31 August 2023

'Like losing her all over again': Remains found near Goulburn identified as murdered woman Samah Baker

| Claire Fenwicke
Samah Baker

Samah Baker’s remains were found near Goulburn more than four years after she was murdered in Sydney. Photo: Facebook.

More than four years after she was murdered, Samah Baker’s body can finally be laid to rest.

Human remains were found in grassland off the Hume Highway near Goulburn last month, about 100 metres south of the Windellama Road overpass.

An examination and analysis by NSW Health Pathology has confirmed the remains are 30-year-old Samah.

Her family said even though Samah had been found, it felt like they had lost her all over again.

“On Friday 4 January 2019, Samah was taken away from us in the cruellest way,” they said.

“In the years that followed, our grief has been compounded by the fact that we have not been able to have a funeral or lay her to rest.

“We never got to say goodbye to her or tell her we loved her for the last time.

“The news of her remains being discovered four and a half years later isn’t a neat resolution, but it does offer a small measure of what we’ve been longing for all this time.

“Each development in the case feels like a reopening of our barely healed wounds, reminding us of the harsh reality of our loss.”

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Her on-and-off partner James Hachem was found guilty of her murder following a trial in the NSW Supreme Court earlier this year.

He had killed Samah in the early hours of 4 January 2019 in Parramatta, before placing her body in the boot of his mother’s car.

At the time of sentencing, Justice Robertson Wright said Samah’s “spontaneous and unplanned killing” was a “very great human tragedy” for everyone involved.

“Her death should not be treated only as the subject of a criminal trial. The evidence in this matter confirmed that she was a dynamic, cheerful presence in her sister’s and her parents’ life, a captivating person who made those around her feel whole,” he said.

“Ms Baker’s unnecessary death in such distressing circumstances has devastated her family leaving them a grieving, heartbroken and destroyed trio.”

During his trial, the court had heard about abuse during the pair’s relationship, including physical violence.

In the lead-up to her death, Samah had made it clear she was not interested in Hachem, and was starting a potential new relationship.

On the night of her death, Hachem had parked outside of her apartment building and saw her kissing another man.

“By his persistent offering of attention, money and favours over a considerable period, the offender tried to keep the deceased’s affection or, at least, attention focused on him, even when she had attempted to end their relationship,” Justice Wright noted.

“The offender could not accept Ms Baker’s statement that she did not love him anymore nor could he accept that she might choose another potential intimate partner.”

As Samah’s body had not been found at the time of the trial, it could not be concluded how she was killed.

It was proven Hachem had sent “deliberately false” messages to her phone to give the impression there was no ill will between them and that he wasn’t concerned she had not been in touch.

He also bought items that could be used for the disposal of a body, including garbage bags, heavy-duty gloves and a shovel or spade.

“In the afternoon and evening of 4 January 2019, he travelled to the rural area near Breadalbane, which is northeast of Canberra and west of Goulburn, and spent several hours in that area during the night before returning to Sydney,” the court documents stated.

The next day he bought a knife and carpet from Bunnings to remove the carpet from the rear of the seats and floor of the boot of his mother’s car, along with the carpet covering the passenger’s side wheel arch in the boot.

This piece of carpet had Samah’s blood on it and was later found in Hachem’s bedroom.

“The disposal of the body and the offender’s conduct in the days immediately following the murder demonstrate a callous disregard for the dignity of the deceased, whose life the offender had just taken,” Justice Wright said during sentencing.

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Hachem was sentenced to 24 years imprisonment for Samah’s murder, also taking into account two other charges of dishonestly obtaining financial advantage by deception.

His prison term was backdated to 8 March 2019 as he had been in custody since his arrest.

The judge set a non-parole period of 18 years, making 8 March 2037 his earliest possible date of release.

The murder has been described as a domestic violence offence on his record.

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