Arrest in cold case a relief to NYPD pair
NEW YORK - The announcement of an arrest in one of New York City's most notorious cold cases was especially relieving for two hardened investigators, who for 22 years had been working to identify the girl they nicknamed Baby Hope after discovering her body stuffed in a picnic cooler along a highway.
Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Melissa Mourges, the original prosecutor in the 1991 case and now chief of the cold case unit, told a Manhattan judge that Conrado Juarez, 52, was charged with felony murder late Saturday. The charge came shortly after police announced the Bronx man was a relative of the tiny victim, 4-year-old Anjelica Castillo. Police revealed her name for the first time earlier in the day.
"Over the years, the optimism was always there except the frustration would grow," said Detective Joseph Reznick, now a New York Police Department assistant chief who, in 1993, read the eulogy at the girl's burial.
"You know the expression 'I'm on cloud 9?' Well, that's where I am right now," said former detective Jerry Giorgio, who had the case from 1991 until this summer, when he retired from the Manhattan district attorney's cold case squad.
For more than two decades, the girl's name, age, and circumstances of death were unknown. But in a dramatic turnaround, police last week announced that a new tip and a DNA test had allowed them to finally identify the baby's mother.
Then, on Saturday, police Commissioner Raymond Kelly announced the arrest of Juarez, a dishwasher, who Kelly said confessed to the killing, claiming he killed the girl at his now-deceased sister's apartment after sexually abusing her. He told authorities that the sister helped him dispose of the body. They were cousins of the girl's father.
The case became an obsession for some investigators, who worked tirelessly to chase leads and generate new ones.
In July, detectives tried another round of publicity on the 22d anniversary of the discovery of Baby Hope's body, and announced a $12,000 reward. A tipster led police to Anjelica's sister, who said she thought her sister had been killed. Police matched DNA from Anjelica to their mother, who was not identified, and who didn't have custody of Anjelica at the time of death.