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'Baby Hope' mystery finally laid to rest

A cousin of the little girl known for two decades only as "Baby Hope" is charged with murdering her and leaving her in a cooler 22 years ago.

baby hope gravestone now says anjelica castillo The tombstone for a little girl known for 22 years only as Baby Hope now bears her real name: Anjelica Castillo.
Credit: Gwen McClure

More than two decades ago, detectives referred to an unidentified young girl by the feeling that drove them to pursue her murderer until the case was solved: “Baby Hope.”

And now, the child found dead in a cooler on an embankment of the Henry Hudson Parkway on July 23, 1991, finally has a real name: Anjelica Castillo.

New developments were set in motion by a tipster this summer, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said.

On the anniversary of the day her body was discovered, as they have every year, Cold Case detectives passed out flyers and renewed calls for information near the parkway’s Dyckman Street exit.

After the latest outreach, a call to the NYPD’s Crime Stoppers hotline contained a tip that led to a woman who turned out to be Baby Hope’s sister.

Police were then able to identify Baby Hope’s mother and match her DNA to that of the little girl.

That match came just this month, triggering a flurry of leads and developments through a collaboration between the Manhattan District Attorney’s office and the NYPD.

Within about 10 days, that DNA match both spurred and concluded a complex and fast-paced investigation.

Tracing Baby Hope’s family tree to Mexico, investigators identified and interviewed relatives of her parents. They created a detailed timeline of her short life, from her birth at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens in April 1987 to the discovery of her body four years later.

The smallest shreds of information were seized on by various entities, including the Real Time Crime Center, the Crime Stoppers hotline and an NYPD Intelligence Division analyst on loan to the Cold Case Squad. Partial names were run, while new addresses were obtained and fired off to detectives pounding the pavement.

They identified a cousin of Castillo as their suspect, 52-year-old Bronx resident Conrado Juarez. Juarez’s daughter first told detectives that he had been in Mexico for the last 12 years. But his wife said last Friday that he had to gone to work at a restaurant in Manhattan that morning.

Investigators found him near the restaurant that afternoon and “convinced him to talk with them,” Kelly said.

By early Saturday morning, Juarez had confessed, Kelly said.

The detectives on the case had worked 60 hours straight as the final pieces fell into place, NYPD spokesman John McCarthy said.

“They couldn’t walk away from it,” McCarthy said.

Baby Hope always had that effect on law enforcement: Detectives who worked the case when she was found paid for a proper mass and burial for her in 1991, purchasing a tombstone that reads “Because We Care.”

Over the years, the detectives visited her grave, sometimes leaving little mementos — and sometimes checking mementos left behind, for possible clues or even fingerprints.

In a poignant twist, the assistant district attorney who was sent to the embankment in Upper Manhattan that July day in 1991 is now the head of the District Attorney’s Cold Case Unit: Melissa Mourges has been with Baby Hope since arriving to find her in that blue-and-white cooler 22 years ago.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance heralded Mourges’ work as “instrumental” in levying murder charges against Juarez.

At his arraignment, Mourges described to the judge how Juarez, then the little girl’s 30-year-old cousin, sexually assaulted her and smothered her with a pillow. Then, with the help of his now-deceased sister, Juarez folded the child’s body in half, wrapped her in a garbage bag and stuffed her in the cooler, scattering soda cans on top of her body, Mourges said.

The brother and sister took a livery cab to Manhattan and left the cooler in a wooded area, Kelly said.

“They then separated and Juarez returned to the Bronx, and his sister to Queens, never to speak of the heinous act again — until the NYPD investigators, through their relentless investigation, caught up with Juarez,” Kelly said. “Today, NYPD investigators have given young Anjelica her due justice.”

Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat

 
 
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