‘Cold Case’ detectives hoping to solve ‘newborn in the courtyard’ mystery

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BROOKLYN — The NYPD “Crime Stoppers” van cruised slowly down Montgomery Street in Crown Heights, Brooklyn this week, with the speaker sending a message about the brutal death of a newborn nearly 23 years ago.

“On Monday, November 8, 1993—at approximately 8:30 am,” the police voice said, “a female infant was found dead inside a trash bag with a towel around her neck.”

The newborn was less than 24 hours old and still had the umbilical cord attached. The towel tied around its neck was white with red stripes. A super found the baby in a black bag in the courtyard next to 346 Montgomery St., off Rogers Avenue, which has another building overlooking it as well.

“Perhaps this will spark somebody’s memory,” said Detective Steve Litwin of the NYPD’s Cold Case squad. “It has worked before. It worked in the Baby Hope case in Manhattan.”

Litwin was referring to the case that long tormented detectives from the 34th Precinct in upper Manhattan. On July 23, 1991, the remains of a 4-year-old girl were discovered folded over in a blue and white cooler in the woods of Inwood, adjacent to the Henry Hudson Parkway.

Cops weren’t even sure of her age at the time, but they were touched by the dead child’s plight and chipped in their own money to bury her nearly two years later. The detectives called her Baby Hope.

In July 2013, one day before the 22nd anniversary of Hope’s discovery, detectives from the Crime Stoppers Unit and Cold Case flooded the streets of Washington Heights and Inwood to hand out flyers, hoping for an investigative miracle.

They got it.

“We went out the whole day,” recalled Detective Elena Donnell in 2013, “and then, the next day, I got a tip.”

That tip led detectives from the woods of upper Manhattan to a Bronx laundromat and finally, to Queens, where Baby Hope’s mother lived. The child’s real name was Anjelica Castillo. The mother’s cousin later confessed to molesting the little girl in July 1991, before smothering her and hiding her body in the cooler.

Conrado Juarez is still awaiting trial for murder.

Detectives from the 71st Precinct in Crown Heights — where the newborn was tossed into the courtyard in 1993 — long ago interviewed tenants who were living in the apartment buildings on Montgomery Street at that time.

But police — and long-time residents — speculate the baby’s mother could have been young, scared, and might have come from somewhere else.

“Who knows?” asked Mary Mitchell, who’s lived in the area a long time. “Maybe she didn’t live around here and came here and did what she had to do and left. Nobody knows.”

Crime Stoppers is offering a $2,500 reward for anyone who calls its hotline at 1-800-577-TIPS. All callers are given a code number and receive their reward in cash, from a bank, if there’s an arrest and conviction.

The current super at 346 Montgomery St., George Atkinson, said the sad story serves as a cautionary tale for other young women.

“You’ve got to talk,” said Atkinson. “Somebody will step up and help you.”