In a dramatic break in a cold case more than two decades old, investigators have used DNA to identify a woman they believe is the mother of a dead child known only as Baby Hope, a law enforcement official said Tuesday.
The New York Police Department police received a tip from someone who knew the woman after that person learned of the cold case from a publicity push by the department over the summer, the official said.
Investigators were able to match DNA recovered from the remains of the 3- to 5-year-old girl to the woman as part of an ongoing investigation, the official added.
The official wasn't authorized to speak about the case and spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity, but The New York Times
reported midday Tuesday that police have already questioned the woman.
The newspaper also reported that the woman, who would not be identified as the investigation continues, was originally from Mexico and at one point lived in Queens, said a law enforcement official.
The case dates to July 23, 1991, when a road worker discovered the girl's remains inside a picnic cooler along the Henry Hudson Parkway after smelling something rotting. Her body was unclothed and malnourished and showed signs of possible sex abuse.
Detectives theorized at the time that she had been suffocated before being dumped like garbage on a grassy incline. They estimated she was dead six to eight days before the cooler was found.
In an interview in July, retired Detective Jerry Giorgio said he had pursued hundreds of leads but none panned out. He had the case from 1991 until he retired from the force. Later, as an investigator for the Manhattan district attorney's office, he kept up with it. His name and contact information are still on a website dedicated to the girl.
"It was so frustrating," he said recently. "We initially thought we'll get her identified and go from there and probably solve the case. It didn't happen."
As the frustration mounted, so did detectives' affection for the victim. They began calling her "our baby." Eventually she became "Baby Hope" – because they hoped and prayed they'd solve the case, Giorgio said.
He was instrumental in organizing a burial in a Bronx cemetery for the girl in 1993. Hundreds attended the funeral. The girl was dressed in a white frock and buried in a white coffin.