By Rich Bockmann
With the help of an anonymous tip and DNA evidence, detectives identified a 4-year-old Astoria girl as the nameless murder victim who for more than two decades was known only as Baby Hope and arrested the man they say allegedly brought her young life to a gruesome, tragic end.
Police said they now know Anjelica Castillo is the name of the girl whose lifeless body was found in the summer of 1991 bound and wrapped in a plastic bag inside a cooler near the Henry Hudson Parkway in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan.
The girl’s cousin, 52-year-old Bronx resident Conrado Juarez, was arrested Friday outside the Manhattan restaurant where he works and after allegedly confessing to the crime, he was charged with murder, police said.
According to the time line now pieced together after 22 years, police said Anjelica was staying with her aunt, Balvina Juarez-Ramirez, at an apartment in Astoria where Juarez allegedly sexually assaulted her one day and smothered her while trying to keep her quiet.
Police said Juarez claimed he called to his sister, who is now deceased, and it was she told him to get rid of the body. The two then allegedly left the apartment with the young girl’s lifeless form in the cooler and hailed a black livery cab to Manhattan, according to police.
“Carrying the cooler between the two of them, they walked through a wooded area and put the cooler down,” Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said at a news conference this weekend. “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.”Construction workers found the cooler around 10:45 a.m. July 23, 1991 — Anjelica’s body weighed just 25 pounds — and for more than two decades detectives conducted a diligent search for anybody with clues as to her identity, but with little luck until recent developments cracked the case.
The girl’s mother, now known to be Margarita Castillo of Elmhurst, never came forward and the child’s father is believed to be living in Mexico.
Anjelica’s gravestone at St. Raymond’s Cemetery in the Bronx reads, “The identity of this little girl is still unknown” and is inscribed with the declaration “BECAUSE WE CARE.”
Each year on the anniversary of the grim discovery police have conducted a public-outreach campaign, and they said it was that effort that led to an anonymous tip that helped police find Baby Hope’s sister and, eventually, her mother.
A DNA sample taken from the girl’s exhumed body in 2006 matched a specimen take from her mother, and police were able to build a family tree and trace Anjelica’s birth to Elmhurst Hospital in April 1987.
Interviews with the girl’s family led investigators to Juarez’s apartment in the Bronx, where Friday his daughter answered the door and told detectives he had been living in Mexico for the last 12 years, Kelly said. But when police spoke with Juarez’s wife, she told them her husband had left at 7 a.m. for his job in Manhattan, and when they arrived they were able to convince him to talk with them, according to the commissioner.
Police said Saturday Juarez admitted to his alleged crimes and was charged in Manhattan Criminal Court with murder.
Kelly thanked the detectives he said worked tirelessly on the case over the last 22 years and the anonymous tipster who came forward.
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4574.