After 22 years, a name was finally affixed to the gravestone of the unknown four-year-old girl found dead in a picnic cooler. A laminated sheet with the girl's name "Anjelica Castillo" was placed at the marker in a Throgs Neck cemetery, which also bears the name she was known by all these years, "Baby Hope." The NYPD detectives at the 34th Precinct bought the marker for the slain girl, whose murder was apparently solved late last week. But now begins the case the against the man who supposedly confessed to killing her.
Police say that Conrado Juarez, 52, confessed to sexually assaulting the child, who was his cousin, before smothering her and enlisting the help of his now-dead sister in removing the body from their apartment in Queens to a spot in upper Manhattan so desolate that construction workers didn't find the cooler until days later. However, Juarez's lawyer Michael Croce told the NY Times that his client was questioned for 12-14 hours, "He said prosecutors had not shown him the statement or said whether there is forensic evidence tying Mr. Juarez to the crime. He added that Mr. Juarez did not speak much English."
Apparently Anjelica's father, who was allegedly abusive, took Anjelica and another sister from her mother, Margarita Castillo, and took them to his family's apartment in Astoria, where Anjelica was ultimately killed. According to the Wall Street Journal, "Investigators believe the girl's disappearance was never reported to police because the family were immigrants from Mexico and feared coming forward, two law-enforcement officials said." The Post reports:
Still another source described the marathon interrogation that led Juarez, 52, to confess to smothering the child and disposing of her body with the help of his now-dead sister, Balvina Juarez-Ramirez.
“In the beginning, he was like, ‘It’s not me! It’s not me! I didn’t do it!’ ” that source said. But after several hours of questioning, Juarez, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, allegedly came clean about killing his tiny cousin in the Astoria apartment where they both lived with other relatives.
“His intent was to rape her, but it turned into a murder because she screamed,” the source said. “Even a grown woman would scream under the circumstances. To cover up the scream, he used the pillow to suffocate her to keep her quiet. In his mind, he needed to kill her. Then it was like, ‘Holy s-t, I killed her."
Anjelica's sister lived there until 1995, when Juarez-Ramirez died. The Daily News says that when the other sister was returned, their mother asked, "Where’s the other girl?" It wasn't until a tip this past summer, from a woman who overheard someone say her sister died, that the NYPD was able to trace the girl to Margarita Castillo.
Police are investigating whether other relatives were abused. Juarez, who was held without bail, is in protective custody. The Times reports, "Other inmates at the Manhattan detention complex near the courts shouted that he was 'a child rapist,' and urged correction officers to put him into their cells, a law enforcement official said... 'He was scared to death,' the official added."