The last night her family saw her alive, a local murder victim left her home with three people who claimed they later dropped her off at a house in East Lawrence, according to two of the victim's friends.
The friends said Tamara C. Baker, 25, left her house about 9:30 p.m. Oct. 31 carrying her television set, which she told her ex-husband she planned to trade for food.
Roxanne Huggins and Marsha Lyles, who said they met Baker in 1988 when she lived at 255 N. Mich., said Thursday that the victim then rode away with the people and was not seen alive again.
Tamara Baker's obituary appears on page 9A of today's Journal-World.
About 11 a.m. the next day, Huggins and Lyles said, the people returned to Baker's home with her television set. When her ex-husband asked where Baker was, the people told him they had dropped her off at a house in the 800 block of Connecticut, the friends said.
HUGGINS AND Lyles offered little information about the people besides saying that Baker met them at the Douglas County Jail.
They said they obtained the information about Baker's disappearance from her ex-husband, Aubrey Dwight Baker, 31, Lawrence, and from other people who knew the victim.
On the ex-husband's request, the ex-husband and the people went to the 800 block of Connecticut in an attempt to find the house, the women said. But the people couldn't pinpoint the residence, which leads the women to believe that the people may have fabricated the story.
"She didn't walk back" to the area where her body was found, Huggins said. "Somebody killed her.''
Baker's body was found last Friday in a brushy, wooded area near the 800 block of East Eighth Street, which is four to five blocks east of the 800 block of Connecticut.
Lyles said Baker's ex-husband had been at his ex-wife's home Oct. 31 with Tamara Baker's three children. He came to Lyles' house early Nov. 1 looking for the victim, Lyles said. The women said Dwight Baker told them that he thought his ex-wife planned to swap her television for something other than food, but they would not specify what he thought she wanted to obtain.
IMMEDIATELY after they learned of Baker's disappearance, the women said, they feared she was dead. Although it wasn't unusual for Baker to take an occasional outing, they said, she always returned home afterward to care for her children. Also, they said, she wouldn't have left before Nov. 2, when she would have received her welfare check.
"I ran to Marsha, and we both said at the same time, `She's dead,'" Huggins said. "And we knew somebody had done something to her."
Huggins and Lyles said Baker's ex-husband notified police 24 hours after the disappearance. Police did nothing for several days, they said. And by Nov. 6, when police began investigating the case, the people who had last seen Baker had left the state.
The women were extremely critical of the way police handled the case.
"They should have gotten on it earlier, and then they should have continued," Huggins said. "That police department and those detectives, they allowed them (the people) to leave. They should have never let that go."
RANDY McGRATH, a Lawrence attorney who represented Baker in a criminal case, said a detective told him shortly after his client disappeared that the detective "expected the worst." The detective told McGrath that it did not appear that Baker planned to leave home because she had not taken any clothing or other personal items from her house.
Gene Bickford, 723 N.Y., said police questioned him, his wife and several neighbors about the disappearance of a woman who was dropped off in the area on Halloween.
Police would not confirm any of the information offered by the women, McGrath or Bickford. Authorities this morning released no new information about the investigation.
Huggins and Lyles said Baker moved to the Wood Creek Townhomes, 255 N. Mich., in May 1988 and lived there for a year. They said Baker moved to the United States about seven years ago from the West Indies, her birthplace, and had lived in Emporia with her ex-husband before coming to Lawrence in 1986.
THE WOMEN said Baker was struggling to recover from her failed marriage and to adapt to being a single parent when they met her. Shortly after she moved into the townhomes, they said, Baker became a volunteer at the Head Start Community Children's Center. She also became the leader of a Brownie troop and made plans to apply for U.S. citizenship.
But before she left Wood Creek, the women said, Baker let a group of "street people" hang around at her apartment. They said the group partied frequently and was a bad influence on Baker, who they described as a "girl that wouldn't do anybody wrong" and who "believed in her Bible."
"When she started hanging out with the riff-raff, I told her, `I can't come around,'" Huggins said. "`If you keep hanging around with these people, something's going to happen to you.'"