Baby Hope's mother says 'it is too painful' to talk

Jim Hoffer reports on the latest in the investigation
October 15, 2013 1:44:05 PM PDT
From behind her closed apartment door, the mother of Little Angelica Castillo also known as Baby Hope thanked everyone who prayed for her daughter.

She says though that no one can understand her pain.

"It is too painful (to talk). No one would understand my pain. I am thankful to those who prayed for my child," she said.

When asked why she never reported her daughter missing, she had no answer. It's a question on neighbors' minds as well.

"I don't believe that (she feared deportation). I don't believe that's true. They look like they are very aware. They're educated so I don't believe it," neighbor Omar Delarosa said.

Police say over the weekend Conrado Juarez, a cousin and a Manhattan dishwasher, confessed to killing 4-year-old Angelica at his sister's Bronx home 22 years ago.

Detectives say he sexually abused and suffocated her, and then with the help of his now deceased sister, stuffed the little girl in a picnic cooler and dumped it in a wooded area along the Henry Hudson Parkway.

A break in the two decade old case came weeks ago after police had hung fliers and canvassed the Bronx neighborhood.

Lucio Ramierez grew up next door to the mother.

"We grew up together and good friends with them," he said.

He says in all those years the brothers and sisters he played with never mentioned a missing sibling.

"So as little kids we don't know our parents secrets," Ramirez said.

Meanwhile, with word of an arrest in the long-cold Baby Hope case, the victim's name has been added to her headstone: Anjelica Castillo.

Mourners came to St. Raymond's cemetery over the weekend to pay their respects.

Juarez, 52, was arraigned Saturday night. He pleaded not guilty, but said nothing else after he was remanded to custody.

The child's naked, malnourished corpse was discovered on July 23, 1991, in a wooded area beside the Henry Hudson Parkway and Dyckman Street by construction workers who smelled something rotten. Detectives thought she might have been suffocated but had few other clues as to what happened.

The case became an obsession for some investigators who nicknamed the girl "Baby Hope." 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.

"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, in 1993, read the eulogy at the girl's burial before hundreds of mourners. "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.

Giorgio left the NYPD and went to the Manhattan district attorney's cold case squad, from which he retired this year. "I missed the tipster call by a couple of weeks, damn it," he said.

The tipster, who saw the recent news stories on the case, led police to Anjelica's sister, who told detectives she thought her sister had been killed. Police matched DNA from Anjelica to their mother. The mother, who was not identified, didn't have custody of Anjelica at the time of the girl's death - she had been living with relatives on the father's side, including Balvina Juarez-Ramirez, police said.

Juarez-Ramirez is the sister of Juarez. Police closed in on the suspect and waited for him Friday outside a Manhattan restaurant where he worked as a dishwasher. He told them he noticed Anjelica while visiting the family apartment and killed her, police said.

"When she went motionless, he summoned his sister from another room," Kelly said.

Then, the sister got the blue cooler, which still contained full cans of Coke. They took a livery cab from Queens to Manhattan where they dumped the cooler, then separated.

Her parents never reported her missing, though they had contact with the suspect. Juarez had never been considered a suspect before. Police refused to say whether he had previous arrests or had been accused in other sexual assaults.

Kelly called the arrest a superb case of detective work, and said he was proud of his officers.

"For me, it makes you proud to be a member of this organization - they were unrelenting," he said.

The detectives assigned to the case were instrumental in organizing a burial in a Bronx cemetery for the girl in 1993.

The detectives paid for the girl's headstone that reads: "Because we care." On the tomb sit two little angels.