THROGS NECK, the Bronx (PIX11) – Twenty-two years after she was found tied up, placed in a plastic bag and stuffed into a cooler, detectives have finally been able to identify the tortured and murdered toddler known as Baby Hope. The senior detective in the case calls new developments in one of the most famous cases in New York City history nothing short of a major breakthrough that may finally lead to an arrest in this case that long ago went cold.
Retired NYPD Detective Jerry Giorgio was at St. Raymond Cemetery in the Bronx Tuesday afternoon, laying flowers at a grave marked with a headstone inscribed with the name, “Baby Hope,” Underneath that inscription is a small plaque. It points out that the four year-old girl whose decomposing body was found in the cooler in the woods just off the Henry Hudson Parkway in Inwood was still unidentified. That has now finally changed, even though the NYPD is not yet officially releasing the girl’s name.
“We were all very much affected by this case,” said Detective Giorgio in an interview with PIX11 News. He’s one of the most storied detectives in NYPD history, having solved numerous high-profile cases. But he said that the Baby Hope case from 1991 has stuck with him and his fellow homicide detectives deeply, not only because it remained unsolved, but also because of the victim’s story.
“To be at the site when that baby was found,” Giorgio said, “the cooler was open and you could see bits” of the small girl’s extremities visible from the plastic bag in which she’d been left. He said that the scene “reached out and clutched us in the heart.”
An autopsy showed she’d been sexually abused and starved before her death, which was caused by smothering. She had been left desolate and abandoned, except by the detectives and police officers who worked the case. They spearheaded efforts to honor the girl posthumously.
“She was our baby,” said Giorgio. “We’d always talk about the baby, the baby, our baby.”
They paid for her tombstone, and got a casket and burial plot donated for the little girl. Their efforts not only led to an outpouring of support for the girl by strangers sympathetic to the preschooler’s plight, it also led to a long list of tips to investigators. All of the tips ended up going nowhere.
That changed, though, this year. On July 23rd, the 22nd anniversary of Baby Hope’s remains being found, investigators held a news conference announcing a major push to get people who may know something about the case to come forward. Officers put up posters near the site of where the girl’s remains were found, and a van wired with a public address system drove around Inwood and other nearby neighborhoods asking for tips.
Those efforts, along with broadcast and print stories about the long-cold case, paid off.
“We have been able to identify the mother of Baby Hope,” Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said Tuesday. “A DNA match was made with the mother, and the mother has been cooperating,” he said.
Specifically, according to police sources and confirmed by Detective Giorgio, a woman saw a media report this year, and in recent weeks decided to call in a tip she’d gotten five years ago from a woman who’d told her that she was the sister of Baby Hope.
Giorgio told PIX11 News, “The girl telling the lady this story said at the time, ‘[The killing] happened while I was in Mexico.’ Bingo.”
It was the tip for which he had been waiting more than 1,100 weeks, and it was consistent with the one key shred of information Giorgio had ever gotten in his investigation. It had been phoned into him anonymously about six days after the girl’s discovery.
A female tipster had said that days before the girl’s remains were found, she had spotted a well dressed couple from Mexico carting a cooler matching the description of the one Baby Hope had been left in. The couple was walking on the side of the roadway closest to the spot where the cooler ended up being found.
Now, it may be that the woman in that couple — Baby Hope’s mother — is talking with police. Investigators were able to use the most recent tip to contact Baby Hope’s sister, and through the sister, detectives made contact with the slain girl’s mother. “I want to be a fly on the wall listening to what’s going on [in her questioning] right now,” Giorgio said.
After laying flowers at the girl’s grave Tuesday afternoon, Giorgio, who is not speculating about a suspect in the case, said that he’s pleased that there’s no more need to speculate about the girl’s identity.
The police department won’t officially release the girl’s name until the case is solved, but Giorgio’s contacts in the case assure him the DNA and other information that has surfaced has them well on the way to solving the longstanding mystery.
It left Giorgio talking about finally changing the name on the headstone where the girl is buried.
“It will change,” he said, after saying a prayer over the grave of the girl whose abuser and murderer he’d doggedly pursued for more than two decades. “And I believe we’ll get another [head]stone, whatever it takes.”