HICKORY — Zahra Baker's stepmother claims she found the little girl dead after an illness that lasted some two weeks, and decided in a panic to get rid of the child's body instead of reporting the death, family members say.
Two relatives told the Observer the Bakers didn't take Zahra to a hospital and might have feared authorities because Zahra's father, Adam Baker, is in the country illegally, and because social workers had investigated her stepmother, Elisa Baker. The two relatives spoke on the condition of anonymity, and authorities won't comment on the allegations.
The family members' comments offer the first explanation of how the 10-year-old girl might have died and why her body was dismembered and discarded.
"She told me the whole time, every time I've visited her, that she did not kill Zahra. She found her dead," said another family member, Kathy Fairchild, who is a cousin of Elisa Baker.
Fairchild says she has visited Elisa Baker in jail three times and received several letters from her. No one has been charged in Zahra's death, but Elisa Baker has been jailed because police say she admitted writing a phony ransom note in the case.
Authorities confirmed for the Observer that Zahra's father is in the country illegally. He moved to the United States with his daughter in 2008 from their native Australia, where Adam and Elisa Baker had married after an online romance.
The Bakers might have stayed away from medical authorities and other officials because they feared Adam and Zahra could be deported if their immigration status were discovered, according to one of the relatives who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Search warrant documents released Tuesday say Elisa had not yet divorced her prior husband at the time she married Adam. So it's unclear whether their Australian marriage is legitimate.
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