The announcement of an arrest in one of New York City’s most notorious cold cases was especially relieving for two hardened investigators, who had been working for 22 years to identify the girl they nicknamed Baby Hope after discovering her body 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, four-year-old Anjelica Castillo. Police revealed her name for the first time earlier in the day. Juarez pleaded not guilty but said nothing else after he was remanded to custody.
“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 read the eulogy at the girl’s burial before hundreds of mourners in 1993.
“I think reflecting back on what we named this little girl, Baby Hope, I think it’s the most accurate name we could have come up with.”
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 enabled 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.
The case became an obsession for some investigators, who worked tirelessly to chase down every lead and generate new ones.
In July, on the 22nd anniversary of the discovery of Baby Hope’s body, detectives tried another round of publicity. They canvassed the neighborhood where she was found, hung fliers, circulated sketches of her and announced a $12,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.
Police closed in on the suspect and waited for him Friday outside a Manhattan restaurant where he worked.
Kelly called the arrest a superb case of detective work and said he was proud of his officers.
“It makes you proud to be a member of this organization. They were unrelenting,” he said.
The detectives paid for the girl’s headstone, which reads: “Because we care.”