Murder of Anjelica Castillo
Murder of Anjelica Castillo, previously known as “Baby Hope” for over two decades, was a Mexican-American girl aged four, tragically murdered in New York City in 1991. Her identity remained unknown until 2013. This case garnered widespread national attention primarily due to the victim’s tender age and the gruesome nature of her death. Following her identification, Conrado Juarez, Castillo’s paternal cousin, who was 30 years old at the time of her tragic demise, confessed to her murder. However, Juarez passed away in custody in November 2018, having changed his plea to “not guilty” and asserting that his confession had been obtained under duress.
Anjelica Castillo’s father, Genaro Ramirez, who had a history of mistreatment, vanished with two of his three young children. Anjelica’s mother, Margarita Castillo, believed he had taken both Anjelica and her sister and gone back to his home country, Mexico. However, in truth, he left Anjelica in New York and placed her under the care of the children’s adult female cousin, Balvina Juarez-Ramirez, who resided in a house in Astoria, Queens.
Years later, Balvina’s brother and Anjelica’s male cousin Conrado Juarez admitted to torturing, raping, and sodomizing the child before smothering her. Juarez, who was 30 years old at the time of the murder, had bound Anjelica to a table in his sister’s apartment, and had deprived her of water on multiple occasions. Juarez claimed he originally did not intend to kill her, but then suffocated her with a pillow after she cried out during her rape. Juarez immediately informed Juarez-Ramirez that their cousin was dead, and his sister insisted that they dispose of the body. Anjelica’s body was placed in a cooler, and the siblings took a car service to Manhattan to dump the cooler.
Anjelica’s mother, Margarita, believing Castillo to be in Mexico with her father, and also unable to communicate in English, never reported her missing. Margarita did claim that she and her family had searched for her daughter, but were unable to locate her, for which she became the subject of much criticism and anger when Anjelica was identified in 2013. Other reports reveal that her family also neglected to report her missing because some of the family members, including Margarita, were apparently undocumented immigrants. They feared that if it was discovered that some were in the country without documentation during the course of an investigation, they would be deported.
Anjelica’s decomposing body was discovered on July 23, 1991, inside a navy blue cooler along the Henry Hudson Parkway in Manhattan, New York. The body was so decomposed that identification was at first impossible, as her face was not recognizable—she soon came to be known as “Baby Hope”. She was naked, and had been bound with both rope and a Venetian blind cord. She was placed in a fetal position with her hands pressed together.
The body was then wrapped in a garbage bag and placed inside the cooler, which was filled with unopened soda cans and water (which was presumably ice at one time). Examiners concluded that “Baby Hope” was possibly Hispanic, had dark, wavy hair in a ponytail, was malnourished (weighing only 28 pounds (13 kilograms)), was a victim of sexual abuse, and had died on or about July 18. She was initially estimated to have been between three and five years old.
After examination was completed, and the case remained unsolved, police provided the money in 1993 to have the victim buried after a public funeral was held. A casket was donated in which to bury the little girl, and her headstone was marked as “Baby Hope”. One of the officers who was investigating the case gave a eulogy. Two hundred people attended.
Following the initial discovery of the remains, a witness informed law enforcement that she had observed a Hispanic man and woman carrying a cooler near the area where the body was later found. This sighting occurred around the time when the girl was estimated to have been killed. Several months later, during the autumn of 1991, potentially incriminating images of a unclothed child were discovered in New Jersey. Some suspected that these images might have depicted “Baby Hope” since the child in the photographs closely resembled the victim’s description.
“Baby Hope’s” body was exhumed in 2006, and again in 2011 to obtain DNA information. Authorities reopened the case in 2013, and requested information from the public. The tip that broke the case came from an anonymous woman who told authorities that she had overheard a conversation two years prior between a mother and another person regarding the disappearance of her daughter. This information led investigators to Margarita Castillo, and DNA comparisons confirmed that she was the mother of “Baby Hope”—who could now be identified as Anjelica Castillo.
Identification and arrest of Conrado Juarez
Once investigators had identified Anjelica and her family, further effort led them to the names of her paternal cousins – 52-year-old Conrado Juarez and his now deceased sister, Balvina Juarez-Ramirez. Juarez was questioned by detectives after being located working as a dishwasher in a restaurant in Manhattan. The subsequent interrogation led to his arrest for the crime. He was subsequently charged with felony murder. Police stated that they also suspect that Anjelica may not have been Juarez’s only victim.
When first interviewed by reporters, Margarita Castillo refused to show her face, and spoke through a closed door. She gave her explanation of why Anjelica was not reported missing, and also described her devastation when she learned of the fate of Anjelica, and her anger toward Juarez. She was subjected to criticism throughout the community for not reporting anything about Anjelica’s disappearance.
Some members and friends of Anjelica’s family had never known she had even existed. Anjelica’s sister, Laurencita Ramirez, spoke to reporters about the case. When she was 11, she learned about Anjelica’s existence, and about her abduction by their father years earlier. Ramirez stated that she did not become familiar with “Baby Hope” until the case was reopened and publicized in 2013. When she saw the artist recreations in the media, she saw a resemblance between the victim and herself, and wondered if the still unidentified “Baby Hope” might be the missing sister she had heard about.
Upon the initial identification of Anjelica, her father, Genaro Ramirez, was initially considered a possible suspect in her death, but this perception changed when Juarez made his confession. Up to the present day, Genaro Ramirez remains unlocated but is thought to be living in Puebla, Mexico. He may still be unaware of the fate that befell his daughter after he entrusted her to Juarez’s care. Juarez later recanted his confession, alleging that it had been coerced, and provided a different version of Castillo’s demise. He claimed that his sister sought his help after the girl fell down the stairs and died. Subsequently, he entered a plea of “not guilty” when charged with second-degree murder. Tragically, Juarez passed away in police custody on November 19, 2018, after battling pancreatic cancer.