Investigators linked a skull fragment found by hunters in Caldwell County to Zahra Baker based on a DNA comparison with a toothbrush they collected from her home, according to an updated autopsy report obtained by the Observer.
Although Zahra Baker’s stepmother pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in connection with Zahra’s death, investigators have been unable to determine how the girl died.
The updated autopsy report doesn’t advance investigators’ theory. Zahra’s cause of death is still listed as “undetermined homicidal violence.”
Zahra lost a leg and some of her hearing to cancer. Her disappearance, the search for her remains and her stepmother’s guilty plea in connection with her death made international headlines.
Zahra’s body had been dismembered and all of her body parts have not been recovered.
Hunters discovered the partial skull in Caldwell County last April. The skull, which was missing its jawbone, was sent to the N.C. Medical Examiner’s Office in Raleigh.
The Medical Examiner’s Office determined it was the cranium of a juvenile of European origin. A DNA profile from a tooth from the skull was compared to the profile from Zahra’s toothbrush. The profiles matched.
Zahra was born in Australia, but she came to the United States with her father in 2008 after he’d married Elisa Baker. The freckle-faced girl survived two bouts of cancer that left her without one leg and with a hearing problem.
A massive search was launched after Zahra was reported missing. But a couple of weeks later, Elisa Baker led investigators to three sites where some of Zahra’s body parts had been discarded. That November, police announced that test results confirmed one of the recovered bones was Zahra’s.
Elisa Baker pleaded guilty in September 2011 to second-degree murder in connection with Zahra’s death. She was sentenced to 15 to 18 years in prison.
Zahra’s father, Adam Baker, was not charged in Zahra’s death. Prosecutors said they had no credible evidence to suggest anyone other than Elisa Baker was involved in the murder.
Adam Baker was deported to his native Australia in 2012. He was allowed to take some of Zahra’s remains with him.
Wootson: 704-358-5046; Twitter: @CleveWootson
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