Disappearance of Etan Patz

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Etan Patz
Etan Patz 1978.jpg
Etan Patz photographed September 16, 1978
Born Etan Kalil Patz
(1972-10-09)October 9, 1972
Manhattan, New York, U.S.
Disappeared May 25, 1979 (aged 6)
Manhattan, New York, U.S.
Status Declared dead in absentia
Died Declared legally dead, 2001
Manhattan, New York, U.S.
Cause of death Presumed homicide
Nationality American
Known for Missing child, missing child who was on a milk carton.
Home town Manhattan, New York, U.S.
Religion Judaism[1][2]
Parent(s) Stanley Patz
Julie Patz

Etan Kalil Patz (/ˈtɑːn ˈpts/; born October 9, 1972; declared legally dead in 2001)[3] was an American child who was six years old when he disappeared in the SoHo neighborhood of lower Manhattan, New York City, on May 25, 1979.[4] He is the best known missing child from New York City.[5] 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.[6]

The case examining Patz's disappearance was reopened in 2010 by the New York County District Attorney's office. In April 2012, the FBI excavated a basement near the Patz residence, which revealed no new evidence.[7] A self-confessed suspect, Pedro Hernandez, 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 if Hernandez’s statements before receiving the Miranda warning were legally admissible at trial. The trial began in January 2015, but ended in a mistrial in May.[8]

The day of Patz's disappearance in 1979, May 25, was designated National Missing Children's Day in the US since its declaration by President Ronald Reagan in 1983. Every year on May 25, members of a network launched in 1998 as a joint venture of the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children (ICMEC) and the US's National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) of 22 countries pay respects to International Missing Children’s Day, honoring missing and abducted children while celebrating those who have been recovered.


On the morning of Friday, May 25, 1979, six-year-old Etan Patz left his SoHo apartment by himself for the first time. He was to walk two blocks to catch the school bus at West Broadway and Spring Street[9] and he wore a blue captain hat, a blue shirt, blue jeans, and blue sneakers that day. He never reached the bus stop.[10] When he did not come home when school ended, his mother 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 Patzes 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.[11]

Later investigations[edit]

Uncharged suspect, 1980s–90s[edit]

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.[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 Patz's disappearance.[12] 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.[11]

Etan Patz's parents, Stanley and Julie Patz, pursued a civil case against Ramos.[13] They were awarded a 'symbolic' sum of $2 million, which they have never collected.[14] Ramos served a 20-year prison term in the State Correctional Institution – Dallas in Pennsylvania for child molestation.[6] Jose Ramos was released from prison on November 7, 2012, and then promptly arrested on a Megan's Law violation.[15]

Every year, on the anniversaries of Etan's birthday and disappearance, Stan Patz 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?"[3][6][11]

Case reopening, 2010–present[edit]

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., officially reopened the Etan Patz case on May 25, 2010.[16]

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 handyman.[17] After a four-day search, investigators announced there was "nothing conclusive found", including any skeletal or human remains.[7]

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.[18] According to The New York Times, a law enforcement official identified the man as Pedro Hernandez of Maple Shade, New Jersey, age 51, and said that he had confessed to strangling Etan Patz.[19] According to a 2009 book about the case, After Etan, Patz had a dollar and had told his parents he planned to buy a soda to drink with his lunch.[18] Hernandez was an 18-year-old convenience store worker in a neighborhood bodega at the time of Patz's disappearance;[20] Hernandez said he later threw Patz's remains into the garbage.[21] Hernandez was charged with second-degree murder. According to a New York Times report from May 25, 2012, the police at that time had no physical evidence to corroborate Hernandez's confession.[22]

Statements in May 2012 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's sister, it was an "open family secret that he had confessed in the church."[23] A New York grand jury indicted Hernandez on November 14, 2012, on charges of second-degree murder and first-degree kidnapping.[24] His lawyer has stated that Hernandez was diagnosed with schizotypal personality disorder, which includes hallucinations.[24][25] The lawyer has also said his client has a low IQ of around 70, “at the border of intellectual disability.”[26] On December 12, 2012, Hernandez pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder and one count of kidnapping in a New York court.[27]

In April 2013, Harvey Fishbein, a defense lawyer for Pedro Hernandez, 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".[28] The next month, however, Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Maxwell Wiley ruled that the evidence was "legally sufficient to support the charges" and the case could move forward; he also ordered a hearing to determine whether the defendant's statements could be used at trial.[29]

Hernandez had a hearing in September 2014 about whether his statements made prior to police giving him his Miranda warnings—which he was read about seven hours into questioning—were legally admissible at trial, which would be influenced by whether he felt free to leave during the time before he was informed of his Miranda rights. The hearing was also to determine whether he comprehended the significance of the Miranda rights warnings and was competent to waive them when he did so, which 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;[26] rather, the question of the statements' truthfulness was to be discussed in the trial, which began on January 5, 2015.[30] The case was tried in Room 733, 111 Centre Street, New York, New York. The case resulted in a mistrial in May 2015 after the jurors deadlocked 11-1 for conviction.[8]


The day of Etan Patz's disappearance in 1979, May 25, was designated National Missing Children's Day in the US since its declaration by President Ronald Reagan in 1983.[5][31][32]

Every year on May 25, members of the Global Missing Children’s Network (GMCN), a network launched in 1998 as a joint venture of the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children (ICMEC) and the US's National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) of 22 countries that connect, share best practices, and disseminate information and images of missing children to improve the effectiveness of missing children investigations, pay respects to International Missing Children’s Day, honoring missing and abducted children while celebrating those who have been recovered.[33][34][35][36][37]

In 2001, the tribute spread worldwide.[38][39] ICMEC coordinates the Help Bring Them Home Campaign in 22 countries, in conjunction with International Missing Children’s Day, spotlighting the issue of child abduction around the world, and suggesting to parents some steps they can take to protect their children.[40][41][42][43][44]

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 regarded as potential sources of danger).[45]


  1. ^ Gross, Samantha (April 22, 2012). "Etan Patz case a decades-long, winding probe". The Times of Israel. Retrieved April 25, 2012. 
  2. ^ Tracy, Marc (April 19, 2012). "FBI Raids Basement for Etan Patz Evidence". Tablet Magazine. Retrieved April 25, 2012. 
  3. ^ a b Cohen, Lisa R. (May 3, 2009). "What happened to Etan Patz". New York. Retrieved July 16, 2011. 
  4. ^ "Etan Patz death: Man confesses to NYC killing in 1979". BBC News. May 25, 2012. Retrieved May 25, 2012. 
  5. ^ a b Ramirez, Jessica (January 29, 2007). "The Abductions That Changed America". Newsweek. pp. 54–55.
  6. ^ a b c Haberman, Clyde (July 14, 2011). "A New Horror Recalls Another". The New York Times. Retrieved July 16, 2011. 
  7. ^ a b 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. 
  8. ^ a b 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. 
  9. ^ "Police and Neighbors Join in a SoHo Search For Missing Schoolboy". The New York Times. May 27, 1979. Retrieved May 8, 2015. 
  10. ^ Kihss, Peter (May 30, 1979). "Boy Missing From SoHo Was on Own First Time". 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 ... 
  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. ^ 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. "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.
  13. ^ 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. 
  14. ^ Prokupecz, Shimon (April 19, 2012). "FBI, NYPD Resume Search for Etan Patz, Boy Who Disappeared in 1979". NBC. Retrieved April 19, 2012. 
  15. ^ Rubinkam, Michael (November 7, 2012). "Longtime Etan Patz Suspect Released, Then Held". Associated Press. 
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  17. ^ 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. 
  18. ^ a b Candiotti, Susan (May 24, 2012). "Man in custody in 1979 Etan Patz case". CNN. 
  19. ^ Rashbaum, William K.; Goldstein, Joseph (May 24, 2011). "Man Confesses to Strangling Etan Patz, Police Say". The New York Times. 
  20. ^ Goldstein, Joseph; Rashbaum, William K. (May 24, 2012). "After 33 Years, Police Make Arrest in Case of Etan Patz". The New York Times. 
  21. ^ Celona, Larry; Margolin, Josh (May 24, 2012). "Person in Custody In Patz Disappearance". New York Post. 
  22. ^ Rashbaum, William K.; Kia, Gregory (May 25, 2012). "At Arraignment in Etan Patz Case, Mental Illness Claim". The New York Times. 
  23. ^ 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. 
  24. ^ a b Dienst, Jonathan; Prokupecz, Shimon (November 14, 2012). "Etan Patz Suspect Indicted on Murder, Kidnapping Charges". NBC New York. Retrieved November 15, 2012. 
  25. ^ Peltz, Jennifer; Hayes, Tom (November 15, 2012). "Killer of first ‘milk carton’ boy formally charged". 3 News NZ. 
  26. ^ a b Peltz, Jennifer (September 14, 2014). "Confession is focus of NYC missing boy hearing". MSN News. 
  27. ^ Ariosto, David (December 13, 2012). "Etan Patz murder suspect pleads not guilty". CNN. Retrieved December 12, 2012. 
  28. ^ Peltz, Jennifer (April 17, 2013). "Pedro Hernandez's Lawyer Asks Court To Toss Etan Patz Killing Confession". Huffington Post. 
  29. ^ Peltz, Jennifer (May 15, 2013). "Pedro Hernandez, Charged With Murder Of Etan Patz, To Face Trial". Huffington Post. 
  30. ^ "Trial Starts Jan. 5 For Pedro Hernandez, Accused Etan Patz Murderer". The Huffington Post. The Associated Press. May 7, 2014. 
  31. ^ "May 25 – International Missing Children’s Day", Help Bring Them Home
  32. ^ "National Missing Children's Day", Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
  33. ^ "About the Global Missing Children's Network". National Criminal Justice Training Center. 
  34. ^ O'Connor, Gareth (May 25, 2014). "International Missing Childrens Day". Today FM. 
  35. ^ "Global Missing Children's Network". NCMEC. 
  36. ^ EC-Council (2009). Computer Forensics: Investigating Network Intrusions and Cyber Crime. Cengage Learning. pp. 11–31. ISBN 1435483529. 
  37. ^ "Activities in More than 22 Countries around the Globe will Remember Missing Children on May 25". MarketWatch. May 22, 2013. 
  38. ^ "International Missing Childrens Day May 25, 2014", An Garda Síochána, May 25, 2014
  39. ^ "Missing Children’s Day passes unnoticed". The News International, Pakistan. May 26, 2010. 
  40. ^ "Missing Persons: International Missing Children’s Day: May 25". Australian Federal Police. 
  41. ^ Quann, Jack (May 25, 2014). "Today marks International Missing Children's Day; It is estimated 8 million children are reported missing each year". newstalk. 
  42. ^ "In 2012, 311 children went missing in Greece". GR Reporter. May 25, 2013. 
  43. ^ "Missing Children Day May 25, 2011", Youtube (video), DontYouForgetAboutMe
  44. ^ " Countries around the world honor International Missing Children’s Day on May 25", ICMEC
  45. ^ Rosin, Hanna (March 19, 2014). "The Overprotected Kid". The Atlantic. 

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