Sister of suspect in America’s most famous missing child case says she did right thing
THE sister of a man accused of strangling missing child Etan Patz said reporting the confession years ago was "the right thing" to do, despite officers allegedly failing to follow up on her tip.
Norma Hernandez, the sister of Pedro Hernandez, said she gave information connecting her brother to the disappearance of 6-year-old Etan Patz to a police officer who wrote it down in a little notebook but that was the last she heard of it.
Pedro Hernandez, 51, was charged with second-degree murder on Friday. Authorities say he has confessed in the 33-year-old case of the little boy who vanished from his neighbourhood and changed the way the nation responds to missing children.
Hernandez worked as a stock boy in a small food store on the Manhattan street where Patz was last seen on May 25, 1979, according to court records. According to a charging document, Hernandez told police he "strangled Etan Patz and placed him inside a plastic bag."
Hernandez' 53-year-old sister said she does not remember exactly when she went to Camden police with information from two of her sisters who said their brother confessed in a church prayer group that he had struck a little boy and threw his body in the garbage.
"They both said the same story: My brother confessed in a prayer group from church," Hernandez told Reuters in an interview at her home in Camden, an impoverished city near Philadelphia.
She said she told the officer, "They should check this out."
"Tell the police and they follow it. If not it's not my problem," she said. "I don't have no guilt in my conscience. I thought I did the right thing."
A spokesman for the Camden police could not be reached for comment, but police there told media on Tuesday that this was the first they knew of Norma Hernandez' claim.
Pedro Hernandez' defence attorney has said his client suffers from a history of hallucinations.
Hernandez said her family members are now squabbling over who said what and when. She said she has seven sisters and would not say which ones told her about their brother's alleged confession.
"This family is going to break apart. Everything is changed," she said. "We're not going to have any family."
Hernandez said she used to take her brother to dinner sometimes and last saw him about six months ago. Authorities say he was living in nearby Maple Shade, New Jersey with his wife and daughter.
Patz's highly publicised disappearance prompted President Ronald Reagan to sign into law the Missing Children's Assistance Act in 1984, sparking the start of a non-profit missing children's centre and triggering enormous changes in the way police and the public respond to reports of missing children.
Patz was one of the first missing children whose face appeared on a milk carton appealing to the public for information on his whereabouts.
Last week New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Hernandez confessed during a videotaped interview that he strangled the boy in the store's basement, placed his body in a bag and dumped it in the trash. Apart from the confession, however, Kelly said police have no physical evidence.
The break in the case came a month after the FBI and New York Police excavated a basement in a neighbourhood building which failed to yield clues but prompted a tip about Hernandez, who had told family members as far back as 1981 that he had killed a child in New York, Kelly said.