The family of Tara Louise Baker returned to Athens last week, the 20th anniversary of Tara’s murder, to honor what would have been her 44th birthday. The family, along with the Classic City Crime podcast, organized a memorial at the UGA Law Library, where family and friends gathered on Jan. 20 to remember a life of good, brutally taken.
Baker was a 23-year-old University of Georgia law student in 2001 when she was attacked and murdered on Jan. 19, just one day before her 24th birthday. Her home, located at 160 Fawn Drive in the Deer Park subdivision, was set on fire to further brutalize Tara and to conceal evidence in the case.
I first met the Baker family when I started my true crime podcast, Classic City Crime, around 10 months ago. After I had looked over several unsolved cases in Athens, Tara’s case stuck with me. She was a beautiful young woman, living a low-risk lifestyle, murdered the day before her birthday, with few to no answers coming out over the last two decades. I wanted to help in some way. Little did I know what would come next.
What followed were weeks of stories from people who knew Tara best and from some who had never met her at all but had heard others speak of aspects of the case. The Baker family and I not only processed new information from witnesses but also reviewed 20 years’ worth of records, transcripts and family files to try to finally answer the question: Who killed Tara Louise Baker?
While the podcast has not led to an arrest, it has renewed the Athens-Clarke County Police Department’s commitment to the case and has given the Baker family many answers they’ve been seeking for the last two decades. When I first reached out to the ACCPD, I did not feel they wanted to work together to try this new community-led effort to find answers in a case that has obviously festered in their department for years. I can honestly say, through my conversations over the last 10 months, I do believe Tara’s case to be more active today than it was then.
The answers we’ve been able to provide the Baker family are difficult to explain. When we started this journey, the family was still being denied access to Tara’s autopsy and crime scene photos. After some pressure and talks, that is no longer the case. Tara’s family had also lost contact with Chris, Tara’s boyfriend from 2001, who was initially a suspect in the case. Through the podcast and our process of elimination, that relationship has been mended.
The Baker family and Classic City Crime ask anyone who might have information in the case, or who might be responsible, to relieve themselves of this weight and come forward to police or to us directly.
Tara’s case is just one of many homicides in Athens-Clarke County that remain unsolved. According to the results of an open-records request I filed last month, ACCPD’s open records clerk reported around 40 unsolved murders dating back to the late 1960s. It’s time the police department starts thinking of new, creative ways to solve these cases in which DNA or a confession might never surface.
The truth is, from Tara’s case to the others on the list, there are some cases that police alone will never be able to solve. When that is the case, we should be able to look at one another and find a way to approach finding new answers and encouraging public participation. What I’ve found is that people, unfortunately, are often more willing to talk to people outside the police department. Just imagine what we might accomplish in these cases if we worked together.
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