At 11:20 a.m. on Friday, January 19, 2001, firefighters in Athens, Georgia, thought it was just another call about a building fire. They saw a lot of smoke and flames coming from the back of the building when they got there. The front door was locked, so firefighters kicked it down and went inside, not knowing if anyone was there. As soon as they walked inside, they saw that the stove had all four burners on and turned all the way up. This made them think that someone had probably set the fire.
As firefighters went through the house room by room to make sure no one was still there, they came across two locked doors that they had to kick open. The first one led to a bathroom, and the second one to a bedroom. The bedroom was completely on fire. After putting out the fire, firefighters found the body of Tara Baker, who was 23 years old. It was clear right away that Tara hadn’t died from fire or smoke inhalation; she had been stabbed and beaten. The person who k*illed her then burned down her house to hide the cri*me.
When Tara’s 24th birthday should have been the next day, an autopsy was done. The city of AthensMike Wallace, the assistant police chief for Clarke County, wouldn’t talk about the results, but he did say that Tara was already de*ad before the fire started. “We are sure that the fire was started to hide the m*urder.” The ki*ller got into the house in a way that wasn’t clear.
Tara was in her first year of law school at the University of Georgia when she died. Tara graduated from Georgia College in Milledgeville in 1998 with degrees in political science and legal assistance. She is from Lovejoy, Georgia. Tara wrote on her high school’s website, “I took a couple of years off and worked as a real estate paralegal in different law firms while I tried to get the nerve to go back to school.” It seems to have worked, because I just began my first semester of law school at the University of Georgia.
When Tara got into law school, she was thrilled, and she was determined to do well in every class. She studied for most of the night before she was ki*lled. At 9:46 pm, when her friend called, Tara was at the law school library. She told her friend that she was going to leave around 10 p.m. to go back to her house, which was only 12 minutes from campus.
The semester before, Paul Kurtz, who is the associate dean of the law school, taught Tara. “She was sure of herself, smart, and always ready for class…”She was in my fall class on cri*minal law, and a lot of people felt close to her. She was very friendly and bubbly. People at the law school are very close, so her de*ath shocked everyone.
People who knew Tara from Lovejoy High School were also shocked when they heard she had been ki*lled. When Tami Blake saw Tara’s picture on the news, she was shocked. “This is what I thought: ‘Who in the world would kil*l her?'” Someone who knows her wouldn’t be able to do it because she has no enemies.
Tara moved to Athens in 1999 and shared a house with two roommates. On the day of the mu*rder, neither of them was there. The neighborhood where they lived was mostly made up of University of Georgia students. There were some property cr*imes, but mu*rders didn’t happen very often.
Over the weekend, detectives kept talking to Tara’s classmates and neighbors, but they didn’t make much progress in finding a suspect. On Monday morning, they pulled over cars going through the Deer Park neighborhood and asked the people inside about anything strange they might have seen in the area.
John Oxendine, the fire commissioner for the Office of Insurance and Safety, and Georgia Arson Control said they would pay $10,000 for information that would help them catch and convict the person who k*illed Tara and burned down her house. They hoped that the offer would give detectives new leads to look into.
As detectives worked hard to find solid leads in Tara’s mur*der, the reward was raised to $26,000 in March 2001. “This cri*me has shaken our community,” Mayor Doc Eldridge said at a press conference. People in general need to help us. We are asking for help from anyone who knows important things about this cri*me.
Police wouldn’t say much about the case; they would only say that they had hired an FBI profiler to help them figure out what the ki*ller probably had in common. The only way this would really help investigators is if they could find a suspect to compare the profile to.
The case seemed to stop moving forward for months. Detectives spent thousands of hours looking into Tara’s de*ath, but they still couldn’t find a suspect or a reason for it. Her family and friends found it hard to accept. As the first anniversary of his daughter’s de*ath drew near, Lindsay Baker said, “I’m past the grief now; I’m angry.” I want law and order…I find it frustrating that we still don’t have closure.
Asst. Chief Wallace was honest about where the investigation stood. “Police can’t figure out who the suspect is.” We don’t have a witness and there isn’t enough physical or circumstantial evidence to name a suspect right now. Unfortunately, the fire destroyed any possible clues that the ki*ller may have left behind. Also, detectives had talked to all of Tara’s family, friends, and classmates, but no one had anything bad to say about her.
Lindsay told the family that the detectives had been nice to them but hadn’t told them much about the investigation, which made Tara’s parents angry. It was also hard on Tara’s cousins, her three younger siblings, and other family members who looked up to her. Barb Patrie, Tara’s grandmother, said, “It would have been easier to deal with if Tara had died in an accident or had gotten sick and died than for someone to come in and brutally k*ill her.” It’s really hard.”
In November 2002, police asked the public again for help in finding Tara’s ki*ller. They still wouldn’t talk about many details of the mu*rder, but they did say they were looking for a white man who was seen leaving Tara’s house around 7:30 am on the day she was k*illed. They didn’t say much about the man, but they did say that he wasn’t wearing a coat even though it was cold outside. Police also said Tara’s laptop, a Compaq Presario Model 1200 XL 188, was missing from her house and they thought her k*iller had taken it.
In January 2004, Tara was honored by the University of Georgia by receiving a law degree after her d*eath. The ceremony took place in the chapel of the university. Virginia, Tara’s mother, was touched by the act. “I guess it will hurt and taste good at the same time.” I’m glad so many people in the community still remember after all this time. I have a good opinion of the school. Even though they showed they care, they couldn’t do anything to look into it. Family and friends of Tara had a hard time dealing with the fact that her ki*ller was still on the loose.
The murd*er of Tara was being looked into, but after years, it stopped moving forward. The kil*ler of Tara had not been caught by her parents since she died 16 years before in 2017. In February 2017, Capt. Jerry Saulters said that police had gotten a tip about a possible mu*rder suspect, but he wouldn’t say who it was.
Investigators still didn’t want to talk about specifics of the case almost twenty years later. A number of retired police officers agreed to talk to reporters on the condition that they would not be named. This is how the press first learned that Tara had been stabbed, beaten, strangled, and maybe even sexually assaulted before her home was set on fire. The cr*ime seemed personal, and some detectives thought Tara’s laptop had been stolen because it might have emails that could help them find the k*iller. They thought she might have been k*illed by someone who was interested in her, maybe after she turned him down.
In the early stages of the investigation, detectives found three possible suspects: a man Tara had been seeing, an attorney at a local law firm where she had worked, and a classmate from law school. Fast, Tara’s boyfriend was ruled out as the ki*ller. He had a strong alibi for the time of the murd*er and passed a polygraph test. It wasn’t clear how or if the other two men were taken out of the running as suspects. The police were given the name of a new possible suspect in 2010 and were still trying to link him to the cri*me.
Detectives said it wasn’t easy to do the investigation. The ki*ller could not be found because of the fire and the gallons of water used to put it out. There was soot on everything in the house that made it impossible to get fingerprints. The first investigation was helped by Alex Morrow, a former University of Georgia police officer. He said that they had done everything they could to find the k*iller. “With the information and proof we had, we looked into every possible avenue…”The fire did so much damage that the cr*ime scene could not be found.
When Tara’s dad, Lindsay Baker, died in 2019, he never found out who ki*lled his daughter. Still, her mother and siblings did everything they could to get justice and warn people that there was still a k*iller on the loose. VA Baker said in January 2023 that she was praying for the day when her daughter’s case would be solved. “It won’t bring her back, but it will help us figure things out. “
In January 2001, Tara Louise Baker was brutally k*illed in Athens, Georgia. She was only 23 years old. Tara was a first-year law student at the University of Georgia. She had a bright future ahead of her, but someone stole it from her, and the kil*ler has not been caught after more than 22 years. Police think she may have known the person who ki*lled her, but they haven’t named any suspects in public yet. Please call the Athens-Clarke County Police Department at 706–613–3330 or the GBI’s Athens Regional Office at 706–552–2309 if you know anything about Tara’s de*ath.