This story was reported by Evan Allen, Laura Crimaldi, Andy Rosen, Travis Andersen, Astead W. Herndon, Stephanie Ebbert, Joshua Miller, Peter Schworm, Eric Moskowitz and Suzanne Kreiter of the Globe staff. It was written by Allen.
The detectives working the case of the little girl found dead on a Deer Island beach clung for nearly three months to one grim hope: that the child had not suffered in her final moments.
Her tiny body, discovered in a trash bag on June 25, showed none of the usual signs of violence.
But on Friday, investigators unraveled the long-kept secret: The girl was Bella Bond, 2½, and her death was an act of brutal violence. The girl’s mother, Rachelle Bond, told investigators that her boyfriend, Michael McCarthy, had lashed out at Bella as being possessed, or a demon, according to an official briefed on the case. Bond said McCarthy punched Bella in the stomach until her body went lifeless.
The mystery of the death of “Baby Doe” had gripped the region, with a composite image of the child’s face smiling from highway billboards, computer monitors, and television screens.
At a news conference Friday, Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley announced that McCarthy, 35, a man with an alleged history of drug use and theft has been charged with killing the girl in her Dorchester home, and Bond, 40, a onetime prostitute and drug user who lost custody of two other children, has been arrested on allegations that she was an accessory after the fact.
“Her name was Bella . . . This child, whose very name means ‘beauty,’ was murdered,” said Conley.
“The tragedy of her death is compounded by the fact that her short life ended not by illness or accident,” he said, “but, we believe, an act of violence in the very place she should have been safest – her home.”
McCarthy, on Friday was hospitalized at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, suffering from abscesses in his arms from shooting up heroin, according to a person with knowledge of the investigation. McCarthy is not the biological father of the child.
The two are scheduled to be arraigned in the Dorchester Division of the Boston Municipal Court on Monday.
. . .
For more than 80 days, officials puzzled over the cause of the girl’s death. The official who relayed the mother’s allegations against her boyfriend said the medical examiner found no signs of external bruising or internal bleeding that would be consistent with blunt force to the victim’s stomach. But investigators are operating under the theory that McCarthy did something violent to the girl’s midsection in such a way that she was unable to breathe.
“There is confidence that what he did to her stomach area resulted in her loss of life,” the official said.
After she was killed, Bella was placed in some kind of refrigerator before her body was disposed of, according to two officials who were briefed on the investigation.
The Baby Doe case broke open after someone called in a tip to Boston homicide detectives within the past 24 hours, said authorities on Friday afternoon, which prompted a flurry of activity, including a search of the child’s Maxwell Street home.
Neighbors in the six-apartment, low- and mixed-income building described Bella’s chaotic home life: Her mother often appeared impaired, staggering out of her unit to ask her upstairs neighbor for a phone or smoking on the back porch. They heard frequent screaming between adults in the unit, punctuated by Bella’s cries; the smell of marijuana often wafted out.
“She yelled at her a lot,” said Aileen Hermiz, 21, of Bond’s behavior toward her daughter.
No one had seen Bella in months, but they did not put her disappearance together with the highly publicized national search for the identity of the girl on the beach.
Bond’s next-door neighbor, Siomy Torres, said she simply assumed the state Department of Children and Families had taken the child. Bella used to play with Torres’s daughter, and Torres said that until Bella disappeared, Rachelle Bond had been chatty, sharing details of her life, and talking of her joy at having custody of Bella and her desire to be a good mother.
But in recent months, a new boyfriend had shown up, Torres said, with a face that looked “dead” and a hunched-over posture. Around the same time, she said, she stopped seeing the girl, and Bond withdrew. Bond stopped speaking to her, she said. Torres did not pry, because Bond seemed unstable.
Hermiz, however, said Bond still wandered up to her apartment to use the phone or ask for her Wi-Fi password.
“I think if she did something like that, it would show reaction,” said Hermiz. “But she was really quiet.”
Hermiz wondered where the little girl went, and a few weeks ago, thought to ask Bond. But then she changed her mind.
“It’s not my business,” said Hermiz.
Another neighbor, who declined to give her name, said she watched the news almost every night and had conversations about the identity of Baby Doe. But not once did she imagine that the girl had vanished from an apartment below her.
“Never, never in my wildest dreams,” she said. “This hurts my heart.”
. . .
In her short life, Bella had twice been involved with DCF after reports of neglect came in to the agency.
The first case, in August 2012, triggered regular intervention by a DCF social worker and services to the family that continued through December 2012. A second case, in June 2013, brought social workers back to Bella until September of that year.
DCF officials also said Bella’s mother had two other children taken away from her in the years before Bella was born. One of those children remains with a maternal grandmother, the agency said. The other was adopted by an unrelated family.
“Now that we know her name, the story is no less tragic,” said Rhonda Mann, director of communications for the Executive Office of Health & Human Services. “DCF has not had an open case with this family for over two years, but did have brief involvement with Baby Bella as an infant.”
As details emerged, Governor Charlie Baker referred to Friday as “a very sad day for all of us.”
“The lost nature of what had happened to this child is something that really bothered me,” the governor said.
Court records show that Rachelle Bond had a lengthy criminal record dating back to 1999, and intensifying between 2005 and 2008, when she was charged more than a dozen times with offenses including drug possession, assault, theft, and prostitution. During those years, she sometimes described herself as homeless and police at times struggled to find her.
While on probation in May 2006, she tested positive twice in four days for cocaine and opiates but failed to show up for “community corrections,” documents show. Her status was listed: “whereabouts unknown.”
In September of 2011, Bond told attorney Pamela Morris, who was handling a bail hearing for her, that she was bipolar. She said she was prescribed Klonopin and had been in a methadone program for 10 months. She had also been hospitalized at Boston Medical Center and stayed at the Barbara McInnis House, a Boston facility for homeless people who are sick, that year.
She told Morris that she had kidney failure and arthritis.
McCarthy also has a criminal record, though many charges were dismissed. His alleged offenses include possession of ammunition, possession of a hypodermic needle, and motor vehicle offenses.
. . .
Friday’s break in the case followed nearly three months of intensive investigation. Officials have said their search spanned at least 36 states and several countries. Investigators ran down hundreds of leads, ruling out more than 200 girls as they scoured locales including Mexico, Trinidad, Peru, Puerto Rico, and India.
The case featured sophisticated forensic techniques including advanced genetic testing and an analysis of pollen found on the girl’s clothes and hair.
Authorities also used an extensive public information campaign to draw tips, using billboards, regular updates, and emotional appeals to honor the girl’s life by helping solve her case. Conley said public concern over the case was so high that people approached him while he vacationed in Maine over the summer, wondering if investigators had made progress in solving the mystery of the little girl’s death.
Asked if anyone else will face charges in connection with Bella’s death, Conley said, “At this point, the evidence points to these two individuals,” adding that the case remains under investigation.
The district attorney added that several people, including Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, had offered to pay for a burial service for Bella.
“In our position, we deal sometimes with people who do very evil and malicious and violent things,” Conley said. “And to see that side of humanity in our community, it made me feel very good.”
Evan Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the year Governor Baker said DCF was involved with the girl. It was 2013.