KETTERING, Ohio (WDTN) — If you have lived around the Dayton area at any point during the past 24 years, the name Erica Baker probably sounds familiar to you. The last time the 9-year-old girl from Kettering was seen was 24-years-ago in a Kettering neighborhood.
“The not knowing–that’s what drives our family, drives me to keep coming in front of the camera every year, and always looking for different ways to reach out to different people,” says Greg Baker, Erica’s dad.
Timeline of Events in the Erica Baker Case:
Around 3 p.m. on Feb. 7, 1999, Erica Baker was last seen walking her dog in a Kettering neighborhood around the area of the Kettering Rec Center. Authorities at the time said Baker’s dog had been found about two hours later around 5 p.m. on its leash and with Baker no where to be found.
Bob Green is a now-retired detective with the Kettering Police Department. He describes the process from the beginning of the search to now as a “rollercoaster,” since there have been many search efforts without finding Baker.
“The Kettering Police Department has done a lot. We’ve ran into a lot of, what I refer to as ‘walls,’ and we’ve always scaled those walls and we’ve stuck with it,” Green said. “There was a lot of things that went on. There’s been a lot of searches that don’t reveal anything.
Crews reportedly initiated the beginning of the search efforts at a pond at the Kettering Rec Center on the night of Feb. 7, 1999. After the search team didn’t find anything, three dozen friends of Baker’s, as well as police dogs, went looking for her.
Another search was started the day after, about 8 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 8, 1999, which consisted of hundreds of volunteers and police scouring the area to try and locate the missing girl.
Christian Gabriel was named a suspect early in the investigation into the disappearance of Baker. Gabriel confessed in July 2004 to witnessing Erica’s death, but has not told authorities where Erica’s body is located. It is thought by investigators that Baker was hit somewhere near the intersection of Glengarry Drive and Powhattan Place.
Gabriel was indicted in February 2005 and served six years in prison after being convicted of one count of gross abuse of a corpse and one count of tampering with evidence in October 2005. Gabriel was released in 2011.
When Gabriel was released from prison, it was Erica’s grandmother who picked him up from the prison and took Gabriel out to a restaurant to try and get answers on where her granddaughter may be.
One of the key witnesses in the case is Jan Franks. Franks died from an apparent drug overdose in December 2001. Police had thought Franks might have told Beth Lewis, who once represented Franks, information regarding where Baker was or details around the disappearance, but Lewis reportedly kept quiet in June 2002 to keep her attorney-client privilege. About three years later in January 2006, Lewis testified before the secret Grand Jury.
It is not known whether or not Lewis told the Grand Jury any information regarding the case, since it was a secret Grand Jury, meaning only the prosecutors and members of the Grand Jury knew what was being discussed behind closed doors.
Green says that after the conviction of Gabriel, investigators and authorities have continued to search for the missing Kettering girl and are still looking in 2023.
“Even after the conviction though, we have continued to conduct searches, based on tips. We have an area that we’re looking at and once it warms up, we’ll probably check and see if we can discover anything or not,” Green said.
David Rader is the director for EquuSearch Midwest, which is an organization that helps in search efforts to find missing persons. The Midwest division of EquuSearch was started after Rader was in Florida speaking with the creator of EquuSearch during the Casey Anthony case.
Rader and EquuSearch Midwest actually helped during the search for Cheryl Coker, who went missing after dropping one of her daughters off at a school. Rader offered his assistance to Detective Green to help in the effort to find Baker after Coker’s remains were found at the time in Caesarscreek Township.
“When Cheryl was found, we sat down and after all the dust settled on that, then at that point in time, we started to sit down with Bob and start putting a plan together and cover some certain areas that he felt was needed,” Rader said.
The Midwest organization is made up of people from many different “walks of life,” according to Rader.
“We have approximately 60 to 70 volunteers that make this chapter up. We come from all different walks of life,” Rader said. “We have doctors, we have lawyers, we’ve got retired police officers and firefighters.”
Messages from the Investigators:
The director of EquuSearch Midwest wants the people in the Dayton area to reach out to authorities, even 24-years after the disappearance of Erica Baker if you have any information.
“Somebody had to have seen something. We want to make sure all of our bases are covered through the investigation. If you think you have something pertinent to the investigation, reach out to law enforcement,” Rader said.
Green provided a public message for those that may currently be in contact with Gabriel or may know something about the disappearance of the girl.
Green says, “Come forward. If you know Christian Gabriel, talk to him. Tell him to come forward and tell us where she’s at. I mean, at this point, we just want to bring her back. She has a spot at a cemetery, she has a headstone, and we want to bring her back, her remains back for her family.”
The Baker’s have chosen a spot at David’s Cemetery in Kettering, where Erica will be, once she is found.
“People ask me if I get tired of doing this. And yeah, it wears you down. You got to keep going,” says Erica’s father. “It won’t be over until we get her home. You know, until she can be laid to rest.”
“The Kettering Police Department will not rest. They have stayed on it. We do not consider it a cold case, it’s an active case. Even though it’s 24-years-old, it’s active,” Green said.
Erica would currently be 33-years-old.
If you have any information, either if you saw something the day of the disappearance or have heard something over the years, please reach out to Kettering Police at (937) 296-2555. No matter how small the piece of information may seem to you, it could be the piece that solves the case and brings Erica Baker home.