Skull was Zahra’s
For the past 10 months, many have speculated the skull found off Winkler’s Way off N.C. 268 near the Yadkin River was that of Zahra Baker, the 10-year-old Hickory girl whose stepmother killed and dismembered her in late 2010 and then scattered the parts in Caldwell County.
Thursday, the speculation ended with the announcement of DNA test results.
The Hickory Police Department and the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office were notified Wednesday. Family members were notified, along with the Australian Consulate because Zahra's father lives in Australia, before the information was released to the public. The skull will be returned to the family.
The Zahra Baker case garnered worldwide attention. It became personal and disturbing for Jake Icenhour, who owns a 39-acre tract of land off Christie Road where much of the girl's remains, though not the skull, were found. In December 2011, Icenhour put the finishing touches on a memorial dedicated to Zahra Baker’s memory.
“There will be no more sleepless nights. I can move on a bit now,” Icenhour said. “This brings some closure for me. I can move on a bit now.”
The news also prompted Icenhour to expand his memorial to bring more attention to the plight of children who experience physical or psychological abuse at the hands of relatives.
“This site is no longer just for one little girl now,” Icenhour said. “I now have other plans for the site. I want to create a monument for our county and the state of North Carolina, so that we can all be aware there are kids out there in the same boat as Zahra. People need to speak up. If they don’t get involved, how can we help?
The DNA profile that was used to prosecute Zahra’s stepmother, Elisa Baker, in her second-degree murder case also was used to match the skull. The examination did not reveal what caused Zahra’s death.
Zahra had moved to the United States from Australia in 2008 with her father, Adam Baker, and Elisa Baker. Her father reported her missing from the family's home in Hickory Oct. 9, 2010. Three weeks later, law enforcement officers searching a site off Christie Road just outside Hudson found a prosthetic leg later determined to be Zahra's in a brushy area nearby. Two days after finding the leg, investigators found a bone that also proved to be Zahra’s.
Elisa Baker pleaded guilty to charges including second-degree murder in September 2011 in exchange for a sentence of 14 to 18 years in prison. Her plea arrangement encompassed a lengthy list of unrelated charges she was facing in Caldwell and Catawba counties, including obtaining property by false pretenses, identity fraud, bigamy and obstruction of justice. Elisa Baker is still awaiting sentencing in a federal drug conspiracy case involving sales of oxycodone, hydrocodone and alprazolam.
Adam Baker moved back to Australia in March 2012 with the rest of Zahra’s remains after a deportation order was issued by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.