NEW YORK CITY — After more than 22 years, the NYPD has made an arrest in the “Baby Hope” murder case.
Conrado Juarez, 52, thought to be a cousin of Baby Hope, was living with the little girl in Queens during the summer of 1991 and was taken into custody Friday then charged Saturday in connection with her death, the NYPD said.
Juarez, who is from the child's father's side, confessed to sexually assualting and then murdering the young child while drunk one night, sources told DNAinfo New York, which first broke the story.
Police also announced the real name of the 4-year-old girl, who was called Baby Hope by investigators for decades: Anjelica Castillo.
For years, investigators thought that either her mother or her father would be involved in her death, after her body was found wrapped in plastic and stuffed inside a cooler in 1991, but as of right now neither has been charged, police said.
Juarez admitted to police that Anjelica was living with a relative, possibly Juarez's mother, in an Astoria apartment shared by seven of Juarez's relatives when he came over intoxicated, sodomized the girl, and then suffocated her with a pillow, according to police sources and the Manhattan District Attorney's office.
Balvina Juarez-Ramirez, his sister, had been watching Anjelica and her sister at the time of the alleged murder, the DA said, and sources told "On the Inside" that the girl's father had left the children with her after a split with the girls' mother. Juarez had access to the girl several nights, according to the complaint.
"He made statements admitting that he forced sexual contact with the child," said ADA Melissa Mourges, the original prosecutor on the case in 1991, during the arraignment, and she described the brutal attack on the young girl. "During that act he put a pillow over her face, suffocating her," added Mourges, who is Chief of the DA's Cold Case Unit.
With his sister's help, he "folded the girl in half, tied her, placed her in a garbage bag inside the cooler, placed soda cans on top of her body, then left the cooler in Upper Manhattan," said Mourges, taking a livery cab to Inwood Park and dropping the cooler in a wooded area.
The baby's corpse was first found by construction workers, on July 23, 1991 along the Henry Hudson Parkwayin Washington Heights. Her disappearance was never reported.
Since then, investigators have pursued hundreds of leads down dead ends.
Police held a press conference Saturday with the Manhattan District Attorney's office announcing the man's arrest.
Following a media blitz this past summer by the NYPD on the 22nd anniversary of her death, a Washington Heights mother told police that a couple of years ago she had overheard a woman in a laundry say that her little sister had died and may have been killed.
That woman who overheard the tip notified the NYPD, which tracked down the woman from the laundromat. She turned out to be Anjelica’s sister.
The NYPD then obtained a DNA match with the child’s mother, who has had 10 children, sources said. After finding her the NYPD back-tracked, starting with Anjelica's birth at Elmhurst Hospital in April of 1987, and developing a sprawling family tree that included relatives in New York and Mexico.
Juarez, who was arrested Friday at a restaurant where he works, has four grown children and lived in the Bronx, police said.
One of the daughters answered the door at his Morris Heights apartment building Friday, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said, and told police Juarez had been living in Mexico for 12 years. After interviewing his wife however, investigators found him at his restaurant job in Manhattan, where he was taken into custody Friday morning.
Sources told DNAinfo that he acted surprised at first that police were questioning him.
District Attorney Cy Vance credited the efforts of the police and tireless members of his office with the arrest.
"Cold cases are not forgotten cases. Today's arrest of the man charged with killing Anjelica in 1991 is an extraordinary example of police work," he said, adding that Assistant District Attorney Melissa Mourges, who responded on the day Anjelica's body was was discovered, had "worked the case ever since."
Juarez was arraigned late Saturday
The “Baby Hope” murder has been one of the city’s most troublesome and heart-wrenching cold cases.
Two years after her death, NYPD detectives finally gave the girl's remains a proper funeral in Washington Heights attended by 500 people, and then buried her in St. Raymond’s Cemetery in The Bronx, with a headstone bearing her moniker, the date she was found, and three words, “Because We Care.”