NEW YORK - Police announced today that, after an investigation lasting more than two decades, they had arrested the killer of a child who was nicknamed Baby Hope by detectives after her body was discovered inside a picnic cooler beside a Manhattan highway in 1991.
During an interrogation early today, the 4-year-old girl's cousin, Conrado Juarez, had admitted sexually assaulting and smothering her, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.
The child's name and the circumstances of her death had been a mystery for 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.
Now they are also revealing the slain girl's name: Anjelica Castillo.
It wasn't clear whether Juarez, 52, had a lawyer. Police said he lived in the Bronx, but that the family had been living in Queens at the time of the killing. They also said Juarez claimed that a relative helped him dispose of the child's body.
Anjelica's naked, malnourished corpse was discovered on July 23, 1991, beside the Henry Hudson Parkway. Detectives thought she might have been suffocated but had few other clues as to what happened.
The case became an obsession for some investigators. 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.
Former detective Jerry Giorgio, who had the case from 1991 until his retirement over the summer, said he remained confident the case could be solved. Assistant Chief Joseph Reznick, who also worked the case, said they never gave up.
"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," Reznick said.