to the attic and noticed that some boards had been moved and there was a sheet hanging there.” The first hint that something was wrong, perhaps?
Elisa’s Baker Bad Reputation
Added to the apparent unrest at home, Elisa’s reputation as a compulsive liar only added to her suspected unsuitability to be raising Zahra. According to a 60 Minutes Australia video, those who knew her described her as cunning and prone to lying since childhood. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, a friend of the Baker family reported that Eliza claimed that she was a former police officer who had been shot and killed while on duty.
On top of that, Elisa had kept the fact that she’d been married 6 times before and was still wed to the husband before Adam Baker a secret. One of her ex-husbands, who Elisa claimed was only a friend, ended up living in the same trailer park as the Baker’s. Elisa would have won a gold medal if sabotaging the newly-formed family’s chances of survival were an Olympic sport. Since Zahra remained sequestered mainly out of sight during this time, one is left to speculate about the torment experienced by spunky, disabled Zahra amidst such chaos.
The Disappearance and Death of Zahra Baker
In 2010, the police received a phone call from Adam Baker: Zahra had gone missing. However, the case didn’t remain as a search for a stray child for long.
Naturally, the police immediately interrogated the family.
News portal The Sydney Morning Herald relays Adam Baker’s unnerving response to the situation. Ten days passed before he realized that his daughter was missing. When he did call the police, his words were straight to the point: “Ah, yeah, my daughter is missing.” That was it. That is hardly the response expected of a concerned father. He dared to chuckle when asked how he could have been ignorant of the child’s disappearance for over a week. “My daughter is, I think, coming into puberty … ’cause she is hitting that brooding stage, so we only see her when she comes out when she wants something. And that’s about it.” Creepy? Just a little.
Then there was Elisa Baker’s testimony. She claimed that she’d left Zahra unattended at home while she ran to the store. In a disturbing interview with Liz Hayes of 60 Minutes Australia, Elisa Baker said that Zahra wasn’t breathing when she arrived back at the trailer. She claimed that she administered CPR for 30 minutes while pleading for God not to let Zahra die. When asked by Hayes why she didn’t call 911 immediately, she responded that she was afraid and had never been in that sort of situation before. Well, Elisa, not many people have.
Zahra was in remission at the time, but her stepmother insisted that she finally succumbed to her childhood illness. Her claim held little weight due to the brutal state of affairs. According to Elisa’s lawyer, it would take a jury of 5 minutes to name her guilty, so overwhelming was the evidence against her.
Elisa Baker Capable of Dismemberment? Murder?
The question of who dismembered Zahra before scattering her remains in all directions caused inconsistencies within Elisa Baker’s story to surface. At one point, Elisa blamed her husband for cutting his daughter into pieces. However, The New Daily records Elisa saying that she’d thought that another individual, who cannot be named, was taking a shower in the bathroom at her home when this person was chopping Zahra into pieces. “I thought [the person] was taking a shower because I could hear water running,” she said. I had no idea. God, I had no idea.”
Elisa’s history as a fibber lent little credibility to her claim.
Witness accounts regarding Elisa’s treatment of her stepdaughter supported the suspicion that she might be wicked enough to commit such crimes.
Eliza Baker’s Attitude Towards Her Stepdaughter
The Sydney Morning Herald records the testimony of Tanya Hfner, a mother of four children and neighbor to the Baker’s. Hfner claimed that she and other neighbors saw Elisa marching Zahra up and down the hill on which their trailer was parked on multiple occasions, scolding her all the way. “We heard Elisa cuss her up and down the hill and make fun of her about her leg,” Hefner recalled. “‘Oh, you think you’re so good. I think you should get that limp out of your leg. You need to get up that hill.’ Smack. ‘Walk faster.’ It was awful.” Two of Zahra’s teachers also presented concerns when the child arrived in class with a black eye. The autopsy of her remains also revealed traces of broken ribs in her early childhood.
Condemning as these accounts appeared, Elisa Baker once again presented a thoroughly contradictory view of her relationship with her stepdaughter. “She got no different treatment than my other kids did,” Elisa stated in her interview with Hayes. “Actually, my other kids got jealous of her because I treated her better,” Elisa added with a raspy chuckle. Eliza indeed treated Zahra as her own, whom, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, she accused of neglect.
Prison Interview with Elisa Baker
To uncover the disturbing details of Zahra’s murder, 60 Minutes Australia’s Liz Hayes traveled to the North Carolina Women’s Prison. Eliza Baker was kept there in isolation to be interviewed. As the most despised inmate by her peers, solitary living is the only way to keep her safe. The interview turned out to be intimidating and perplexing as Eliza looked at Hayes with deep brown eyes, her mouth often twisted in what looked like remorse.
However, it’s hard to tell due to her lying and manipulative tendencies. Elisa’s answers to why tracking her husband’s cell phone placed him nowhere near where Zahra’s body was scattered or whether or not she had signed a document admitting she’d abused her stepdaughter were messy and inconsistent. She also stuck to her story that Adam was to blame.
When asked why, if she knew her husband was guilty of what happened to Zahra, she hadn’t called the police. Elisa’s answer was simple: “He was my husband.” Hayes hesitated for a few moments in disbelief before responding. “Please. That’s not good enough. It’s not.” Elisa demurely agreed with the reporter. When Hayes went on to ask her what kind of a person would put a child through such a diabolical ordeal, Elisa’s answer appeared contrite: “An evil person… nights are hard and I miss her.”
Zahra Baker was at Peace
Narrowing down Zahra’s murder to her closest family members was relatively black and white. Yet, due to contradictory claims and a refusal to admit guilt, vast, gray areas of enigma remained. This left the depth and details of what truly happened out of reach, even with Elisa Baker behind bars. Nothing could untangle the demented reasoning behind an unreasonable situation.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the Baker residence, including Zahra’s pink room, was ravaged in an attempt to find further information about the disturbing and enigmatic events within those walls. Many locals voiced a desire to see it destroyed. Considering the evil the place had endured, who could blame them?
He erected a permanent memorial to Zahra with weathered teddy bears, flowers, and a sign that read “Safe at home with Jesus.”
Nothing could bring Zahra back or undo the horrendous suffering she endured in her young and short life. But, at long last, the little girl who had a safe moment scarcely in her entire life was at peace.