The search hoped to come up with remains of Etan Patz, who went missing as a six-year old in 1979, and was never found. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. reopened the case in May 2010, and last Thursday (April 19) the NYPD and FBI worked together to excavate a basement at 127B Prince Street in Manhattan. The basement was the workshop and storage space of a handyman who had contact with Etan; case files revealed that the basement had been refinished shortly after Patz’s disappearance in 1979. After four days, the search was called off, having found no trace of any skeletal or other human remains, leaving the case a continued mystery.
Patz’s disappearance in 1979 shocked the nation. He went missing after walking to his school bus stop by himself for the first time. While no suspect has ever been charged, one possible suspect who has remained viable is Jose Ramos, who is in prison serving a twenty year sentence for an unrelated child molestation offense. Patz’s face was one of the first ever to appear on milk cartons, and Ronald Reagan declared the date of his disappearance, May 25, to be National Missing Children’s Day in 1983.
Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children said that, ““This case was in many ways the birthplace of the (missing children) movement.” Author Lisa Cohen, who wrote a book about the case, told USA Today that the case had resonated so strongly throughout the country because parents were sympathetic and because photographs of Patz were so well-shot, they become iconic.
Part of the reason the handyman, Othniel Miller, was suspected stemmed from rape allegations made by Miller’s niece. Miller’s ex-wife, Phyllis, told the FBI last year that she learned he had raped his niece, and consequently left him. Additionally, the basement investigated by police is on the route Patz would have taken on his way to the bus stop. Miller’s lawyer, Michael Farkas, said that his client “has absolutely no responsibility for the terrible tragedy.” New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne relayed the disappointing news of the excavation, saying, “No obvious human remains were found. The search has formally ended.”
In 2001, Patz’s father had him declared legally dead, and, in 2004, Ramos was found guilty in a civil lawsuit. Clear answers still remain elusive.