Disappearance of Etan Patz

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Etan Patz
Etan Patz 1978.jpg
Etan Patz photographed on September 16, 1978
Born Etan Kalil Patz
(1972-10-09)October 9, 1972
Manhattan, New York, United States
Disappeared May 25, 1979 (aged 6)
SoHo, Manhattan, United States
Status Declared dead in absentia
Nationality American
Known for Missing child who was on a milk carton
Home town Manhattan, New York, United States
Parent(s) Stanley Patz
Julie Patz

Etan Kalil Patz (/ˈtɑːn ˈpts/; born October 9, 1972; declared legally dead in 2001)[3] was an American boy who was six years old when he disappeared in the SoHo neighborhood of Lower Manhattan, New York City, on May 25, 1979.[4][5] His disappearance helped create the missing children movement, including new legislation and new methods for tracking down missing children, such as the milk-carton campaigns of the early 1980s. He was the first missing child to be pictured on milk cartons.[6] In 1983, President Ronald Reagan designated the anniversary of Etan's disappearance (May 25) as National Missing Children's Day in the United States.

In 2010, the case was reopened by the New York County District Attorney's office. In 2012, the FBI excavated a basement near the Patz residence, but discovered no new evidence.[7] A 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. His trial began in January 2015 and ended in a mistrial in May when one of the twelve jurors held out.[8] A retrial began on October 19, 2016.


On the morning of May 25, 1979, Etan left his SoHo apartment by himself for the first time, planning to walk two blocks to catch the school bus at West Broadway and Spring Street.[9] He was wearing a blue captain's hat, a blue shirt, blue jeans, and blue sneakers. He never reached the bus stop.[10]

At school, Etan's teacher noticed his absence, but did not report it to the principal. When Etan did not come home at the end of the school day, his mother called the police. At first, detectives considered the Patzes as 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 covered the city with missing-child posters featuring Etan's face, but this resulted in few leads.

Stan Patz, Etan's father, 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]

Jose Ramos[edit]

After receiving the case in 1985, Assistant United States Attorney Stuart R. GraBois identified Jose Antonio Ramos, a convicted child sexual abuser who had been a friend of Etan's former babysitter, as the primary suspect. Some boys had accused Ramos of trying to lure them into a drain pipe in the area where Ramos was living in 1982. 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."

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.[12] Ramos had been known by the Patz family and was the prime suspect all along, but in the early 1980s authorities were not able to prosecute Ramos.

Etan was declared legally dead in 2001. Ramos was declared to be responsible for Patz's death in 2004 in a New York civil case but he has never been prosecuted criminally for it. 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 typed the same message: "What did you do to my little boy?"[3][6][11]

Ramos has denied that he killed Etan.[11] He served a 20-year prison sentence in the State Correctional Institution in Dallas, Pennsylvania, for child molestation.[6] He was released from prison on November 7, 2012. Soon after his release he was arrested on a Megan's Law violation.[13]

Civil case[edit]

Etan's parents, Stanley and Julie Patz, pursued a civil case against Ramos.[14] They were awarded a symbolic sum of $2 million, which they have never collected.[15] They had the 2004 judgment dismissed after the 2015 trial of Pedro Hernandez convinced them that Ramos was probably not responsible.[16]

Case reopening in 2010[edit]

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. officially reopened the case on May 25, 2010.[17] On April 19, 2012, FBI and 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. The basement had been the workshop and storage space of a handyman.[18] After a four-day search, investigators announced that there was "nothing conclusive found."[7]

Pedro Hernandez[edit]

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.[19] 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.[20] According to a 2009 book about the case, After Etan, Etan had a dollar and had told his parents he planned to buy a soda to drink with his lunch.[19] Hernandez was an 18-year-old convenience store worker in a neighborhood bodega at the time of Etan's disappearance.[21] Hernandez said that he later threw Etan's remains into the garbage.[22] 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 his confession.[23]

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, New Jersey, indicated that Hernandez may have publicly confessed to murdering Etan 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."[24] A New York grand jury indicted Hernandez on November 14, 2012, on charges of second-degree murder and first-degree kidnapping.[25] His lawyer has stated that Hernandez was diagnosed with schizotypal personality disorder, which includes hallucinations.[25][26] The lawyer has also said his client has a low IQ of around 70, "at the border of intellectual disability."[27]

On December 12, 2012, Hernandez pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder and one count of kidnapping in a New York court.[28] 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".[29] The next month, however, Manhattan State 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.[30]

Hernandez had a hearing in September 2014 about whether his statements made prior to police giving him his Miranda warning were legally admissible at trial. This 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 understood the significance of the 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;[27] rather, the question of the statements' truthfulness was to be discussed in the trial, which began on January 5, 2015.[31]

The case resulted in a mistrial in May 2015 after the jurors deadlocked 11-1 for conviction.[8] A retrial began on October 19, 2016, in a New York City court.[32]


External image
Age progression of Patz to age 17

The anniversary of Etan Patz's disappearance, May 25, was designated National Missing Children's Day in the United States in 1983.[5][33][34] In 2001, the tribute spread worldwide.[35][36] 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.[37][38][39][40][41]

The extensive media attention given to Etan's disappearance has been credited with creating greater attention to missing children, resulting in changes such as less 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 not known to the child must be regarded as potential sources of danger.[42]


  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. ^ Rubinkam, Michael (November 7, 2012). "Longtime Etan Patz Suspect Released, Then Held". Associated Press. Archived from the original on November 10, 2012. 
  14. ^ 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. 
  15. ^ Prokupecz, Shimon (April 19, 2012). "FBI, NYPD Resume Search for Etan Patz, Boy Who Disappeared in 1979". NBC. Retrieved April 19, 2012. 
  16. ^ Herzenberg, Michael (September 12, 2016). "Jury Selection Begins in Re-Trial of Man Accused of Killing Etan Patz". NY1 News. 
  17. ^ "Manhattan D.A. Taking New Look at Etan Patz Case". CBS News. The Associated Press. May 26, 2010. Retrieved September 15, 2014. 
  18. ^ 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. 
  19. ^ a b Candiotti, Susan (May 24, 2012). "Man in custody in 1979 Etan Patz case". CNN. 
  20. ^ Rashbaum, William K.; Goldstein, Joseph (May 24, 2011). "Man Confesses to Strangling Etan Patz, Police Say". The New York Times. 
  21. ^ Goldstein, Joseph; Rashbaum, William K. (May 24, 2012). "After 33 Years, Police Make Arrest in Case of Etan Patz". The New York Times. 
  22. ^ Celona, Larry; Margolin, Josh (May 24, 2012). "Person in Custody In Patz Disappearance". New York Post. 
  23. ^ Rashbaum, William K.; Kia, Gregory (May 25, 2012). "At Arraignment in Etan Patz Case, Mental Illness Claim". The New York Times. 
  24. ^ 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. 
  25. ^ a b Dienst, Jonathan; Prokupecz, Shimon (November 14, 2012). "Etan Patz Suspect Indicted on Murder, Kidnapping Charges". NBC New York. Retrieved November 15, 2012. 
  26. ^ Peltz, Jennifer; Hayes, Tom (November 15, 2012). "Killer of first 'milk carton' boy formally charged". 3 News NZ. 
  27. ^ a b Peltz, Jennifer (September 14, 2014). "Confession is focus of NYC missing boy hearing". MSN News. 
  28. ^ Ariosto, David (December 13, 2012). "Etan Patz murder suspect pleads not guilty". CNN. Retrieved December 12, 2012. 
  29. ^ Peltz, Jennifer (April 17, 2013). "Pedro Hernandez's Lawyer Asks Court To Toss Etan Patz Killing Confession". Huffington Post. 
  30. ^ Peltz, Jennifer (May 15, 2013). "Pedro Hernandez, Charged With Murder Of Etan Patz, To Face Trial". Huffington Post. 
  31. ^ "Trial Starts Jan. 5 For Pedro Hernandez, Accused Etan Patz Murderer". The Huffington Post. The Associated Press. May 7, 2014. 
  32. ^ "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. 
  33. ^ "May 25 – International Missing Children's Day", Help Bring Them Home
  34. ^ "National Missing Children's Day", Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
  35. ^ "International Missing Childrens Day May 25, 2014", An Garda Síochána, May 25, 2014
  36. ^ "Missing Children's Day passes unnoticed". The News International, Pakistan. May 26, 2010. 
  37. ^ "Missing Persons: International Missing Children's Day: May 25". Australian Federal Police. 
  38. ^ Quann, Jack (May 25, 2014). "Today marks International Missing Children's Day; It is estimated 8 million children are reported missing each year". newstalk. 
  39. ^ "In 2012, 311 children went missing in Greece". GR Reporter. May 25, 2013. 
  40. ^ "Missing Children Day May 25, 2011", YouTube (video), DontYouForgetAboutMe
  41. ^ " Countries around the world honor International Missing Children's Day on May 25", ICMEC
  42. ^ Rosin, Hanna (March 19, 2014). "The Overprotected Kid". The Atlantic. 


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