NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Twenty-two years after the long-unsolved murder of a 4-year-old girl whose identity had remained a mystery ever since, Baby Hope’s real name has been placed on her tombstone.
As CBS 2’s Steve Langford reported, New Yorkers made a special trip Sunday to St. Raymond’s Cemetery in the Bronx to pay their respects to the girl now identified as Anjelica Castillo, and offered a prayer for the child whose alleged killer – a cousin – has finally been caught.
“And today the angels are rejoicing with her,” one New Yorker said at the grave site.
Conrado Juarez, 52, of the Bronx, was apprehended and arrested on Friday. Police said he admitted to sexually assaulting and smothering Anjelica, before stuffing her little body into a cooler and then, along with his sister, leaving the container near the Henry Hudson Parkway.
Juarez said that he encountered the girl in the hallway of an Astoria, Queens home after her parents had been separated, according to authorities.
Balbena Juarez Ramirez, the now deceased sister of Juarez allegedly helped him stuff the body in the cooler before getting in a livery cab and disposing of the body, 1010 WINS’ Gary Baumgarten reported.
Angelica’s naked body was discovered in upper Manhattan 22 years ago.
“Juarez returned to the Bronx and his sister returned to Queens, never to speak of this heinous act again,” said police Commissioner Ray Kelly.
Now, the silence has been broken and the cold case has been cracked open.
“I think it’s fantastic that the detective kept after it and finally found justice,” one person said at the gravesite.
Conrado Juarez worked here most recently at Trattoria Pesce restaurant on Bleecker Street. Police caught up with him nearby here on Friday.
Co-workers did not comment on the incident, and there were no signs of any family members at the Bronx apartment building where Juarez lived. But neighbors were apparently shaken by news about just who a fellow resident might be.
“You can live next to someone — you never suspect would do something like that,” neighbor Bernard Vasser told CBS 2’s Dave Carlin. “He probably thought it would never catch up, but it did. It did.”
This is a case that more than 20 years later, many New Yorkers still grieve over.
“It’s a child, you know what I mean? It’s somebody who never got to live life,” one participant said at the gravesite.
“It hurts — just hurts; really does,” another said.
“God bless her and let her rest in peace,” a third said.
The NYPD renewed efforts to gather information in the case in July.
Police handed out posters and flyers featuring a composite sketch of what the child – estimated to be between 3 and 5 years old when she died — might have looked like and offered a $12,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the case.
A tip came in to the Crime Stoppers phone line and that bit of information led detectives to the mother of the child.
“An anonymous call helped detectives develop information that led them to the now adult sister of Baby Hope. From there they identified a woman believed to be Baby Hope’s mother,” Commissioner Kelly said.
Law enforcement officials were able to match the child’s DNA last week.
And as CBS 2’s Dave Carlin reported, one retired NYPD detective refused ever to let Baby Hope be forgotten. Jerry Giorgio’s hope for justice never wavered in 22 years.
“Just to have him in is a most satisfying feeling,” Giorgio said.
He said he is glad an anonymous tip recently led his investigators to the girl’s mother, which led to the DNA match and ultimately to Juarez.
Giorgio said he struggles to understand why the girl’s relatives never came forward over the years.
“They did absolutely nothing. They conspired amongst themselves be quiet be quiet be quiet,” he said. “It was disgusting and terrible, and I would say it to their face if I saw them.”
The case was never far from this Giorgio’s heart. He was there as hundreds of people attended the funeral for the unknown girl in 1993.
Detectives from the 34th Precinct were the ones that named the child “Baby Hope” and pitched in with their own money to buy the girl a headstone and cemetery plot at St. Raymond’s Cemetery in the Bronx in 1993. They made sure to add these words “Because we care.”
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