NEW YORK – 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, police said Tuesday.
The New York Police Department received a tip from someone after a publicity push about the cold case over the summer, chief police spokesman John McCarthy said. The tip led to the woman, and McCarthy said a DNA match was made last week.
He said the woman had been interviewed and was cooperating with authorities. Police were also speaking to other people. No official suspects have been named.
The case dates to July 23, 1991, when a road worker discovered the remains of the 3- to 5-year-old girl 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 for the girl in 1993. Hundreds attended the funeral. The girl was dressed in a white frock and buried in a white coffin.
Associated Press writer Tom Hays contributed to this report.