Police Think They Finally Have Murderer in First Milk Carton Missing Child Etan Patz Case
Is there finally going to be closure? Or, rather, a semblance of closure — because how could there really ever be closure in the case of an innocent 6 year old child who vanished in 1972, was declared legally dead in 2001, helped spark the missing children’s movement, and was the first lost child displayed on a milk cartoon — developments which underscored the tragedy of young children with their lives in front of them vanishing, seemingly being whisked mysteriously away, never to be seen or heard from again. As in the case of Etan Patz .
But finall, it seems, the case of Etan Patz is a lingering a mystery no more.
The reasons: a family’s sense of civic responsibility and the apparent killer’s case of terminal cancer coupled with end-of-life pangs of guilt. Police think they finally have their killer — who reportedly lured the child with soda, then strangled him, and disposed of him. And walked around, alive, living, seeing his friends and relatives, all of these years. ABC News:
Police today arrested a former grocery worker in the 1979 murder of Etan Patz, apparently ending a mystery of what happened to the 6-year-old boy that has haunted New York City for three decades.
Pedro Hernandez, 51, confessed to police that he lured Patz to his death with the promise of a soda. He took police back to the basement of a Manhattan boedga and showed them where he claimed he strangled Patz.
He said he stuffed the boy’s body into a plastic garbage bag, carried it to another location in the Soho neighborhood and dumped it in the trash.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said Hernandez provided no motive for the killing.
Patz, a handsome blond boy, vanished on the first day he was allowed to walk to the school bus stop alone on May 25, 1979. Friday will be the 33rd anniversary of his disappearance.
Kelly said detectives were drawn to Hernandez in recent days because Hernandez had told family members and friends as early as 1981 that he had “done a bad thing and killed a child in New York.”
It was one of those family members or friends who alerted police following renewed interest in the case when police excavated the basement apartment of a building on the same block last month where Patz lived and Hernandez worked.
Kelly said police had informed Patz’s parents, who have for years wondered what happened to their 6-year-old son.
“We only hope these developments bring some measure of peace to the family,” Kelly said.
Patz’s father, Stan Patz, was “a little surprised, but after all the things he has gone through he handled it very well,” said Lt. Chris Zimmerman, head of the NYPD Missing Persons Unit.
Modern media with its info-asault and a society that features watching fictional murders on TV and the movie as big-bucks-making fun entertainment have largely deadened us to the human impact of this story, even though most of us go through the motions of supposedly being able to understand. Perhaps our minds blot it out: the horror, shock and pain that the little boy faced in his final moments….the sheering pain of the parents when the days dragged on and their child didn’t return…then the months…then the years…their missing child’s belongings in their apartment, constant reminders, triggers of uncertainty and sinking-feeling-grief. Their lives went on; but they were never the same lives and the grief would never, ever leave them.
But for the boy’s father, at least this (if there is no final twist in the confession being deemed invalid) erases a questionmark that has been hovering for years. Here’s a video of Stan Patz recalling that awful day.
Pedro Hernandez was 18 years old then. Today, he is 51, and police say he confessed to the crime.
It was exactly 33 years ago, May 25, 1979, also a Friday, when a boy walking to the school bus stop alone for the first time, no more than a single block, seemed to vanish into thin air.
Police began their investigation at the Patz family’s Manhattan loft. They followed up on leads in Israel, Columbus, Ohio, even the Pennsylvania woods.
But on the eve of the 33rd anniversary, it was learned that the answer to the mystery may have been no farther than the corner store…
…Hernandez, 51, worked at a neighborhood grocery store. The Patz family knew it well.
But it was another clue, a dead-end lead, that forced the truth out of hiding.
Last month, when investigators dug up the basement of a building down the street, stories of the mystery of Etan Patz were back in the news and triggered the conscience of someone who had been carrying a dark secret for too long.
It was a relative of Hernandez who called police.
“In the years following Etan’s disappearance, Hernandez had told a family member and others that he had ‘done a bad thing’ and killed a child in New York,” Kelly said.
On Wednesday, New York City police detectives came to a small New Jersey house. Within hours, they say, Hernandez had confessed, and then allowed police to follow as he retraced his steps at the scene of the crime.
Lisa Cohen has written the most authoritative book on the Etan Patz case, “After Etan: The Missing Child Case that Held America Captive.”
Was the anniversary of his disappearance significant?
“I don’t think it’s unusual that things happen on this case on the anniversary or near the anniversary. I think it’s a time when people remember,” Cohen said.
The AP on the arrest:
The AP on Hernandez’s neighbors’ reaction:
The New York Daily News on how Patz changed the world in a way that the little boy and his parents had never dreamed in their worst dreams he would
Now it is 33 years to the day, and so much has changed because of Etan Patz, the boy from Prince St. in SoHo who changed the world by never making it to his bus stop one day, never making it to school. And never coming home.
We put the faces of missing children on milk cartons now because of Etan Patz. Parents of this city now look at everything, including their own neighborhoods, differently. All because of this one 6-year-old boy who went missing.
The abduction of Patz is not more tragic than any other because of all the pictures of him we have seen over all the years, because he was white and beautiful and it happened in Manhattan. Maybe it just seemed endlessly tragic because the case never officially closed, and was opened again this week in New York.
This time there is a full confession, oral and written and on video at the D.A.’s office from a former SoHo bodega worker named Pedro Hernandez. So Etan Patz is in the news again, all this time after it happened, after a morning in May 1979 when he begged his parents to let him go to the bus stop alone, just one time.
He remains the little boy who stayed 6 forever.
And his parents have stayed right where they were 33 years ago, the same apartment on Prince St. where they were living the day the boy disappeared. Of course, you know why, especially if you are a parent. They kept hoping Etan Patz, 6, would somehow make it home. Kept waiting for him to come through the door.
They kept hoping for the best, even when they had to know, after the first day became a week, and then a month, and then a year, that the worst thing that could happen to their middle child had happened.
Much later, Stan and Julie Patz had to have watched the story of Elizabeth Smart play out in Utah the way it did. She was a girl older than Etan, 14 years old, abducted from her bedroom in Salt Lake City. She was found nine months later, alive, just 18 miles away, in a place called Sandy, Utah, spotted by an alert biker who had just seen a story about Smart on America’s Most Wanted.”
It’s always wrenching to think about the lives of children and teenagers ending in senseless violence inflicted by adults or themselves. But little Etan’s disappearance, legally proclaimed death, and the apparent confession make this one most notable.
So there might be some closure in the case of Etan Patz.
But not in what happens to some innocent children.
And their parents.