Iconic sketch leads to break in Baby Hope case

Forensic anthropologist Margaret Caldwell-Ott compared the body of the little girl on the morgue table with the police sketch and knew something wasn't right.

The sketch, created 22 years ago by a member of the NYPD's artist unit, made the decomposed face of the murder victim known as Baby Hope look too perfect, Caldwell-Ott recalled in an interview last week.

"He saw this mess and tried to draw a pretty girl," she said. "It wasn't pretty . . . Nothing in forensic anthropology is."

The artist, Robert Philios, returned to the city medical examiner's office on a summer day and made another drawing, concentrating on the child's distinctive features and the way her hair surrounded the face.

"The thing we had to show was the mouth," Caldwell-Ott said. "She had a . . . gap in the front teeth."

The resulting sketch -- stark and haunting -- became the iconic image of Baby Hope that was posted for years, along with another variation, all over the city and in the news media. A recent reposting of those images led to a breakthrough in the case and, on Saturday, a cousin's arrest.

Conrado Juarez, 52, of the Bronx, late Saturday night pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder charges, according to his court-appointed attorney, Michael Croce. Judge Laurie Peterson of Manhattan Criminal Court ordered that Juarez be held without bail. The case is due back in court Oct. 22.

Baby Hope, now identified as Anjelica Castillo, 4, was found in July 1991 stuffed in a cooler on the side of the Henry Hudson Parkway in upper Manhattan.

Estimated to be between 3 and 5 years old, the child had apparently been sexually assaulted and was malnourished. Police helped bury the girl in St. Raymond's Cemetery in the Bronx.

After years of fruitless leads, the big break came this summer when the sketches were reposted around Washington Heights, prompting one woman to confide in another at a self-service laundry that the child in the picture was her sister. The second woman contacted police, triggering a frenetic investigation that led to the discovery of Baby Hope's mother last week.

The mother said her daughter had been left in the care of the child's father and possibly with another family member, police officials said.

"With a cold case, it doesn't take much to get the ball rolling," said Caldwell-Ott, who teaches science at a school in Manhattan she asked not to be identified. The sketches, she said, "triggered some sort of memory . . . That is the way things were supposed to work."

At the time of the Baby Hope case, Caldwell-Ott, of Manhattan, was a consultant for the medical examiner's office. The office now has a full-time forensic anthropologist who has played key roles in the probe of the murder victims found at Gilgo Beach and in the aftermath of 9/11.

Philios, 64, retired from the NYPD in 1995, after working 15 years as a sketch artist. Originally a patrolman in the 24th Precinct, Philios studied art and anatomy, and applied for the artist job when a slot became available.

Recalling his work on the Baby Hope case, Philios said the child's face had decomposed. He had to use his knowledge of anatomy, gleaned from art school studies, to approximate the features. "It's only guesswork," he said.

But Philios, of Astoria, Queens, said news of the break in the Baby Hope case gave him a sense of accomplishment.

"I am glad that someone has been uncovered who may have done the act," he said.

With Matthew Chayes

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