It was more than 20 years ago when a highway worker smelled something rotting inside a picnic cooler discarded near the Henry Hudson Parkway in Manhattan.
He flipped it over and out tumbled the bound, decomposing body of a little girl and a few full cans of Coke.
Despite the efforts of New York Police Department detectives who worked the case for years, she remains anonymous even today, known only as Baby Hope, age 3 to 5. On July 23, the 22nd anniversary of the discovery, cold-case detectives canvassed the Manhattan neighborhood near where the blue cooler was tossed, plastered notices on signposts and announced a $12,000 reward for any information leading to an arrest and conviction in the unsolved crime.
"My main goal is to ID this girl," said Det. Robert Dewhurst of the Cold Case Apprehension Squad.
"Somebody's gotta know this kid. This girl had somewhat of a life with people who should know who she is . . . friends, family, somebody."
Dewhurst says if they could just figure out her name, they might finally identify her killer.
Baby Hope is one of 650 unidentified victims ages 1 to 21 in a database at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, according to Bob Lowery, the executive director of the missing children's division. But there are probably thousands of unidentified kids nationwide, he said. A newer, government-run national database known as the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System has details on more than 10,000 people of all ages.
Workers at the center try to match the unidentified in their database with their vast lists of missing children, but the painstaking process doesn't often yield results.
"Even though they are tragedies, some good may come. It's very helpful for law enforcement to have the name so they can investigate," Lowery said. "And for parents and loved ones who can get the answers they've been looking for."
But that's not likely the case for Baby Hope, detectives say. Her body was found naked and malnourished and showed signs of possible sex abuse. Retired Det. Jerry Giorgio, who worked the case from the beginning, said their theory was she was dumped there by the people who were supposed to be caring for her. They abused her and eventually suffocated her.
Detectives believe she was dead six to eight days before the cooler was found, on an incline, dumped on the grass like garbage.
Giorgio, now 79, who retired in June after more than a half century in law enforcement, said he pursued hundreds of leads but none panned out. He had the case from 1991, when she was found, 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."