Two NYPD detectives used their skills as licensed funeral directors to reconstruct the face of Anjelica Castillo in a crucial step that ultimately led to the identification of Baby Hope after a 22-year investigation, said people involved in the case.
The work of the two Missing Persons squad detectives -- both now retired -- is a little known aspect of the Baby Hope case. Their facial reconstruction helped artists sketching the little girl's face. Those sketches, which have been posted across the city for two decades, led to the arrest Oct. 12 of Conrado Juarez on charges he killed the four-year-old girl in 1991 and stuffed her body in a picnic cooler and left it in a wooded area of Upper Manhattan.
Juarez is due in a Manhattan court today and has denied killing Angelica.
Retired detective Michael Muenz described how he and detective sergeant Mark Giffen carefully restored facial tissue to Angelica and used mortician's wax to replace what had been lost through decomposition.
Restoration was needed because Anjelica's body had rapidly deteriorated in the container dumped by the Henry Hudson Parkway. She had been doubled up to fit in the cooler, with her limbs tied.
Muenz, 52, owner of Cargain Funeral Homes in Westchester County, recalled that he and Giffen got to work after the autopsy had been completed. Muenz had been a funeral director before he joined the NYPD in 1986, a career switch inspired by his grandfather Harry Widder, who died in the line of duty in 1953. He left the department in late 1994. Giffen, 51, who retired from the NYPD in 2005 and works as a funeral director, declined to comment.
A spokeswoman for the city medical examiner's office last week also declined to comment about the Baby Hope case.
"I said 'Hey Mark, let me get the restorative wax and tools,' " remembered Muenz.
He had never encountered anything like the condition of Anjelica, said Muenz.
"This is the first time working on reconstruction on someone who wasn't embalmed, the tissue was deteriorated and soft," he recalled. Muenz remembered that Anjelica's dark hair was missing in spots. Complicating things further was the lack of a photograph of Anjelica to guide Muenz, who made his best estimates of her facial contours.
Warming the morticians wax with his hands, Muenz began the delicate and exacting job of trying to reconstruct Angelica's face.
He used a small spatula to help apply the wax. An added complication was that her cooler skin sometimes didn't allow the wax to adhere, said another person familiar with the process.
The face restored, sketch artists with the NYPD got to work making a number of renderings.
Two of the sketches circulated for years and in recent months triggered a discussion by two women in a Washington Heights Laundromat that led to the discovery of Angelica's mother and the arrest of Juarez.
"Working on a little child like that kind of stays with you," Muenz said.