Disappearance of Etan Patz

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Etan Patz
Etan Patz 1978.jpg
Etan Patz photographed on September 16, 1978
Etan Kalil Patz

(1972-10-09)October 9, 1972
Manhattan, New York, United States
DisappearedMay 25, 1979 (aged 6)
Manhattan, New York, United States
Status Declared dead in absentia 2001;18 years ago (2001)
Suspected murderer confessed May 24, 2012;6 years ago (2012-05-24)
Murderer convicted February 14, 2017;2 years ago (2017-02-14)
Murderer sentenced to life in prison April 18, 2017;22 months ago (2017-04-18)
Nationality American
Known forOne of the first missing-child cases to have a photo appear on a milk carton
Home townManhattan, New York, United States
Parent(s)Stanley Patz
Julie Patz

Etan Kalil Patz ( /ˈtɑːnˈpts/ ; October 9, 1972 – May 25, 1979; [1] declared legally dead in 2001) 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. [2] In 1983, President Ronald Reagan designated May 25—the anniversary of Etan's disappearance—as National Missing Children's Day in the United States.

A person may be legally declared dead in absentia, i.e. a legal presumption of death may be declared, despite the absence of direct proof of the person's death, such as the finding of remains attributable to that person. Such a declaration is typically made when a person has been missing for an extended period of time and in the absence of any evidence that the person is still alive – or after a much shorter period but where the circumstances surrounding a person's disappearance overwhelmingly support the belief that the person has died.

School bus type of bus

A school bus is a type of bus owned, leased, contracted to, or operated by a school or school district. It is regularly used to transport students to and from school or school-related activities, but not including a charter bus or transit bus. Various configurations of school buses are used worldwide; the most iconic examples are the yellow school buses of the United States and Canada.

SoHo, Manhattan Neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City

SoHo, sometimes written Soho, is a neighborhood in Lower Manhattan, New York City, which in recent history came to the public's attention for being the location of many artists' lofts and art galleries, but is now better known for its variety of shops ranging from trendy upscale boutiques to national and international chain store outlets. The area's history is an archetypal example of inner-city regeneration and gentrification, encompassing socioeconomic, cultural, political, and architectural developments.


Decades later, it was determined that Etan 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 rights were legally admissible at trial. His trial began in January 2015 and ended in a mistrial that May, when one of the 12 jurors held out. The retrial began on October 19, 2016, and concluded on February 14, 2017, after nine days of deliberations, when the jury found Hernandez guilty of murder and kidnapping. [3] Hernandez was sentenced to 25-years-to-life in prison on April 18, 2017. Hernandez will not be eligible for parole for 25 years. [4]

New York County District Attorney

The New York County District Attorney is the elected district attorney for New York County (Manhattan), New York. The office is responsible for the prosecution of violations of New York state laws. The current district attorney is Cyrus Vance Jr.

<i>Miranda</i> warning notification given by American police to criminal suspects in police custody advising them of their rights

In the United States, the Miranda warning is a type of notification customarily given by police to criminal suspects in police custody advising them of their right to silence; that is, their right to refuse to answer questions or provide information to law enforcement or other officials. These rights are often referred to as Mirandarights. The purpose of such notification is to preserve the admissibility of their statements made during custodial interrogation in later criminal proceedings.

Murder Unlawful killing of a human with malice aforethought

Murder is the unlawful killing of another human without justification or valid excuse, especially the unlawful killing of another human being with malice aforethought. This state of mind may, depending upon the jurisdiction, distinguish murder from other forms of unlawful homicide, such as manslaughter. Manslaughter is a killing committed in the absence of malice, brought about by reasonable provocation, or diminished capacity. Involuntary manslaughter, where it is recognized, is a killing that lacks all but the most attenuated guilty intent, recklessness.


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. [5] 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. [6]

West Broadway

West Broadway is a north-south street in the New York City borough of Manhattan, separated into two parts by Tribeca Park. The northern part begins at Tribeca Park, near the intersection of Avenue of the Americas, Walker Street and Beach Street in Tribeca. It runs northbound as a one-way street past Canal Street and becomes two-way at the intersection with Grand Street one block farther north. West Broadway then operates as a main north-south thoroughfare through SoHo until its northern end at Houston Street, on the border between SoHo and Greenwich Village. North of Houston Street, it is designated as LaGuardia Place, which continues until Washington Square South.

Sneakers footwear with a flexible rubber or synthetic sole and fabric or leather upper

Sneakers are shoes primarily designed for sports or other forms of physical exercise, but which are now also widely used for everyday wear. The term generally describes a type of footwear with a flexible sole made of rubber or synthetic material and an upper part made of leather, synthetic substitutes or cloth.

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. [7] [8]

Bloodhound Western European breed of scent hound

The Bloodhound is a large scent hound, originally bred for hunting deer, wild boar and, since the Middle Ages, for tracking people. Believed to be descended from hounds once kept at the Abbey of Saint-Hubert, Belgium, it is known to French speakers as the Chien de Saint-Hubert.

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. [9]

Times Square Neighborhood in Manhattan in New York City, New York

Times Square is a major commercial intersection, tourist destination, entertainment center and neighborhood in the Midtown Manhattan section of New York City at the junction of Broadway and Seventh Avenue. It stretches from West 42nd to West 47th Streets. Brightly adorned with billboards and advertisements, Times Square is sometimes referred to as "The Crossroads of the World", "The Center of the Universe", "the heart of The Great White Way", and the "heart of the world". One of the world's busiest pedestrian areas, it is also the hub of the Broadway Theater District and a major center of the world's entertainment industry. Times Square is one of the world's most visited tourist attractions, drawing an estimated 50 million visitors annually. Approximately 330,000 people pass through Times Square daily, many of them tourists, while over 460,000 pedestrians walk through Times Square on its busiest days.

Accusations against Jose Ramos

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".[ citation needed ]

United States Attorney chief prosecutor representing the United States federal government

United States attorneys represent the United States federal government in United States district courts and United States courts of appeals.

Child sexual abuse, also called child molestation, is a form of child abuse in which an adult or older adolescent uses a child for sexual stimulation. Forms of child sexual abuse include engaging in sexual activities with a child, indecent exposure, child grooming, or using a child to produce child pornography.

Storm drain Infrastructure for draining excess rain and ground water from impervious surfaces such as paved streets

A storm drain, storm sewer, surface water drain/sewer, or stormwater drain is infrastructure designed to drain excess rain and ground water from impervious surfaces such as paved streets, car parks, parking lots, footpaths, sidewalks, and roofs. Storm drains vary in design from small residential dry wells to large municipal systems.

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. [9] 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. [10] 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; he was declared legally dead in 2001. [11] Stan and Julie Patz pursued and won a civil case against Ramos in 2004. [12] They were awarded a symbolic sum of $2 million, which they have never collected. [13] 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?" [9] [11] [14]

Ramos has denied that he killed Etan. [9] He served a 20-year prison sentence in the State Correctional Institution in Dallas, Pennsylvania, for child molestation. [14] He was released from prison on November 7, 2012. Soon after his release he was arrested on a Megan's Law violation. [15]

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. [16]

Case reopened

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. officially reopened the case on May 25, 2010. [17] 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. [18] After a four-day search, investigators announced that there was "nothing conclusive found." [19]


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. [20] According to The New York Times , a law enforcement official identified the man as 51-year-old Pedro Hernandez of Maple Shade, New Jersey, and said that he had confessed to strangling the child. [21] He stated in his written confession to police, "I’m sorry, I shoke [sic] him." [22] 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. [20] At the time of Etan's disappearance, Hernandez was an 18-year-old convenience store worker in a neighborhood bodega. [23] Hernandez said that he later threw Etan's remains into the garbage. [24] Hernandez was charged with second-degree murder. [22] According to a New York Times report from May 25, 2012, the police at that time had no physical evidence to corroborate his confession. [25]

Corroborating evidence

In 2012 a man from New Jersey, Jose Lopez, reached out to investigators: He believed that Hernandez, Lopez's brother-in-law, was in fact responsible for Etan's disappearance. [26] 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 murdering Etan. According to Hernandez's sister, it was an "open family secret that he had confessed in the church." [27] A New York grand jury indicted Hernandez on November 14, 2012, on charges of second-degree murder and first-degree kidnapping. [28] His lawyer has stated that Hernandez was diagnosed with schizotypal personality disorder, which includes hallucinations. [28] [29] The lawyer has also said his client has a low intelligence quotient (IQ) of around 70, "at the border of intellectual disability." [30]

Trials and conviction

On December 12, 2012, Hernandez pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder and one count of kidnapping in a New York court. [31] 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". [32] The next month, however, 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. [33]

Hernandez had a hearing in September 2014 about whether his statements made prior to police giving him his Miranda rights were legally admissible at trial. This would be influenced by whether or not he felt free to leave during the time before he was informed of his Miranda rights. The hearing was also to determine whether or not 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; [30] rather, the question of the statements' truthfulness was to be discussed in the trial, which began on January 5, 2015. [34]

The case resulted in a mistrial in May 2015 due to a hung jury, which was deadlocked 11 against 1 for conviction. [35] A retrial began on October 19, 2016, in a New York City court, [36] with jury deliberations in February 2017. [37] On February 14, 2017, Hernandez was found guilty of kidnapping and felony murder. [38] [39] Sentencing was scheduled on February 28, with Hernandez facing up to 25 years to life in prison. [39] However, Hernandez's attorneys were granted a delay so as to be able to challenge the verdict, and no new sentencing date was set. [40]

On April 18, 2017, Hernandez was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 25 years. [4]


In 1983, the May 25 anniversary of Etan Patz's disappearance was designated National Missing Children's Day in the United States. [8] [41] [42] In 2001, the tribute spread worldwide. [43] [44] 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. [45] [46] [47] [48] [49]

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. [50]

See also

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Further reading