NEWTON, N.C. – Past allegations of child abuse, a tangled relationship history and online "chainsaw massacre role-playing" were among the subjects probed by police investigating the death of a disabled 10-year-old girl in North Carolina.
Hundreds of newly unsealed court documents released Tuesday reveal that scrutiny in the disappearance and death of freckle-faced Australian immigrant Zahra Baker fell early on her stepmother and father, and has not wavered significantly since.
Among the new information in more than 200 pages of documents is that Elisa Baker, the girl's stepmother, told Hickory police that Zahra died on Sept. 24, more than two weeks before she was reported missing.
Elisa Baker's information led police to the girl's remains. Elisa Baker said Zahra had been dismembered after she died, and her remains dumped in various sites around western North Carolina. Elisa said her husband, Adam Baker, dismembered the girl and helped dump her body. Information in the warrants from cell phone records say he wasn't in the places where her remains were found, but she was.
No one has been charged in Zahra's death, and the warrants don't reveal how she died. Elisa Baker is currently in jail on charges of obstructing the investigation, allegedly by writing a false ransom note. Adam Baker is free on bond after facing charges unrelated to his daughter. Calls to attorneys for both were not immediately returned.
The unsealed documents show police and prosecutors sought records from a variety of wireless communication providers, including cell phone records for men Elisa Baker had been romantically involved with before marrying Adam Baker.
One of those men was Aaron Young, who was married to Elisa before she met Adam. The documents say Elisa and Young remained close, although they say she told Adam that Aaron Young was her brother. One warrant says pictures on the Facebook pages maintained by both Elisa and Young showed him with Zahra Baker.
"Obtaining Aaron Young's telephone records or telephone number will likely provide information substantially related to this homicide investigation," according to the court documents.
But Christy Young, who says she is Aaron's wife, said he has had little contact with Elisa Baker. "I didn't know anything about this. What they're saying I don't think is right," she told The Associated Press.
Aaron Young was mentioned along with Adam and Elisa Baker in court documents detailing Hickory police's efforts to get records from the Instant Messaging Virtual Universe website. The social networking and gaming site allows users to create three-dimensional avatars and communicate with each other.
According to a Nov. 8 warrant, police were told that an IMVU user had a conversation with Adam Baker and Elisa Baker "regarding their involvement with chainsaw massacre role-playing" that included Young.
"The date of Sept. 22 was given regarding their virtual family 'doing a murder with chainsaws,'" according to the warrant, although it isn't clear from the document what "chainsaw massacre role-playing" entailed.
Christy Young said her husband used to play IMVU, but it was "harmless."
"It's just like Avatar," she said, referring to the blockbuster 3D movie. "You create your own characters and talk to people and have fun with it. I don't know where everyone is getting this. It's very upsetting to our family."
Along with phone records, some of the unsealed warrants also showed that police sought Elisa Baker's medical records from several local hospitals. They also wanted information from at least seven county social service agencies about past allegations of abuse involving Elisa Baker and her three biological children.
After Zahra's disappearance became publicly known in early October, family friends remembered the girl as constantly smiling, despite her health problems. She had lost a leg to bone cancer, and chemotherapy left her with two hearing aids.
Former neighbors also told The AP that Elisa Baker was short-tempered with her stepdaughter. In July 2010, the Catawba County Department of Social Services was advised by a department in neighboring Caldwell County of a report that Elisa Baker had given Zahra a black eye, according to one of the warrants unsealed Tuesday.
Elisa Baker's lawyers sought Tuesday to have her bond of nearly $100,000 lowered, but a Superior Court judge in Newton postponed a hearing on the request until March 7.
Adam Baker moved to North Carolina with his daughter after meeting Elisa online. She was reported missing on Oct. 9 after a small fire at the Bakers' house in Hickory. Police found a ransom note claiming to have kidnapped the girl, but arrested Elisa Baker and charged her with writing the note. Adam Baker no longer lives at the house, which quickly became a makeshift shrine piled high with stuffed animals, sympathy cards and handmade signs calling for justice.