NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- It's taken police more than two decades, but they now say they have identified the mother of the child who came to be known as "Baby Hope."
The baby girl's decomposing body was found in a cooler along the Henry Hudson Parkway near the Dyckman Street exit in Washington Heights 22 years ago. Her body was malnourished and tests showed possible signs of sexual abuse.
Her parents or relatives never reported her missing.
Police Identify Mother In 1991 'Baby Hope' Cold Case
Retired Det. Jerry Giorgio doggedly worked the city's most famous unsolved cold case for more than two decades -- even after he retired from the NYPD and went to work for the Manhattan District Attorney's Office.
"I made a promise to myself that whatever it takes, we're going to solve this case," Giorgio told CBS 2's Tamara Leitner. "If I didn't think of the case every day, at least once a week it would cross my mind and that's why we always referred to her as our baby."
This past July, on the anniversary of the grisly discovery, police launched a renewed effort to get solid information to identify the child.
Police handed out posters and flyers featuring a composite sketch of what the child -- estimated to be 3 to 5 years old -- might have looked like and offered a $12,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the case.
New Details In 'Baby Hope' Case
This summer's efforts got results.
A tip came in to the Crime Stoppers phone line from a woman who said she thought she knew Baby Hope's sister.
That bit of information led detectives to the mother of the child and law enforcement officials were able to match the child's DNA last week.
"We have been able to identify the mother of Baby Hope as a result of, in my judgement, outstanding detective work," Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said. "A DNA match was made with the mother and the mother has been cooperating."
"This is as a result of a DNA match that took place as a result of exhuming the body in 2011 and being able to get a DNA sample from the mother," Kelly added.
The mother told detectives an abusive ex-husband had run off with her two daughters -- Baby Hope and an older girl -- in 1990.
"We want to go forward with the investigation and not breach any confidentiality that we have with the family at this time.," said Kelly.
Detectives are now trying to locate the father.
"They'll track them down. And I feel very optimistic there will be an arrest in this case," Giorgio said.
New Details In 'Baby Hope' Case
Detectives from the 34th Precinct were the ones that actually named the child "Baby Hope" and pitched in with their own money to buy the girl a headstone and cemetery plot. They're hoping that someday they will be able to change the name on the headstone to her real name.
"I believe from the first moment when I discovered the baby in the park area. It seemed like a hand just came up and clutched our hearts, a piece of our hearts with it," Giorgio said.
Police are still encouraging anyone with information about the case to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477), visit www.nypdcrimestoppers.com or text tips to 274637 (CRIMES) then enter TIP577.
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