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Disappearance of Etan Patz

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Etan Patz
Etan Patz on September 16, 1978
Born(1972-10-09)October 9, 1972
New York City, U.S.
DisappearedMay 25, 1979 (aged 6)
New York City, U.S.
StatusMissing for 45 years and 20 days; declared dead in absentia on June 19, 2001(2001-06-19) (aged 28)
Diedc. May 25, 1979(1979-05-25) (aged 6)
Cause of deathMurder by strangulation (presumed)[a]
Known forOne of the first missing-child cases to have a photo appear on a milk carton
Height3 ft 4 in (102 cm)[1]
Parent(s)Stanley Patz
Julie Patz

Disappearance of Etan Patz
DateMay 25, 1979; 45 years ago (1979-05-25)
LocationNew York City, U.S.
TypeDisappearance, presumed child murder, presumed child abduction
MotiveUnclear, allegedly sexual[2]
DeathsEtan Kalil Patz (presumed)
AccusedJose Ramos (not formally charged, but speculation exists)
ConvictedPedro Hernandez
VerdictMistrial[b] (2015; first trial)
Guilty on both counts (2017; second trial)
ConvictionsSecond-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping (2017)[3]
SentenceLife in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 years

Etan Kalil Patz (/ˈtɑːn ˈpts/; October 9, 1972 – May 25, 1979) was an American boy who was six years old on May 25, 1979, when he disappeared on his way to his school bus stop in the SoHo neighborhood of Lower Manhattan. His disappearance helped launch the missing children movement, which included new legislation and new methods for tracking down missing children. Several years after he disappeared, Patz was one of the first children to be profiled on the "photo on a milk carton" campaigns of the early 1980s.[4] In 1983, President Ronald Reagan designated May 25—the anniversary of Etan's disappearance—as National Missing Children's Day in the United States.

Decades later, it was determined that Patz had been abducted and murdered the same day that he went missing. The case was reopened in 2010 by the Manhattan District Attorney's office. In 2012, the FBI excavated the basement of the alleged crime scene near the Patz residence but discovered no new evidence. Pedro Hernandez—a suspect who confessed—was charged and indicted later that year on charges of second-degree murder and first-degree kidnapping. In 2014, the case went through a series of hearings to determine whether or not Hernandez's statements before he received his Miranda warning were legally admissible at trial. His trial began in January 2015 and it ended with a mistrial that May, when 1 of the 12 jurors held out. The retrial began on October 19, 2016, and it was concluded on February 14, 2017, after nine days of deliberations, when the jury found Hernandez guilty of murder and kidnapping.[5] Hernandez was sentenced to 25-years-to-life in prison on April 18, 2017. Hernandez will not be eligible for parole for 25 years.[6]


On the morning of May 25, 1979, Etan left his SoHo apartment at 113 Prince Street by himself for the first time, planning to walk two blocks to board a school bus at West Broadway and Prince Street.[7] He was wearing a black "Future Flight Captain" pilot cap, a blue corduroy jacket, blue jeans and blue sneakers with fluorescent stripes. He never got on the bus.[8]

At school, Etan's teacher noticed his absence but did not report it to the principal. When Etan did not return home after school, his mother Julie called the police. At first, detectives considered the Patzes to be possible suspects but quickly determined they had no involvement. An intense search began that evening, using nearly 100 police officers and a team of bloodhounds. The search continued for weeks. Neighbors and police canvassed the city and placed missing-child posters featuring Etan's portrait, but this resulted in few leads.[9][10]

Etan's father Stanley was a professional photographer and had a collection of photographs he had taken of his son. His photos of Etan were printed on countless missing-child posters and milk cartons. They were also projected on screens in Times Square.[11]

Accusations against Jose Ramos[edit]

Assistant United States Attorney Stuart R. GraBois received the case in 1985 and identified Jose Antonio Ramos, a convicted child sexual abuser who had been a friend of Etan's former babysitters, as the primary suspect. In 1982, multiple boys had accused Ramos of trying to lure them into a drain pipe in the area where Ramos was living. When police searched the drain pipe, they found photographs of Ramos and young boys who resembled Etan. GraBois eventually found out that Ramos had been in custody in Pennsylvania in connection with an unrelated child molestation case. In 1990, GraBois was deputized as a deputy state attorney general in Pennsylvania to help prosecute a case against Ramos for sexually abusing children and to obtain further information about Etan's case. When first questioned by GraBois, Ramos stated that, on the day when Etan disappeared, he had taken a young boy back to his apartment to rape him. Ramos said that he was "90 percent sure" it was the boy whom he later saw on television. However, Ramos did not use Etan's name. He also claimed he had put the boy on a subway going uptown.[12]

In 1991, while Ramos was incarcerated, a jailhouse informant told GraBois and FBI agent Mary Galligan that Ramos had told him he knew what had happened to Etan. Ramos even drew a map of Etan's school bus route, indicating that he knew that Etan's bus stop was the third one on the route.[11] In a special feature on missing children, the New York Post reported on October 21, 1999, that Ramos was the prime suspect in Etan's disappearance.[13] Ramos had been known by the Patz family and was the prime suspect all along, but in the early 1980s authorities were unable to prosecute Ramos.[citation needed]

Etan's body was never found, and he was declared legally dead on June 19, 2001.[14] Stan and Julie Patz pursued and won a civil case against Ramos in 2004.[15] They were awarded a symbolic sum of $2 million, which they have never collected.[16] Ramos has never been criminally prosecuted for the murder of Etan. Every year, on Etan's birthday and the anniversary of his disappearance, Stan Patz sent Ramos a copy of his son's missing-child poster. On the back, he typed the same message: "What did you do to my little boy?"[11][14][17]

Ramos has denied that he killed Etan.[11] Ramos served a 20-year prison sentence in the State Correctional Institution in Dallas, Pennsylvania, for child molestation.[17] He was released from prison on November 7, 2012. Soon after his release he was arrested on a Megan's Law violation.[18]

Stan and Julie Patz had the 2004 judgment against Ramos dismissed after the 2015 trial of Pedro Hernandez convinced them that Ramos was not responsible for their son's death.[19]

Case reopened[edit]

Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. officially reopened the case on May 25, 2010.[20] On April 19, 2012, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and New York City Police Department (NYPD) investigators began excavating the SoHo basement of 127-B Prince Street, near the Patz home. This residence had been newly refurbished shortly after Etan's disappearance in 1979, and the basement had been the workshop and storage space of a handyman.[21] After a four-day search, investigators announced that there was "nothing conclusive found."[22]


On May 24, 2012, New York police commissioner Raymond Kelly announced that a man was in custody who had implicated himself in Etan's disappearance.[23] A law enforcement official identified the man as 51-year-old Pedro Hernandez of Maple Shade, New Jersey, and said that Hernandez had confessed to strangling the child.[24] Hernandez stated in his written confession to police, "I'm sorry, I shoke [sic] him."[25] According to a 2009 book about the case, After Etan, Etan had a dollar and had told his parents that he planned to buy a soda to drink with his lunch.[23] At the time of Etan's disappearance, Hernandez was an 18-year-old convenience store worker in a neighborhood bodega.[26] Hernandez said that he later threw Etan's remains into the garbage.[27] Hernandez was charged with second-degree murder.[25] According to a New York Times report from May 25, 2012, the police at that time had no physical evidence to corroborate his confession.[28]

Corroborating evidence[edit]

In 2012 Jose Lopez, a man from New Jersey, reached out to investigators because he believed that Hernandez, Lopez's brother-in-law, was responsible for Etan's disappearance.[29] 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, New Jersey, indicated that Hernandez may have publicly confessed in the presence of fellow parishioners in the early 1980s to having murdered Etan. According to Hernandez's sister, it was an "open family secret that he had confessed in the church."[30]

A New York grand jury indicted Hernandez on November 14, 2012, on charges of second-degree murder and first-degree kidnapping.[31] His lawyer has stated that Hernandez was diagnosed with schizotypal personality disorder, which includes hallucinations.[31][32] The lawyer has also said that Hernandez has a low intelligence quotient (IQ) of around 70, "at the border of intellectual disability."[33]

Trials and conviction[edit]

On December 12, 2012, Hernandez pled not guilty to two counts of murder and one count of kidnapping in a New York court.[34] In April 2013, Harvey Fishbein, Hernandez's legal-aid criminal-defense lawyer, filed a motion to dismiss the case, citing that Hernandez's "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."[35] The next month, New York Supreme Court justice Maxwell Wiley ruled that the evidence was "legally sufficient to support the charges" and that the case could move forward. He also ordered a hearing to determine whether the defendant's statements could be used at trial.[36]

A September 2014 hearing was conducted to determine whether Hernandez's statements that were made before the police had read the Miranda rights to him were legally admissible at trial. This would be influenced by whether he felt free to leave during the time before which he was Mirandized. The hearing also sought to determine whether Hernandez understood the significance of his Miranda rights and was competent to waive them when he did so. This was significant because it would decide whether any statements made after that point by Hernandez were legally admissible at trial. The actual truth or falsehood of the statements was not the focus of the hearing;[33] rather, the question of the statements' truthfulness was to be discussed at trial, which began on January 5, 2015.[37]

The case resulted in a mistrial in May 2015 because of a hung jury that was deadlocked 11 against 1 for conviction.[38] A retrial began on October 19, 2016, in a New York City court,[39] with jury deliberations in February 2017.[40] On February 14, 2017, Hernandez was found guilty of kidnapping and felony murder.[41][42] Sentencing was scheduled on February 28, with Hernandez facing 25 years to life in prison.[42] However, Hernandez's attorneys were granted a delay in order to challenge the verdict, and no new sentencing date was set.[43]

On April 18, 2017, Hernandez was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after serving at least 25 years.[6] The conviction was unanimously affirmed by the appellate court on March 26, 2020.[citation needed]


In 1983, the May 25 anniversary of Etan Patz's disappearance was designated National Missing Children's Day in the United States.[10][44][45] In 2001, the tribute spread worldwide.[46][47] The International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children (ICMEC) coordinates the "Help Bring Them Home" campaign in 22 countries in conjunction with International Missing Children's Day.[48][49][50][51][52]

The extensive media attention attracted by the case of Patz's disappearance has been credited with increasing public awareness of the problem of child abduction. As a result, fewer parents are willing to allow their children to walk to school, photos of missing children have been more widely distributed (for example, on milk cartons) and the concept of "stranger danger" has been promoted, the idea that all adults not known to the child must be regarded as potential sources of danger.[53]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ In 2017, Pedro Hernandez was convicted of murdering Patz by strangulation. However, the location of Patz's body has never been discovered.
  2. ^ 11-1 in favor of guilty verdict


  1. ^ Height; URL accessed November 4, 2020.
  2. ^ "Jury finds Pedro Hernandez guilty in 1979 murder, kidnapping of Etan Patz".
  3. ^ "Inmate Information - HERNANDEZ, PEDRO".
  4. ^ Toppo, Greg (February 14, 2017). "Etan Patz – boy on the milk carton – gets justice: Man convicted in 1979 murder". USA Today. Retrieved March 26, 2018.
  5. ^ "Statement from John F. Clark on the verdict in the Etan Patz trial". missingkids.org. National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. February 14, 2017. Archived from the original on June 15, 2020. Retrieved February 15, 2017.
  6. ^ a b "Man gets 25 years in 1979 case of missing boy Etan Patz". NY Daily News. April 18, 2017. Archived from the original on April 19, 2017. Retrieved July 16, 2017.
  7. ^ "Police and Neighbors Join in a SoHo Search For Missing Schoolboy" (PDF). The New York Times. May 27, 1979. Retrieved May 8, 2015.
  8. ^ Kihss, Peter (May 30, 1979). "Boy Missing From SoHo Was on Own First Time" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved May 8, 2015. He never made the last half block ... to the corner where another mother waited for him until 8:20 ...
  9. ^ "Etan Patz death: Man confesses to NYC killing in 1979". BBC News. May 25, 2012. Retrieved May 25, 2012.
  10. ^ a b Ramirez, Jessica (January 29, 2007). "The Abductions That Changed America". Newsweek. pp. 54–55.
  11. ^ a b c d Berman, Thomas; Sher, Lauren (May 26, 2010). "Etan Patz Case Reopened 31 Years Later". ABC News. Retrieved July 16, 2011.
  12. ^ Vega, Tanzina (March 27, 2015). "Ex-Agent in Patz Case Says Sex Offender was Subject". The New York Times. Retrieved May 10, 2022.
  13. ^ Weiss, Murray (October 21, 1999. "Where are these kids? NYPD creates a new squad to investigate unsolved missing kid cases". New York Post. p. 32.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link) "Investigators now believe a pedophile in prison in Pennsylvania for abusing two children there is the prime suspect in Patz's disappearance, but he has never been charged in the New York case." Accessed via LexisNexis.
  14. ^ a b Cohen, Lisa R. (May 3, 2009). "What happened to Etan Patz". New York. Retrieved July 16, 2011.
  15. ^ Saulny, Susan (May 5, 2004). "Judge Rules That a Convicted Molester, Now in Prison, Is Responsible for Etan Patz's Death". The New York Times. Retrieved May 9, 2015.
  16. ^ Prokupecz, Shimon (April 19, 2012). "FBI, NYPD Resume Search for Etan Patz, Boy Who Disappeared in 1979". NBC. Retrieved April 19, 2012.
  17. ^ a b Haberman, Clyde (July 14, 2011). "A New Horror Recalls Another". The New York Times. Retrieved July 16, 2011.
  18. ^ Rubinkam, Michael (November 7, 2012). "Longtime Etan Patz Suspect Released, Then Held". Associated Press. Archived from the original on November 10, 2012.
  19. ^ Herzenberg, Michael (September 12, 2016). "Jury Selection Begins in Re-Trial of Man Accused of Killing Etan Patz". NY1 News.
  20. ^ "Manhattan D.A. Taking New Look at Etan Patz Case". CBS News. The Associated Press. May 26, 2010. Retrieved September 15, 2014.
  21. ^ Baker, Al; Rashbaum, William K. (April 20, 2012). "Search for Boy's Body Returns to Cellar That Looked Uneven Decades Earlier". The New York Times. Retrieved April 22, 2012.
  22. ^ Nichols, Michelle; Allen, Jonathan (April 22, 2012). "Etan Patz Search: Investigators Looking For Clues In Boy's 1979 Disappearance Find 'Nothing Conclusive' In New York Basement". Huffington Post. Reuters. Retrieved April 23, 2012.
  23. ^ a b Candiotti, Susan (May 24, 2012). "Man in custody in 1979 Etan Patz case". CNN.
  24. ^ Rashbaum, William K.; Goldstein, Joseph (May 24, 2011). "Man Confesses to Strangling Etan Patz, Police Say". The New York Times.
  25. ^ a b "Etan Patz 'killer' charged with second-degree murder in hospital arraignment". New York Post. May 25, 2012. Retrieved May 25, 2018.
  26. ^ Goldstein, Joseph; Rashbaum, William K. (May 24, 2012). "After 33 Years, Police Make Arrest in Case of Etan Patz". The New York Times.
  27. ^ Celona, Larry; Margolin, Josh (May 24, 2012). "Person in Custody In Patz Disappearance". New York Post.
  28. ^ Rashbaum, William K.; Kia, Gregory (May 25, 2012). "At Arraignment in Etan Patz Case, Mental Illness Claim". The New York Times.
  29. ^ Rick Rojas (January 30, 2017). "What Happened to Etan Patz? Unraveling a Nearly 40-Year-Old Case". The New York Times. Retrieved July 16, 2017.
  30. ^ Wilson, Michael; Gregory, Kia; Schweber, Nate (May 27, 2012). "Worshiper Recalls Admission by Patz Suspect Decades Ago". The New York Times. Retrieved May 30, 2012.
  31. ^ a b Dienst, Jonathan; Prokupecz, Shimon (November 14, 2012). "Etan Patz Suspect Indicted on Murder, Kidnapping Charges". NBC New York. Retrieved November 15, 2012.
  32. ^ Peltz, Jennifer; Hayes, Tom (November 15, 2012). "Killer of first 'milk carton' boy formally charged". 3 News NZ. Archived from the original on December 24, 2013. Retrieved November 15, 2012.
  33. ^ a b Peltz, Jennifer (September 14, 2014). "Confession is focus of NYC missing boy hearing". MSN News. Archived from the original on September 17, 2014. Retrieved September 13, 2014.
  34. ^ Ariosto, David (December 13, 2012). "Etan Patz murder suspect pleads not guilty". CNN. Retrieved December 12, 2012.
  35. ^ Peltz, Jennifer (April 17, 2013). "Pedro Hernandez's Lawyer Asks Court To Toss Etan Patz Killing Confession". Huffington Post.
  36. ^ Peltz, Jennifer (May 15, 2013). "Pedro Hernandez, Charged With Murder Of Etan Patz, To Face Trial". Huffington Post.
  37. ^ "Jan. 5 trial date set for man charged with murder in case of New York boy missing since 1979". Associated Press. May 7, 2014. Retrieved January 31, 2017.
  38. ^ McKinley, James C. Jr. (May 8, 2015). "Jurors in Etan Patz Case Fall One Vote Shy of a Conviction". The New York Times. Retrieved May 9, 2015.
  39. ^ "Second trial for suspected Etan Patz killer Pedro Hernandez begins as prosecutor looks back to 1979 NYC". New York Daily News. October 19, 2016. Retrieved October 19, 2016.
  40. ^ Rojas, Rick (January 30, 2017). "What Happened to Etan Patz? Unraveling a Nearly 40-Year-Old Case". The New York Times. Retrieved January 31, 2017.
  41. ^ "Etan Patz murder suspect Pedro Hernandez found guilty of killing 6-year-old in 1979". New York Daily News. February 14, 2017. Retrieved February 14, 2017.
  42. ^ a b "Pedro Hernandez Found Guilty of Kidnapping and Killing Etan Patz in 1979". New York Times. February 14, 2017. Retrieved February 14, 2017.
  43. ^ "Sentencing Delayed for Pedro Hernandez, Man Convicted of Killing Etan Patz". CBS New York. February 28, 2017. Retrieved February 28, 2017.
  44. ^ "May 25 – International Missing Children's Day" Archived October 20, 2020, at the Wayback Machine, Help Bring Them Home
  45. ^ "National Missing Children's Day", Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
  46. ^ "International Missing Childrens Day May 25, 2014", An Garda Síochána, May 25, 2014
  47. ^ "Missing Children's Day passes unnoticed". The News International, Pakistan. May 26, 2010. Archived from the original on December 9, 2014.
  48. ^ "Missing Persons: International Missing Children's Day: May 25". Australian Federal Police. Archived from the original on December 6, 2014.
  49. ^ Quann, Jack (May 25, 2014). "Today marks International Missing Children's Day; It is estimated 8 million children are reported missing each year". newstalk.
  50. ^ "In 2012, 311 children went missing in Greece". GR Reporter. May 25, 2013.
  51. ^ "Missing Children Day May 25, 2011", YouTube (video), DontYouForgetAboutMe
  52. ^ " Countries around the world honor International Missing Children's Day on May 25" Archived December 14, 2014, at the Wayback Machine, ICMEC
  53. ^ Rosin, Hanna (March 19, 2014). "The Overprotected Kid". The Atlantic.

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