DNA test of Virginia Beach woman may be break in 1996 baby ‘Hope’ cold case

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 — Police are narrowing their search for the mother of “Hope,” an infant whose body was found hanging in a plastic bag at a Virginia Beach business in 1996.

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 who they believe may have been Hope’s mother, according to documents filed in Virginia Beach Circuit Court.

Police began to question the woman after using an investigative process called phenotyping, which narrowed the baby’s ancestry to East Asian descent.

It also allowed police to narrow their search from 2,800 regular and seasonal female employees who were working at the warehouse when the baby was found, to fewer than 100.

Employee records led police to the woman, who would have been 33 at the time of Hope’s birth. She appears to have lived in Virginia Beach from 1996 until July of this year, as well as in Texas from February 2016 until now, court documents show.

In August, the VBPD began working with the Collin County Sheriff’s Office, located in Texas, to try and get the woman to give her DNA to officials voluntarily, court documents state.

“No no no! I don’t want anyone else to contact me,” she told police, according to court documents. She added that she didn’t want to “hear anymore about this and just wanted peace.”

When a CCSO officer spoke to her, she confirmed that she was working second shift at the warehouse when Hope’s body was found, adding that the locker the baby was stored in was close to her own, according to court documents.

“She stated she could smell the deceased child and she ignored the smell for approximately a week,” police wrote in court documents.

The woman said she believes Hope’s death was “an accident,” according to court documents.

The woman declined to give police a voluntary DNA swab, which led them to getting a search warrant for her DNA in Texas; however, when police tried to contact her at her Celina home, she appeared to have left town.

When police were unable to contact her in Texas, they took out a search warrant that would allow them to see where her phone pinged. It showed that her phone was registered to her husband, who is a Virginia Beach resident.

The VBPD were able to get a DNA swab from the woman in mid-August. She is not currently charged with a crime in Virginia Beach or Texas.

Police are 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.

Send news 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.