Investigators believe the child known as "Baby Hope" was tortured before she was sexually assaulted and smothered to death 22 years ago, at times tied to a table and denied water in the Queens apartment where she was killed, according to law enforcement sources.
Another girl who said she was also tortured in that home witnessed most of the brutality against the child, sources said, and has been shedding light on her last days.
On Saturday police said they had solved the mystery of the decades-old cold case, arresting a cousin of Baby Hope, whose real name was Anjelica Castillo, for allegedly killing the girl and dumping her in a a cooler in the woods in upper Manhattan in 1991.
The 52-year-old cousin, Conrado Juarez, was arrested and charged with felony murder.
Attorney information for Juarez was not immediately available.
A resident of the building where Juarez lived in the Morris Heights section of the Bronx said he was shocked to learn his neighbor could have committed such a crime.
"He looked like a nice gentleman, quiet," said Stan Pullen. "Very disturbing and so close to home."
The girl's body was found by construction workers on July 23, 1991 along the Henry Hudson Parkway near Dyckman Street.
Her identity was not known until last week. Detectives in the cold case had paid for her headstone, inscribing it with the message "Because We Care." By Sunday, someone had put her real name on the headstone.
Investigators launched a renewed push this summer for leads in the case, and it was amid that publicity for "Baby Hope" that a tipster contacted police, saying she thought she might know the child's sister, now an adult.
That tip led detectives to relatives of the girl, and eventually her mother. This week, the child's real name was finally learned.
Police said Anjelica was staying with Juarez's sister because her parents had recently split up.
A law enforcement official told NBC 4 New York that the mother claims she lived in fear of the baby's father and was afraid to go to police after her daughter disappeared. Her mother is believed to live in Elmhurst.