Wednesday 20 September 2017

After 33 years, a lead in case of missing Manhattan boy

Stanley Patz, father of Etan Patz, watches investigators search for clues in the 1979 disappearance of his son in New York.
Stanley Patz, father of Etan Patz, watches investigators search for clues in the 1979 disappearance of his son in New York.
Ethan Patz.

Nick Allen in Los Angeles

Detectives have made a potential breakthrough in one of America's most high-profile missing child cases after a suspect confessed to strangling the boy 33 years ago.

Pedro Hernandez implicated himself in the disappearance of six-year-old Etan Patz, who went missing from a street near his home in Manhattan in 1979.

The case sparked a national movement in the US to find missing youngsters, and Etan became the first child to appear on the side of milk cartons.

In a videotaped confession, Hernandez told police and FBI agents that he lured the boy with sweets, killed him, wrapped his body in a bag, and placed it in a box.

He described dumping the box in Manhattan, but said when he returned to the spot several days later it had gone.

Raymond Kelly, the New York Police Commissioner, said: "An individual now in custody has made statements to NYPD detectives implicating himself in the disappearance and death of Etan Patz, 33 years ago."

Unofficial briefings from the police department made clear it was treating Hernandez's claims "cautiously" and with a "healthy dose of scepticism".

He had provided no information that was not already in the public domain. The confession also happened the day before the anniversary of Etan's disappearance, when investigators traditionally receive a flood of false leads.

Cocaine

Hernandez was known to police and had been considered a possible suspect in the past, but was dismissed.

Etan went missing after leaving his family home to catch a school bus, the first time his parents had let him do so alone. At the time, Hernandez lived near the Patz family, and worked in a local shop.

In the 1990s he received jail sentences in Indiana for cocaine possession and assault. He later moved to Camden, New Jersey.

Over the years he reportedly confessed to family members, and a spiritual adviser, that he had killed a child but did not mention Etan's name.

After publicity surrounding a police search of a cellar 100 yards from Etan's home last month, a relation was said to have contacted police. Hernandez had no connection to the cellar, which was used in 1979 as a workshop by Othniel Miller, a handyman who paid Etan to help him with chores.

Mr Miller, now 75, was not named as a suspect and denied any involvement. Police spent four days excavating the cellar, including ripping up a concrete floor, but the search produced no clues.

In the past, the case has largely centred on Jose Antonio Ramos, who had been the boyfriend of the boy's babysitter at the time he disappeared.

Ramos was later convicted of child molestation in a separate case in Pennsylvania involving an eight-year-old boy. He is serving a 20-year jail sentence and is due to be released this year.

Etan's father, Stanley Patz, had his son declared legally dead in 2001 so he could sue Ramos. In 2004, a civil judge found him to be responsible for Etan's death, but he has never been criminally charged and denies harming the boy.

In the 1980s the search for Etan led to the date of his disappearance, May 25, being declared "National Missing Child Day" by President Ronald Reagan.

The Patz family, who still live in the same apartment in Manhattan, have undergone a series of false starts in the investigation before. Despite the child having been declared dead, the case was reopened by Cyrus Vance, the Manhattan District Attorney, in 2010 and Hernandez was questioned.

They are also interviewing relations of Hernandez, who lives in New Jersey with his wife to see if he told her any details about the crime.

Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, said: "As a father, I can't imagine what Etan's parents are going through." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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