33 years ago a little boy in Manhattan was excited. Today was the day his parents were allowing him to walk to the school bus stop for the first time. Etan Patz never made it to school. Today police are looking into a new lead in the case.
Etan lived his six years in a loft in the Soho district of Manhattan at 113 Prince Street with his parents, Stan and Julie, and his siblings Shira and Ari, then 8 and 2. It was a safe area for the little boy with a constant smile on his face. His mom ran a home daycare and his dad was a photographer.
That fateful morning Etan had gotten his wish to walk from his home to the bus stop. As he excitedly walked away his mother had no idea he would never make it to the bus stop. Only when Etan didn't return home from school did she find out that he had vanished. By evening the city was searching for Etan. Police used his family's home as a command post because the little boy knew his phone number.
That smile beamed at Americans from their milk cartons. Etan was the first to appear in a campaign to find missing children with their pictures on the side of cartons. Etan is also the face of the United States National Missing Children's Day, an event that happens each year on May 25, the day that Etan's family nightmare began. In 2001 Etan was declared legally dead even though no one has been charged in his case.
On May 25, 1979 Etan Patz vanished without a trace. Early in the investigation a sex offender Jose Antonio Ramos was questioned. He is in prison today on an unrelated crime. Ramos was connected to the case by Etan's babysitter. He knew the boy but denied that he had anything to do with Etan's disappearance. Without evidence or a confession the police couldn't charge him. He did admit that he was with Etan on the day he disappeared.
According to reports Ramos had taken Etan to his apartment for sex but Etan wasn't interested. He then took Etan to the subway. Ramos has stood by that story.
This was before the days of DNA evidence. There was no clues at Ramos's apartment and without a confession there was no proof that Ramos was lying as the investigators believed. He was not charged.
The night before Etan disappeared he was befriended by a local handyman, Othneil Miller, less than a block from his home in a basement at 127B Prince Street, known to be a place for sexual liaisons. Miller is said to have given Etan a dollar the night before he vanished according to ABC. Based on an interview with Miller a cadaver-sniffing dog was taken into the basement. The dog had indicated that the possibility of remains were buried in the space. It took until today for a search warrant of the basement.
That basement is now being torn apart by the FBI and NYPD. The New York Times report:
“Obviously we’re hopeful that we’ll find evidence in the disappearance of Etan Patz,” said Tim Flannelly, an F.B.I. spokesman. “But the take-away of this is that we’re committed to these types of investigations, as is the N.Y.P.D. And we’re trying to bring closure to the investigation and the family, and we’re not going to be frustrated by time.”
The basement today is the storage space for the Leslie/Lohman Gay Art Foundation.
Over the next five days the debris will be gone through with a fine tooth comb, looking for any trace of the little boy that disappeared without a trace.