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On March 29, 1989, Sue Baker had a premonition that something was wrong.

It was 11 p.m. and her daughter Amy — who had just turned 18 less than two weeks earlier — had still not returned home.

“It was Easter week and she was coming back from visiting my sister and some of her friends in Falls Church,” she said. “She left there at 8:30 p.m. and it was not that long a drive.”

The Bakers had themselves moved only months before from Falls Church to the small community of Hartwood in Stafford County. “We wanted a larger home with some land, and to get away from the urban mess in Fairfax County,” said Amy’s father, Mark.

At both Falls Church and J.E.B. Stuart high schools, Amy had been known as an artist and an athlete.

She played field hockey, had a strong interest in photography, and had plans to attend art school in Savannah, Ga.

Sue Baker said that as she worried that fateful night, she tried to tell herself that her daughter was now 18 and that as a mother she had to start thinking of her that way, and not be so overly protective.

But when Amy failed to come home by 6 a.m., she said she knew something was terribly wrong.

“I started calling everyone,” she said. “I called hospitals, towing companies, relatives, and the police.”

Baker found out that her daughter’s car — a baby blue 1970 Volkswagen Beetle — had been discovered by the Virginia State Police with its flashers blinking sometime around 10 p.m. from the southbound side of Interstate 95 near Backlick Road in Springfield. It had been been considered abandoned and was subsequently towed away.

“I was beside myself, and I was trying to get the Fairfax County police to do something,” she said. “But because Amy was 18, they considered her an adult and proceeded accordingly. They asked us if she might be running away from something, and whether she might have abandoned her car. They later told us they had sent a patrol car to drive along the shoulder where her car had been, and that a helicopter had also taken a look, but no one saw anything suspicious.”

About 48 hours later — on Good Friday — Sue Baker and her sister-in-law Mary Bellett decided they would search the area themselves.

“A police officer was supposed to meet us at noon that day, but a suicide or something had called them away and no one ever showed up. We waited about 45 minutes and decided to just walk the area ourselves,” Baker said.

Less than 45 minutes later, the two women’s worst fears were confirmed.

“We were walking around inside the clover-leaf area of the exit ramp when I saw some bright colors among all the brown leaves and twigs,” said Bellett. “I saw blue and white — and then I saw Amy. I saw her, but my brain didn’t register what I was seeing until Sue put her hand on my shoulder and screamed. That sort of brought me back to reality.”

Unlike her sister-in-law, Sue Baker said she was immediately cognizant of the horror she was witnessing.

“I knew right away what I was seeing,” she said. “It was my daughter. She was covered in leaves, but I saw the new tennis shoes she had just gotten for her 18th birthday sticking out — and I knew. It was my daughter.”

Bellet said that in addition to the wave of sadness that washed over her, she also felt instant fear.

“I remember thinking, oh my God, the killer may still be in here with us,” she said.

The two women flagged down a passing ambulance, and within 20 minutes the area was cordoned off as a crime scene.

Police said Amy Baker’s vehicle had run out of gas and that she had taken the keys and some change and had likely tried to walk up the exit ramp to go to a nearby Exxon gas station when she was abducted, raped and then strangled to death.

“They found change in the pocket of her khaki shorts, and a coroner’s report estimated that it all happened within 30 minutes to an hour of when she left her car,” Baker said.

Although DNA evidence was taken, and suspects were tested over the years, there was never a positive match.

Subsequently, Amy’s rapist and killer has never been identified.

Fairfax County Police did not immediately return phone calls and emails seeking information on the case, but Mark Baker said he still hears from them from time to time.

“It’s considered a cold case, and we mostly hear when someone new gets transferred onto it, or off of it,” he said. “Sometimes we also hear from them on the anniversary of her death. We still hope for a DNA match as the databases become more populated. That hope is all we have.”

Even with that hope, the quarter of a century that has passed by since Amy’s death has done very little to quell the family’s heartbreak.

“Today, 25 years later, Sue and I can look at each other and still intensely feel the pain and the fear of that moment when we discovered Amy,” said Bellett.

gmacdonald@fairfaxtimes.com