(NEW YORK) — Police in New York have arrested the 52-year-old cousin of the unidentified child found dead 22 years ago and dubbed “Baby Hope,” after the man admitted sexually assaulting and killing her, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly said on Saturday.
The cold case was reopened last summer and this week got new hope when police said that they had identified the girl’s mother through an anonymous tip and DNA testing.
Conrado Juarez, 52, was arrested Friday. He allegedly admitted that he sexually assaulted the child, and smothered her, Kelly said. Juarez’s sister allegedly helped him get rid of the little girl’s body in a cooler..
The body of the girl, identified for the first time on Saturday as Angelica Castillo, was found inside a cooler in a wooded area near the Henry Hudson Parkway in Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood in 1991. Police said the girl, who was between 3 and 5 years old, had been malnourished and was sexually abused.
“Today, NYPD investigators have given young Angelica her due justice,” Kelly said.
The commissioner said the department had never forgotten the case, and had never given up hope that the little girl’s killer would be found.
“Detectives from the 34th precinct squad paid for Baby Hope tombstone which reads at the bottom ‘Because We Care,'” he said. “They ensured she had a proper mass and burial.”
The NYPD began a new push this summer after they reopened the case that has haunted detectives for more than two decades. After canvassing Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood and distributing fliers, detectives were able to identify the girl’s mother.
DNA was used to match the woman with the child last week, according to Kelly, after the mother was found based on a tip that was sent to investigators.
Sources familiar with the case told ABC News that the posters distributed in the neighborhood jogged the memory of a woman who said she remembered overhearing another woman discussing the case in a Washington Heights laundromat.
The tipster told detectives that the woman knew about the case and spoke like she was the dead girl’s mother.
Detectives spoke to the Washington Heights woman, and after several weeks of emotional interviews, she admitted that she always suspected her missing daughter was the dead girl. She told police that her husband disappeared with her two daughters in 1991, and that she never told the police because she feared his wrath.
She told police that her older daughter returned home about eight years later, but never told her mother what happened to her sibling.
The mother provided a DNA sample, and it linked her to the “Baby Hope” remains. She was not considered a suspect in the death.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Julia Horowitz, CNN
Eliza Mackintosh, CNN