More than two decades after the body of a girl dubbed "Baby Hope" was discovered inside a cooler dumped in a wooded area in upper Manhattan, police say the child's mother has been found.
Police located the girl's mother, and believe they now know the child's identity, after a woman overheard a conversation in a store amid a renewed push this summer to find the toddler's killer.
She contacted police and said she thought she might know the child's sister, now an adult. Detectives then spoke to an aunt of the child, who led them to the mother in Washington Heights.
The mother was confirmed by a DNA test, police said. Police are not releasing the name of the mother or the child known as "Baby Hope," citing an open murder investigation.
A law enforcement official tells NBC 4 New York that the mother claims she lived in fear of the baby's father and always suspected he had something to do with the girl's disappearance. She was afraid to go to police, she told detectives.
The child, who was believed to be 3 to 5 years old when she died, was found by construction workers on July 23, 1991 along the Henry Hudson Parkway near Dyckman Street. Police say the cooler could have been placed there anytime between July 13, 1991 and July 22, 1991.
She was never reported missing, and reports at the time said she had been starved and sexually abused.
The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System database lists "Baby Hope" as weighing 25 pounds and being 3 feet, 2 inches tall. She was bound and her hair was in a ponytail with a yellow elastic.
This summer, police canvassed the Inwood and Washington Heights neighborhoods near where she was found, hanging posters and publicizing a $12,000 reward for information leading to the killer.
The New York Times first reported the break in the case late Monday.