After years of confusion and sadness, Meredith Schroeder is still fighting to know who murdered her sister, Tara Baker.
By Peyton Lewis
Meredith Schroeder has told this story a million times before, to many different faces, in many different coffee shops just like this, for many years. She’s tired, yet still fighting. After 18 years, she’s speaking out one more time in the hopes that something will change for the better.
In a local Athens coffee shop, Schroeder sits on a pink couch uncomfortably. She pulls her strawberry blonde hair out of her face as “Sweet Dreams” by the Eurythmics blasts over the speakers. The smell of pastries wafts through the air, and a barista shouts orders, as she takes a moment to collect her thoughts.
Although she has been telling the story of her sister, Tara’s unsolved murder for almost two decades, it’s still hard.
“I still have dreams about her as if she were here,” Schroeder said. “It’s like I understand it, but my brain just doesn’t want to accept it.”
That Disastrous Day
January 19, 2001 began like any other day, but still felt a bit unusual.
Schroeder recalls the peculiarity saying, “I was 15. It was a Friday. Even though it was January, it wasn’t cold.”
It was the day before her sister’s 24th birthday, and she was looking forward to celebrating with her. She attended school that day and remembers her mother picking her up.
“She said, ‘We’re gonna stop by Publix on the way home’ and, I remember asking her ‘Can I get a birthday card for Tara?’.”
The pair returned home to put the groceries away. Schroeder sat down and started eating a bowl of cereal when the phone rang.
“My mother’s voice completely changed… She hung up and looked over at me and said, ‘There was a fire at your sister’s house and her car is outside.”
The family waited for another call back from the police to get more details on the situation. They frantically started cleaning and “went into irrational mode” Schroeder says. When the phone rang the second time, the police delivered grim news. Tara Baker was dead.
“At that moment I ran out the door. It was raining and I wasn’t thinking, I was just running around our backyard screaming… I was sitting on our swing set, staring at our pool house, where Tara lived in between college and law school. And I just started thinking about all the things I had done to her as a pesky little sister, and just started apologizing profusely,” Schroeder said.
Her father came outside, scooped her up in his arms, and placed her into one of the longest car rides of her life.
Upon their arrival to the Athens-Clarke County Police Department, the investigators in charge of Tara’s case led them to a small conference room. They sat the entire family down and began to go over the details.
Schroeder remembers hearing one of the investigators say, “We expect foul play.”
“I had never heard a noise like that come out of my uncle before. The whole way up there, we were trying to figure out what had happened… we had no idea that it was an intentional act,” Schroeder recounted.
Investigators later revealed that Tara Baker suffered stab wounds, was mutilated, and received burns from the fire her killer set. After further investigation, detectives found no forced entry into the home. The person who murdered Tara stole her laptop and was seen fleeing the area wearing jeans and a white t-shirt.
The funeral occurred on Wednesday, January 26, 2019. After being hounded by the media for four five days, the family was physically and emotionally exhausted. Schroeder has very little recollection of that day.
“We allowed one media person in to tape the funeral for us. But halfway through the funeral he ran out of tape. So it’s just a picture with audio underneath for the last part. We were so upset, ” she said.
A few months after her funeral, the University of Georgia Law School held a small gathering for friends and peers of Tara Baker, to provide closure and a time of grieving. Tara’s father attended the event to speak on behalf of his family. His tired face and watering eyes tell the crowd of people everything they need to know.
As the ceremony ended, Baker said, “Everything you do. She’ll be with you. As long as we remember her, she will live forever in our hearts. Please don’t forget her.”
Meredith Schroeder has held onto this statement for years, and says it is one of the many reasons she keeps fighting today.
A year later, at his daughter’s grave dedication ceremony, Lindsay Baker addressed the public again to keep his daughter’s murder in the public eye.
“Tara wanted to be a judge because she hated injustice,” Baker told mourners, “The one thing she loved the most, justice, has not been served.”
Lindsay Baker made it a point every year to keep his daughter’s memory alive. He would travel to the arch at the University of Georgia, and place a wreath with his daughter’s photo in the middle, and place it in the center of the stairs.
Baker suffered a stroke in August of 2018, and died before he was able to see justice served for his daughter.
Meredith Schroeder says that investigators regret not being able to solve Tara’s murder before Lindsay Baker’s passing. Schroeder is now using his death as motivation to raise awareness for her sister’s murder. She says that she wants to find her sister’s killer before eighteen years becomes twenty.
What’s Being Done?
After almost twenty years, there has been no further progress with this case. The person who murdered Tara Baker has never confessed or come forward. Police believe they have a viable suspect. However until they receive a confession, they cannot convict anyone. Schroeder feels that her family will never completely heal until this happens.
Detective David Griffeth has been over the case for almost eleven years now.
He says, “The agency’s protective of the case knowledge because the agency has hope that we’re gonna prosecute somebody for this crime… We have people of interest that we have not been able to exclude from being people of interest.”
The Baker family is still hoping that justice will be served and that they can gain peace after years of questions. Schroeder believes that her sister’s killer is still out there and walking among us.
“I’m hoping that somebody, somewhere, knows something and that they’ll grow a conscience and realize that there is a family and a whole new generation of hurt and that the only way there’s going to be closure is if they say something. While I know that it’s probably not going to be a reality, I still have a tiny shred of hope that maybe that’s going to happen.”
Until they convict her sister’s killer, Meredith Schroeder is committed to keep fighting. She will keep telling the story of her sister’s death, to many other curious people, in many other coffee shops, to obtain justice for Tara.
If you have any information regarding this case, please call the Athens-Clarke County Police Department at 706–613–3337 or the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Athens Regional Office at 706–542–7901.