Details of Disappearance
Erica's parents are divorced and she spent most of February 7, 1999 with her father, Greg Baker, in their hometown of Kettering, Ohio. Erica was apparently upset that Greg had forgotten to purchase tickets to an upcoming father/daughter dance, but her father said she settled down shortly thereafter. Greg dropped Erica off at the home she shared with her mother, Melissa "Misty" Baker, at approximately 3:00 p.m. Photos of Greg and Misty are posted with this case summary.
Erica received permission from Misty to take her aunt's Shih Tzu dog for a walk in Indian Riffle Park, which was close to her family's residence. Erica left the house sometime between 3:30 and 4:00 p.m. Two witnesses saw her sitting on a bench with the dog near the park's pond shortly after 4:00 p.m. She has never been seen again.
The dog, dragging its blue leash, ran unaccompanied to the witnesses sometime after Erica was last seen. They called Animal Control to pick up the dog, but didn't realize the girl they had seen earlier was Erica until news reports of her disappearance surfaced later that night.
Misty became concerned when Erica failed to return home later in the evening and summoned the authorities. An extensive search of the area produced no clues as to Erica's whereabouts. A pink Winnie The Pooh sweatshirt was discovered on a road in Germantown, Ohio several days after Erica disappeared. Bloodhounds reacted positively to Erica's scent on the clothing, but her family said the shirt did not belong to her.
Investigators would like to identify and question a two possible witnesses who were seen in the area around the same time Erica was last seen. The first is a Caucasian female jogger, who was wearing a white turtleneck, black stretch pants and white sneakers. The other is a middle-aged white man who was wearing a black raincoat and walking a long-haired spaniel type dog.
Greg and Misty passed polygraph tests and are not suspects in their daughter's case. Authorities said that they identified four possible suspects in January 2000, five months after Erica was last seen. None of the suspects have been charged due to a lack of evidence. According to investigators, several of the men have histories of child molestation.
The police got leads that Erica was struck by a vehicle and killed the day of her disappearance and the occupants of the car panicked and disposed of her body. The tips named Jan Marie Franks, a drug addict, as the driver. She died in 2001.
Her lawyer, Beth Lewis, has refused to tell the police what, if anything, Franks told her about Erica's case, citing attorney-client confidentiality. Ohio law states that a dead person's spouse can waive attorney-client confidentiality for them, and Franks's husband did so. However, Lewis has disputed Franks's husband's authority to waive confidentiality and continued to refuse to answer questions, in spite of being held in contempt of court and jailed.
In February 2004, just three days before the statute of limitations on the offenses would have expired, Christian John Gabriel was indicted for evidence tampering and gross abuse of a corpse in connection with Erica's case. A photograph of him is posted with this case summary. Gabriel was Franks's boyfriend. The grand jury had the option of indicting him for a range of offenses such as aggravated murder and vehicular homicide, but declined to do so. They also refused to indict another suspect, Clifford Butts.
Prosecutors stated they believed Gabriel was driving a van which struck and killed Erica on Glengerry Drive near the Kettering Recreation Center, and he buried her body in Caesar Creek State Park to cover up the crime.
Gabriel confessed the crime to police and stated that he and Franks were in the van together and they were under the influence of drugs and alcohol and had been shoplifting in the area the day Erica was killed. He lead authorities to various places where he said he had buried the child's body, but nothing was discovered in any of the locations and investigators stated they were not going to search again for Erica's remains unless they found more evidence indicating where she was.
Gabriel pleaded not guilty to the charges and maintains his innocence in Erica's disappearance; he stated his confession was completely untrue and he only made the statements because he was being pressured by authorities. He was nevertheless convicted in October 2005 and sentenced to the maximum term of six years in prison. He was released from custody in June 2011.
Erica has never been located. Foul play is suspected in her case due to the circumstances involved.