Man convicted in Erica Baker case out prison, still held in custody

A central figure in the 1999 disappearance of a Kettering 9-year-old has an unresolved warrant.

Christian Gabriel, considered a central figure in the 1999 disappearance of Erica Baker, was released from prison Monday to the custody of the Mercer County Sheriff’s Office.

Gabriel, 40, was convicted of gross abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence in 2005 and sentenced to six years.

“We had planned to go up and hold some placards that he could see, asking him to tell us where Erica is,” said Pamela Schmidt, Erica’s maternal grandmother.

Gabriel was wanted on a Mercer County warrant, issued in June 2000, for failure to pay $440.50 in fines and court costs for a 1996 domestic violence conviction, said Gary Thobe, chief deputy for the Mercer County Sheriff’s Office.

Erica was 9 when she disappeared from a Kettering park in February 1999. Her body has never been found.

“We don’t wish him any harm,” Schmidt said. “We know he probably wants to be reunited with his family. That’s all we want — to be reunited with Erica and lay her to rest.”

Police believe she was hit by a van that Gabriel and others were driving on Glengarry Drive. A grand jury declined to indict Gabriel on charges related to causing Baker’s death, but did indict on the other three charges three days before the statute of limitations expired.

Gabriel gave his first account to investigators in July 1999, in which he said that he and two others, one of them Jan Franks who died of a drug overdose in 2001, had been stealing from the Kettering Meijer store the day Baker disappeared and that “something could have happened” as they fled in Gabriel’s van. From April through December 2004, he made several statements to police, with various shifts. Once, he identified Franks as the van’s driver when the van struck Baker. Another time, he said he was the driver.

— Tom Beyerlein contributed to this story.

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