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DNA test could have been big break in 1996 case of baby ‘Hope’ but search for mother continues

Twenty years ago, a custodian found the body of a newborn girl wrapped in a red golf shirt and hanging in a plastic bag in the locker area of the Lillian Vernon mail order warehouse. The baby was never identified, and the case was never solved. (Courtesy of the Virginia Beach Police Department)

VIRGINIA BEACH — A DNA test that could have been a break in the nearly 21-year search for the mother of  “Hope,” an infant whose body was found hanging in a plastic bag at a Virginia Beach business in 1996, has yielded a negative result, according to police.

The newborn girl’s body was found in a locker located in an employee-only women’s bathroom at the Lillian Vernon mail-order warehouse on Dec. 21, 1996. She had been dead for three to five days when she was discovered by a custodian.

The Virginia Beach Police Department believes she may have been born in the bathroom and left there.

In August, police collected a DNA sample from a 52-year-old Virginia Beach woman they once believed may have been Hope’s mother. Police began questioning her after using an investigative process called phenotyping, which narrowed the baby’s ancestry to East Asian descent, according to documents filed in Virginia Beach Circuit Court.

About a month ago that DNA test came back negative, eliminating the woman as Hope’s mother, said VBPD Cold Case Detective Angela Curran.

But the news isn’t all bad. Phenotyping also allowed the VBPD to narrow their search from 2,800 regular and seasonal employees who were working at the warehouse when the baby was found to fewer than 100.

Anyone with information on this case should call Virginia Beach Crime Solvers at 1-888-LOCK-U-UP.

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