Jose Antonio Ramos, the man who was the prime suspect in the 1979 disappearance of six-year-old Etan Patz, is set to be freed on Nov. 7 after more than two decades behind bars in Pennsylvania for molesting other children. Ramos, 69, was found responsible for Patz’s death in a civil court, but the Manhattan district attorney’s office said there was not enough evidence to charge him criminally. In a letter last month to The Associated Press, Ramos said he was declining interviews while in prison but will be available to speak after his release.
In 2010, the New York County D.A.’s office reopened the case into Patz’s disappearance. In April 2012, the FBI excavated a basement near the Patz residence, which revealed no new evidence.
On May 24, 2012, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly announced that a man was in custody who had implicated himself in the Patz disappearance. According to The New York Times, a law enforcement official identified the man as Pedro Hernandez, who, in a videotaped confession, admitted to luring Patz into the basement of the bodega he worked in with the promise of a soda. Hernandez, then 18, strangled Patz and stuffed his body into a garbage bag, according to his confession. Hernandez, who, according to his attorney, has a history of mental illness, has been charged with second-degree murder. His next court appearance is set for Nov. 15.
Hernandez’s name was mentioned in a 1979 report by detectives as part of the investigation into Patz’s disappearance. The report listed him as an employee of the bodega, but Hernandez was never questioned by investigators. “I can’t tell you why, 33 years ago, he wasn’t questioned,” Kelly said. “We know that other people in the bodega were questioned.”
Patz was last seen on the morning of Friday, May 25, 1979, when he left his SoHo apartment for the first time by himself to walk two blocks to catch the school bus on West Broadway and Prince Street. He never reached the bus stop. An intense search began that evening, using nearly 100 police officers and a team of bloodhounds. The search continued for weeks and dominated headlines across the country.
At first, detectives considered Patz’s parents as possible suspects, but they quickly determined the parents had no involvement. A massive search involving neighbors and police covered the city with missing child posters featuring Patz’s face, but resulted in few leads. Patz’s father, Stan Patz, a professional photographer, used a collection of photographs he had taken of his son in the effort to find the missing boy. His photos of Etan were printed on countless missing-child posters. His disappearance helped spark the missing children’s movement, including new legislation and various methods for tracking down missing children. Patz was the first ever missing child to be pictured on the side of a milk carton.
The day of Etan Patz’s disappearance, May 25, has been designated National Missing Children’s Day since its declaration by President Ronald Reagan in 1983.