Elisa Baker, the prime suspect in the death of her stepdaughter Zahra Baker, was charged Monday with murder as an autopsy concluded that the 10-year-old Hickory girl died from "undetermined homicidal violence."
The autopsy, released Monday afternoon by the N.C. Medical Examiner, rules out the possibility that Zahra died a natural death, as Elisa Baker has claimed. It notes that many of the girl's bones were not present for the examination.
Also Monday, for the first time, social service agencies in Catawba and Caldwell counties acknowledged they had investigated four complaints that Zahra was being mistreated - but never found evidence of "maltreatment or child safety issues."
The last DSS investigation was closed six weeks before authorities say Zahra was killed by her stepmother on Sept. 24.
Zahra wasn't reported missing until Oct. 9 - and became the subject of a massive search that gained attention worldwide as people saw photos of the girl's smiling face and heard the story of her difficult life and shocking dismemberment. Zahra survived cancer, lost a leg, lived with a hearing impairment.
On Monday, a grand jury returned a second-degree murder indictment against Elisa Baker, 42, who has been jailed since October, charged with obstruction for writing a phony ransom note to make it appear Zahra had been kidnapped.
The indictment says Baker had "a history and pattern of physical, verbal and psychological abuse of the victim." Grand jurors also allege that Elisa Baker had "secreted" Zahra from her family before the killing to delay detection of the crime. She also "desecrated (Zahra's) body to hinder detection, investigation and prosecution of the offense."
No charges have been filed against Zahra's father, Adam Baker, 33.
Authorities announced the murder charge at a news conference Monday, closing a wrenching chapter in an unprecedented death investigation for Hickory and its police department.
"The members of 'Team Zahra' have been working toward this milestone in this case since the first words spoken on the 911 call made on October 9, 2010," Police Chief Tom Adkins told a throng of reporters. "There has not been a day gone by without members of our team thinking about Zahra or this case."
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