What happened to Erica Baker?
The tiny third-grader vanished in 1999
Equusearch Midwest and the Kettering Police Department will search an area around Huffman Dam in Green County, Ohio this weekend. It’s the latest attempt to find Erica Baker, who vanished from Kettering, Ohio over 20 years ago.
I can remember when Erica Baker disappeared. She had a mischievous grin and golden blonde hair. She stood at 3’11 and weighed just under 70 pounds. Erica was a third-grade student at Indian Riffle Elementary School. My sons weren’t much younger than Erica when she disappeared.
Over the years, the media, podcasters and social media have kept Erica’s case in the public eye. Unfortunately, all their efforts haven’t led to any answers or any new evidence in Erica’s disappearance. Erica Baker’s story began in Kettering, Ohio.
After Erica’s parents (Greg and Misty) divorced, the nine-year-old shuffled between her parents. On February 7, 1999, Erica spent part of the day with her father. Erica was upset with him because he didn’t buy tickets to a father-daughter dance. Greg Baker said Erica calmed down and everything returned to normal.
He took Erica to her mother Misty’s home at 3 p.m. After 3:30 p.m., Erica took her aunt’s Shih Tzu dog for a stroll in Indian Riffle Park. Misty originally didn’t want Erica to go because it was raining. But she relented after Erica pleaded her case. Erica put on her Winnie the Pooh sweatshirt, pink raincoat, and then put a leash on her canine friend. Witnesses saw Erica near the park around 4 p.m. Other witnesses saw her near some bleachers. Although the Shih Tzu made it home, Erica vanished forever.
Police received a tip that Erica was struck by a van
After Erica didn’t return home, Misty called the police. They searched the park and found no trace of the missing girl. The police needed to first rule out Greg and Misty. Both agreed to a polygraph test and were ruled out as suspects. Afterward, the police received a disturbing tip connected to Erica’s disappearance.
A woman named Jan Marie Franks, her boyfriend Christian John Gabriel, Clifford Butts, and his girlfriend were in a van that struck Erica. It’s believed either Gabriel or Franks drove the van. According to Gabriel, they panicked, grabbed Erica and then placed her in the van. Gabriel said they drove to his apartment, got high, and then discussed what they should do next. Gabriel claimed he wanted to drive Erica to the hospital.
Supposedly, after Erica died, the group allegedly disposed of Erica’s body at a park. Gabriel wasn’t certain of where they disposed of Erica’s body. He took the police to several locations, but they never recovered the missing girl. The police learned Gabriel sold the van on February 23, 1999 to a man named Kevin Smith. The Dayton police impounded the van several months later and inspected its contents. They found no blood or any evidence connecting the van to Erica Baker. Was it possible Gabriel lied about everything?
In 2001, Jan Franks died from a drug overdose. However, before her death, she confessed to her attorney Beth Lewis about Erica’s death. Lewis refused to reveal any details and claimed she couldn’t talk because of her attorney-client privilege. After her refusal, Lewis went to jail for contempt. She eventually relented and provided testimony to a grand jury. It’s unknown what she said, since grand jury testimony remains confidential.
A grand jury indicted Gabriel for evidence tampering and abuse of a corpse. He received a six-year prison sentence. He was released in 2011 and has denied any involvement in Erica’s death.
Other than Gabriel, there is no other connection to the missing girl. The Kettering Police have vowed to keep searching for Erica. The Baker family deserves to know what happened to their daughter. The nation will watch this weekend and hope that Equusearch can finally bring Erica Baker home.