It was the innocent face that flashed across social media and grabbed the attention of millions, from the shores of Boston Harbor, where her little body was found, to Canada, Puerto Rico and beyond, where people were captivated by the mystery of Baby Doe.
On Friday, the baffling case was finally was solved: Police in Massachusetts identified the girl found nearly three months ago as Bella Bond, and announced that her mother and the mother’s boyfriend had been arrested in connection with her death.
“Her name was Bella,” the Suffolk County district attorney, Daniel F. Conley, announced at a news conference Friday afternoon, hours after a flurry of media reports began circulating that a name had been given to the toddler found June 25. “We hoped against hope her death was not a crime,” but the evidence showed she was killed, Conley said.
Conley said 35-year-old Michael Patrick McCarthy had been arrested on charges of murder and Rachelle Bond, 40, Bella’s mother, had been arrested on charges of being an accessory after the fact to murder. They were to be arraigned Monday.
The apparent resolution of the case closed a mystery that had nagged at law enforcement officials after a woman walking her dog came across a plastic bag on a beach on Deer Island, just outside Boston.
Inside was the body of a girl, described as between 3 and 5 years old, weighing just 30 pounds and wearing polka-dot leggings. Also in the bag was a plush, zebra-print blanket. Bella, in fact, was 2 1/2 years old.
A computer-generated image of what the girl might have looked like, posted by the Winthrop, Mass., police department, was shared by tens of millions of people on Facebook and other social media sites. It showed a toddler with long brown hair and deep brown eyes, along with an appeal for information identifying her.
Weeks passed, though, and nobody came forward, even as strangers gathered at the site of her body’s discovery to hold memorials and to leave candles, flowers, and stuffed animals on the rocky shoreline.
DNA from the girl’s body was tested to see if she might be Katherine Phillips, often referred to as Baby Kate, who was abducted from her Michigan home in 2011 and never found. Photographs of Baby Kate showed an infant with the same wide eyes and cherubic face as that of the child found in Massachusetts, but DNA proved they were not the same girl.
Tips came in suggesting she might be from Brazil, France, Mexico or the United Kingdom, where other missing children appeared to match Baby Doe in appearance and estimated age. None panned out.
“We know we’re one tip away from solving this mystery,” Conley said at a July news briefing.
That tip finally came Thursday, when police said someone called homicide investigators with a vital piece of information. Conley would not reveal what that information was or who made the call, but said it led to search warrants being executed on the house where Bella had lived with her mother.
Child welfare officials said they’d had contact with the family but not since 2013. It was not clear how Bella died. Conley would not say what investigators had concluded about the cause of death but he indicated that she had been killed at home.
The use of social media to spread information about the unidentified girl underscored the power of technology to focus attention on cases that decades earlier could have been missed by people with valuable information. But it also showed that no matter how widely distributed a picture and information might be, the people closest to the case might ignore the information or simply fail to notice it.
Several neighbors of Bella, including the woman who lived next door and whose own child sometimes played with Bella, told reporters they had followed the case of the missing girl and had seen billboards around town and the haunting photograph on social media. But they never linked the case to the girl they knew, even though they noticed that the neighborhood girl vanished a couple of months ago.
“I thought DCF [Department of Children and Family] must have taken custody of her when I didn’t see her around,” said Yessiomora Torres, who lived in the apartment next to Bella. She told reporters who went to the apartment that Bella’s mother appeared to have a drug problem.
The case was reminiscent of the mystery that surrounded Precious Doe, a girl who was found decapitated in Kansas City in 2001 and not identified for four years. It was finally learned that the girl’s name was Erica Green, and police determined she was 3 years old when she was murdered.
Green’s mother and stepfather were convicted of killing her.
As law enforcement officials appeared to have scored a break in the Massachusetts case, people in Maine remain haunted by one of the longest unsolved child killings on the books: the case of an infant known as Baby Jane Doe.
The newborn, with a freshly torn umbilical cord, was left to freeze to death in the town of Frenchville in December 1985. A dog discovered the body and carried her, in its mouth, to its owners’ door.
That case remains open.
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