NEW YORK — Detectives solved the decades-old mystery of “Baby Hope,” a little girl whose body was discovered inside a picnic cooler beside a Manhattan highway in 1991, and arrested a relative of the child Saturday after he admitted he sexually assaulted and smothered her, police said Saturday.
Conrado Juarez, 52, was arrested and arraigned on a felony murder charge. He pleaded not guilty.
Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Melissa Mourges, chief of the cold case unit and the original prosecutor on the case in 1991, told a judge at Juarez’s arraignment that he had admitted sexually abusing the child before smothering her. Mourges said Juarez then enlisted the aid of his sister who helped him dispose of the body.
They were cousins of the girl’s father, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.
The girl’s name, age and circumstances of her death were unknown for more than two decades. But earlier this week, police announced that a new tip and a DNA test had allowed them to finally identify the baby’s mother, a dramatic turnaround in one of the city’s more notorious cold cases.
On Saturday, they also revealed the girl’s name: Anjelica Castillo, age 4.
The child’s naked, malnourished corpse was discovered on July 23, 1991, beside the Henry Hudson Parkway by construction workers who smelled something rotten. Detectives thought she might have been suffocated but had few other clues as to what happened.
The case became an obsession for some investigators who nicknamed the girl “Baby Hope.” Hundreds of people attended a funeral for the unknown girl in 1993. Her body was exhumed for DNA testing in 2007, and then again in 2011.
In July, detectives tried another round of publicity on the 22nd anniversary of the discovery. They canvassed the neighborhood where her body was found, hung fliers, circulated sketches of the girl and a photograph of the cooler and announced a $12,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.