NEWTON, N.C. — Dozens of investigators searched a North Carolina landfill today for evidence in the disappearance of a disabled 10-year-old girl.
As Hickory police and FBI agents checked mounds of trash in Caldwell County, a judge at a nearby courthouse increased bond for the girl’s stepmother, Elisa Baker, from $45,000 to $65,000 after prosecutors convinced him she was a flight risk.
Catawba County District Judge Robert Mullinax said there were “disturbing and unsettling allegations” in the case as he dismissed a request by Baker’s lawyers to reduce her bond on a charge of obstructing justice to $10,000.
Investigators said Baker wrote a bogus ransom note found Oct. 9, the day she and her husband reported Zahra Clare Baker missing. Police have said they think the girl is dead but have not found her body and haven’t charged anyone with killing her.
Authorities haven’t said what they are looking for in the landfill but have a news conference planned for later today. Investigators said the day before they were seeking a serial number and other details about the artificial leg the girl used since surviving bone cancer.
Baker appeared at her bond hearing today by video camera, while three of her children were in the courtroom.
One adult daughter, Amber Fairchild, testified they frequently moved when she was growing up and she was afraid of her mother.
Fairchild also said her mother was talking to a man from England on the Internet who sent her $10,000. Zahra’s father, Adam Baker, met Elisa Baker online and moved from Australia to live with her several years ago.
Fairchild said Baker told her she wanted to leave North Carolina the day before she was arrested.
Prosecutor Eric Bellas said Baker has missed several court appearances earlier.
“The only time this defendant comes to court is when the sheriff’s office brings her to court,” Bellas said.
Baker’s bond was already excessive before the judge raised it, said defense attorney Scott Reilly, who blamed media interest in the case for causing Mullinax to go far over what Reilly said was the $10,000 bond guidelines recommend for an obstructing justice charge.