Police: DNA results narrow baby ‘Hope’ death investigation down to fewer than 100 people

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 — For more than 20 years, Virginia Beach police have been trying to identify baby “Hope.”

The newborn was found dead in a plastic bag on Dec. 21, 1996. Her body was hanging in a locker located in the employee-only women’s bathroom of the Lillian Vernon mail-order warehouse, and she’d been dead for three to five days, VBPD Cold Case Homicide Detective Angela Curran said in a January interview.

“Hope” was discovered by a custodian. Her body was wrapped in a small, red golf shirt, and police believe she may have been born in the bathroom and left there, Curran said.

Police were never able to determine “Hope’s” race because of decomposition, but they were able to gather a full DNA profile on the baby which they’ve been using to test against the DNA of regular and seasonal employees who were working in the warehouse when she was born.

Now, the VBPD may be one step closer to knowing who baby “Hope’s” parents are thanks to DNA testing that revealed the infant was likely of East Asian decent.

The VBPD tested the newborn’s DNA using a process called phenotyping, which predicts a person’s ancestry and physical appearance. The results showed that “Hope” was 94.2 percent East Asian, and that her parents may have been Cambodian, Dai, Lahu, Thai, Vietnamese or Filipino.

Until this point, police were in the process of searching for the 2,800 regular and seasonal female employees who were working at the warehouse when the baby was found and asking them for DNA samples.

The new DNA results have helped police narrow their investigation down to less than 100 employees, according to VBPD Master Police Officer Tonya Pierce.

Curran is asking members of the public to submit tips to the Virginia Beach Cold Case Homicide Unit at 757-385-4241 or the Virginia Beach Crime Line at 1-888-LOCK-U-UP.

To watch the full interview with Curran, click here.

Send tips to adrienne.m@southsidedaily.com.

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Adrienne Mayfield is an award-winning, multi-media journalist hailing from Clermont, Fla. She moved to Lynchburg, Va. on a whim when she was 19, and worked her way to Hampton Roads in 2013. Adrienne is passionate about telling people stories via covering public safety and the judicial system. She isn’t afraid to take a heads-on approach to covering crime, including knocking on doors to get the details police aren’t sharing. Adrienne is a 2014 Old Dominion University graduate who still lives within walking distance of the college. You may see her cruising around Downtown Norfolk on her bike, enjoying a sandwich from Grilled Cheese Bistro or playing fetch with her dog, Greta, at the Colonial Place dog park.