Disappearance of Etan Patz
|Born||Etan Kalil Patz
October 9, 1972
Manhattan, New York, U.S.
|Disappeared||May 25, 1979 (aged 6)
SoHo, Manhattan, New York, U.S.
|Status||Declared dead in absentia
|Died||Declared legally dead, 2001
SoHo, Manhattan, New York
Cause of death
|Known for||Missing child|
|Home town||Manhattan, New York, U.S.|
Etan Kalil Patz (/ /; October 9, 1972 - declared legally dead in 2001) was an American child who was six years old when he disappeared in Lower Manhattan, New York City, on May 25, 1979. He is the best known missing child from New York City. His disappearance helped spark the missing children's movement, including new legislation and various methods for tracking down missing children, such as the milk-carton campaigns of the mid-1980s. Etan was the first ever missing child to be pictured on the side of a milk carton.
In 2010, the New York County District Attorney's office reopened the case into Patz's disappearance. In April 2012, the FBI excavated a basement near the Patz residence, which revealed no new evidence.
On May 24, 2012, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly announced that a man was in custody who had implicated himself in the Patz disappearance. According to The New York Times, a law enforcement official identified the man as Pedro Hernandez, of Maple Shade, New Jersey, and said that he had confessed to strangling Etan Patz. Hernandez, aged 51, was an 18-year-old convenience store worker at the time of Patz's disappearance. On November 14, 2012, a New York grand jury indicted Hernandez on charges of second-degree murder and first-degree kidnapping. His lawyer has stated that Hernandez was diagnosed with schizotypal personality disorder, which includes hallucinations. According to a New York Times report from May 25, 2012, the police had at that time no physical evidence to corroborate Hernandez's confession.
In November 2012, Hernandez was formally charged with Patz's murder and kidnapping.
In April 2013, Harvey Fishbein, a defense lawyer for Pedro Hernandez, filed a motion to dismiss the case, citing that Hernandez' "confession in one of the nation's most notorious child disappearances was false, peppered with questionable claims and made after almost seven hours of police questioning".
In May 2013, Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Maxwell Wiley ruled that the case could move forward, and ordered a hearing to determine whether the defendant's statements could be used.
On the morning of Friday, May 25, 1979, six-year-old Etan Patz left his SoHo apartment in New York City for the first time by himself to walk two blocks to catch the school bus. He wore a blue captain hat, a blue shirt, blue jeans and blue sneakers. He never reached the bus stop. When he did not come home at 15:30, his mom called the police. An intense search began that evening, using nearly 100 police officers and a team of bloodhounds. The search continued for weeks. At first, detectives considered the Patzs as possible suspects, but they quickly determined the parents had no involvement. A massive search involving neighbors and police covered the city with missing child posters featuring Patz's face, but resulted in few leads. Patz's father, Stan Patz, a professional photographer, used a collection of photographs he had taken of his son in the effort to find the missing boy. His photos of Etan were printed on countless missing child posters and milk cartons, and they were projected on screens in Times Square.
Assistant United States Attorney Stuart R. GraBois identified Jose Antonio Ramos, a convicted child sexual abuser who had been a friend of Etan Patz's one-time babysitter, as the primary suspect in his disappearance after receiving the case in 1985. Some boys had accused Ramos of trying to lure them inside a drainpipe, where he lived in 1982 in the Bronx. When police searched the drainpipe, they found photographs of Ramos and young boys who resembled Patz. GraBois eventually found out that Ramos was in custody in Pennsylvania in connection with an unrelated child molestation case. In 1990, GraBois became deputized as a deputy state attorney general in Pennsylvania to help prosecute a case against Ramos for sexually abusing other children to also obtain further information on Patz's case. When initially questioned by GraBois, Ramos stated that he took a young boy back to his apartment to rape him, on the day Patz disappeared, and that he was "90 percent sure" it was the boy he later saw on TV. Ramos did not use Patz's name, however, and claimed he had "put the boy on a subway." While Ramos was incarcerated, a fellow convict of his who became a jailhouse informant told GraBois and FBI agent Mary Galligan in 1991 that Ramos told him he knew what happened to Patz, and even drew a map of Patz's school bus route, indicating that he knew that Patz's bus stop was the third one on the route.
In a special feature on missing children, the New York Post reported on October 21, 1999, that Ramos was the prime suspect in Etan Patz's disappearance. Ramos was known to the Patz family and was the prime suspect all along, but in the early 1980s they still could not prosecute Ramos. Patz was declared legally dead in 2001. Ramos was declared responsible for Patz's death in 2004 in a New York civil case but remains unprosecuted. Ramos denied responsibility for Patz's death.
Etan Patz's parents, Stanley and Julie Patz, pursued a civil case against Ramos. They were awarded a 'symbolic' sum of $2 million, which they have never collected. Ramos served a 20-year prison term in the State Correctional Institution – Dallas in Pennsylvania for child molestation.
Every year, on the anniversaries of Etan's birthday and disappearance, Stan Patz has sent Ramos a copy of his son's missing child poster. On the back, he types the same message: "What did you do to my little boy?"
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., officially reopened the Etan Patz case on May 25, 2010. On April 19, 2012, FBI and NYPD investigators began excavating the SoHo basement of 127B Prince Street, near the Patz' home, which case files revealed had been newly refurbished shortly after the boy's disappearance in 1979. The basement had been the workshop and storage space of a carpenter who had previous contact with Etan as well as many others in the neighborhood at the time. After a four-day search, investigators announced there was "nothing conclusive found", including any skeletal or human remains.
On May 24, 2012, New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly announced that a man was in custody who had implicated himself in the Patz disappearance. According to The New York Times, a law enforcement official identified the man as Pedro Hernandez, and said that he had confessed to strangling Etan Patz. CNN reported that Patz had a dollar and had told his parents he planned to buy a soda to drink with his lunch. Hernandez worked at a neighborhood bodega that Patz may have entered; Hernandez said he later threw Patz's remains into the garbage. Hernandez has been charged with second-degree murder. His lawyer has stated that Hernandez has a history of mental illness that includes hallucinations. According to a New York Times report from May 25, 2012, the police had at that time no physical evidence to corroborate Hernandez's confession.
Subsequent statements by Hernandez's sister, Nina Hernandez, and Tomas Rivera, leader of a Charismatic Christianity group at St. Anthony of Padua, a Roman Catholic church in Camden, indicated that Hernandez may have publicly confessed to murdering Patz in the presence of fellow parishioners in the early 1980s. According to Hernandez' sister, it was an "open family secret that he had confessed in the church".
On December 12, 2012, Hernandez pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder and one count of kidnapping in a New York court. On May 15, 2013, a judge said the case against Hernandez may continue towards trial.
The extensive media attention to Patz's disappearance has been credited as the catalyst for greater attention to missing children, including a reduced willingness to allow children to walk to school, photos of missing children being printed on milk cartons, and promotion of the concept of "stranger danger" (the idea that all adults unknown to the child must be shunned as potential kidnappers and child rapists).
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