Search continues for Erica Baker 25 years after she went missing in Kettering

Credit: FILE

Credit: FILE

Twenty-five years after Erica Baker disappeared, the Miami Valley region is still searching.

On Feb. 7, 1999, the 9-year-old girl went for a walk with her family’s dog during a rainy afternoon near the Kettering Recreation Complex. The dog was found near a neighbor’s house shortly afterward with Erica nowhere in sight.

In the years since, numerous searches have happened. The latest came on Jan. 27, when Equusearch Midwest — a branch of Texas Equusearch — worked with Kettering police to clear property using heavy equipment.

“We were allowed to pull out all resources to clear this property, and sadly did not locate her,” Equuearch Midwest posted on Facebook. “Erica’s family is always in our thoughts and prayers and hope that she will be located soon.”

Kettering police detective Amy Pedro took over the case in August and has been learning the ins and outs of the investigation.

Pedro said she’s focused on getting boots on the ground and keeping up with search efforts.

The department partners with Equusearch Midwest, which provides different resources and tools to help police.

Pedro said the search on Jan. 27 focused on the Huffman Dam area.

“We did not locate anything during that search but we intend to proceed with searches in that area,” she said. “We’re going to continue to plan (searches) hopefully monthly at this point depending on the manpower and resources that we have.”

There were approximately 30 people at the search last month, which also included tools to help ground out honeysuckle and other things that would prevent crews from checking the soil, Pedro said.

They also had an excavator digging as part of search attempts.

In July 1999, Christian Gabriel and Jan Franks were identified as possible suspects in the girl’s disappearance. A few years later, in 2004, Gabriel contacted Kettering detectives and confessed to hitting Erica with his van on Glengarry Drive near the intersection of Powhattan Drive and burying her. His passenger, Franks, died of a drug overdose in 2001.

Gabriel served six years in prison for gross abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence. He was released in 2011. Gabriel said because Franks and he had established criminal records, he put Erica inside the vehicle and took off instead of calling for help.

Erica’s grandmother, Pam Schmidt, picked up Gabriel from jail in 2011 to see if she could learn more information regarding her granddaughter’s whereabouts. Gabriel hasn’t given any further clues since 2011.

A dive team also searched around the former residence of Gabriel and Franks at a trailer park on private property just west of Eastwood Lake in 2013. However, police didn’t discover any new evidence.

Twenty years after Erica went missing, in 2019, Ohio state Sen. Bob Hackett, R-London, established May 25 as Ohio National Missing Children’s Day.

In April 2021, Equusearch Midwest and Kettering police searched for Erica at and around the Huffman Dam in Greene County. A Kettering police official at the time said the Baker case has never been considered closed.

“Anytime a lead would come in, we would follow up on it. In this instance, it’s not a lead,” then-Kettering police public information officer Joe Ferrell said at the time. “They’re searching an area where they know they’ve searched in the past based on the leads that they’ve had.”

Erica’s body has never been found.

Pedro encouraged anyone with any information on Erica’s disappearance, Gabriel or Franks to call the Kettering Police Department at 937-296-2555.