HICKORY, N.C. (CBS/AP) Elisa Baker, the stepmother of missing North Carolina girl Zahra Baker, is due in court Wednesday morning, charged with obstruction of justice after admitting that she wrote the misleading ransom note found at the scene, according to police.
Police say that, during questioning Tuesday, Elisa Baker confessed to writing the note in order to throw off detectives investigating her stepdaughter's disappearance.
The note was reportedly addressed to Zahra's father's boss and asked for $1 million for his daughter's safe return. Police checked on the man, identified only as Mr. Coffey, and his daughter and found them safe. The house the Baker's lived in is apparently owned by Mr. Coffey.
Elisa Baker was arrested on unrelated charges shortly after Zahra was reported missing Saturday afternoon.
After news of Zahra's disappearance and Elisa Baker's arrest, relatives of the missing 10-year-old, whose bone cancer left her with a prosthetic leg and hearing aids, described the child's life as miserable due to her stepmother's short fuse.
In interviews and court documents, they portrayed Elisa Baker as nasty-tempered and willing to use a gun or her fists to settle an argument and said her disabled stepdaughter usually bore the brunt of her rage.
"She was always beating her," former neighbor Karen Yount said Tuesday. "I told her to stop but she wouldn't listen to anyone. That poor girl."
Police said Tuesady that the search for Zahra had shifted to a homicide investigation, canceling the Amber Alert for the shy but upbeat girl.
Elisa Baker is the only person charged in connection with the case so far, but police have not said whether she is a suspect in the disappearance. Hickory Police Chief Tom Adkins said previously that investigators had not ruled anyone out, including the father, Adam Baker.
Elisa Baker had already been in jail since the weekend on unrelated charges, including communicating threats and larceny. Adkins said she asked for an attorney, but none had been assigned as of late Tuesday.
At a news conference, Adkins said police can't find anyone outside the household who has seen Zahra alive in the last month. That uncertainty has stymied efforts to search for her, despite offers from volunteers in the city of 40,000 about 50 miles northwest of Charlotte, according to CBS affiliate WRAL.
Zahra's father, Adam Baker, has said it was possible his wife could be involved in the disappearance, and other relatives echoed those remarks.
"I just think this was something for a long time that we knew was going to happen, everybody that was close to the family," relative Brittany Bentley said on CBS News' "The Early Show" on Tuesday.
Anyone with information is urged to call the Hickory Police Department at 828-328-5551.