Is the NYPD exploiting the Etan Patz murder?

Way back on May 25, 1979, New York City was shocked to its roots. A six-year old boy named Etan Patz went off to wait for the school bus for the first time, as his mother watched from the balcony of their residence, holding a cup of coffee, thinking those feelings any parent would feel on that first day. She had given Etan a dollar to buy a soda for his lunch. She went inside the residence before the bus came. Tragically, she never saw Etan again.

The awful event made America aware in a new way of the violence of its tumultuous streets. His innocent face was placed prominently on milk containers around the country. The same face was on a poster for every store window in Soho, the downtown art-world neighborhood in Manhattan that Etan lived in; funkier in those days than it is swankier now. But that poster image went around the world.

Back then, a 300-man grid of police supposedly scoured the neighborhood, questioned everyone, found little, except two suspects. One was a carpenter, a black man named Othneil Miller, now 75, who reportedly “gave Etan $1 in ‘pay’ for helping him the night before the disappearance.”

This information was the result of a second investigation, this one by the FBI showing up on April 20, 2012, almost 33 years later in Soho to “cover a lead” in the 1979 disappearance of Etan Patz. Since the 6-year old boy was never found, he was declared legally dead in 2001. Yet, some 40 investigators arrived on the morning of April 20, bearing jackhammers and pickaxes to dig through the concrete floor under Soho’s Lucky Jeans store that was a Bodega on the school bus stop corner on the day Etan disappeared.

Investigators felt Othneil Miller may have renovated his nearby basement workspace about the same time. They questioned Miller recently after dogs smelled human remains and he responded to questions about Etan, saying “what if the body was moved?” Florida arrest records show that the same Manhattan man, Othniel Miller, of the same age as the handyman, residing at the same Quincy Street Brooklyn address, was arrested in 2004 for driving without a valid license. Yet the case slowly faded away.

So, for what reason is this replay of grief and tragedy occurring now? It was painful enough for most parents to just imagine that day and losing one of their own kids at that age. Certainly, I felt that way about my two, then young children.

Yet, as the days went on recently, the new investigators jack-hammered and dug and found nothing, even as Etan’s father believed a man named Jose Ramos, a convicted child molester, currently in jail in Pennsylvania for a separate crime, is generally considered the prime and enduring suspect in the Patz case.

This was pointed out in the 2009 New York magazine story, “What Happened to Etan Patz?” The story surfaced then as unexpectedly as the FBI last April, followed by the NYPD reinvestigation. The story mentions that Ramos was a boyfriend of Etan’s babysitter Sandy, and once said to an investigator that he was with the boy the day he vanished, although he denied murdering him.

Stuart GraBois an investigator and federal prosecutor at the time under U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani paid Ramos a visit in prison in the late ’80s. He asked Ramos, “How many times did you try to have sex with Etan Patz?” As Ramos face turned white, he said, “I guess you have a witness. I’ll tell you everything.”

He sobbed, admitting that he had taken a little boy to his apartment for sex on the day Etan disappeared. And yes, he was “90 percent sure” it was the same boy he later saw on TV. But “no,” he said, “he let the boy go when he refused Ramos’s advances and walked him to a subway station and waved good-bye there.” Appropriately, the Federal Prosecutor GraBois barked, “That’s bullshit, Jose!”

“No, it’s true,” Ramos said. “Look, I want to tell you everything,” he said. Yet, suddenly he asked for a lawyer. A few days later, he came in wearing a yarmulke, signaling his newly found Jewish roots, along with a legal-aid attorney, who advised Ramos to remain silent. Actually, the statue of limitations on the nine-year old molestation crime had run out. GraBois had to find another route to get more information.

The Manhattan DA, Robert Morgenthau, for some reason said there was not enough evidence to proceed. Yet his successor Cyrus Vance, Jr., went so far as to officially reopen the case in 2010.

An FBI spokesperson said in the recent investigation, “Obviously we’re hopeful that we’ll find evidence in the disappearance of Etan Patz. But the takeaway of this is that we’re committed to these types of investigations as is the NYPD. And we’re trying to bring closure to the investigation and the family and we’re not going to be frustrated by time.”

But still, 33 years later, I ask, April 2012, a month before the day of the tragedy’s occurrence seems like something else is involved? Were the FBI and the NYPD looking for a little love themselves, given the intense bad press they have gotten from the brutal handling of Occupy Wall Street, as if it were a war against non-violet protestors with the NYPD over-armed, over-zealous, and heedless of members of the press as well in the application of arrests and violence? They have been rightly accused of coordinating attacks on Occupy Wall Street via the Department of Homeland Security, a supplier as well of the more sophisticated arms they have.

Also, they have received a huge amount of bad press for the 60,000 stop and frisks a year, almost all of blacks and Hispanic residents. And third, the NYPD, unknown originally to the Muslim community that is now under intense surveillance, including at colleges and universities around and out of state, which raised a furor, too, when discovered. So this seemingly over-the-top sudden investigation might be to reinstate the NYPD as “good guys,” as they once were to New Yorkers.

Again, what happened to the most probable suspect Ramos? How did he fall off the table so suddenly? Did anyone really swallow his transformation to Judaism so suddenly? This was the man embedded in Etan‘s father’s mind as his son’s killer.

The 2009 New York Magazine article reported about Ramos, “By 1982, Ramos was living in a drainpipe in the Bronx. Two boys told their parents he’d stolen their book bags and tried to coax them inside. Once there, cops found toys and photographs of boys, many of whom were blond, they noticed, like Etan. When an assistant D.A. asked Ramos about the pictures, he said they were just friends—in between talking about violent voices he’d once heard and struggled to control. Then the assistant D.A. asked the question on everyone’s mind: Did Ramos ever know Etan Patz?

“’No, no,’ he said quickly, though he remembered reading about him in the papers. Moments later, however, he offered up a connection, unprompted, that stunned his questioner.” This was his connection to Etan’s babysitter Sandy.

As to Stanley and Julie Patz, Etan’s parents, they have never changed their phone number, in case Etan, by some miracle, would show as a child or later as a young man. They suffered a string of kooks who called. But those who showed up at the door in recent years as the grown Patz, saying “Dad, it’s me, Etan,” never withstood the truth-test. Stan Patz, a photographer, and his wife Julie, seem to be infinitely patient people. But then out of the blue appeared an even stranger revelation . . .

A seemingly mild-mannered man named Pedro Hernandez from New Jersey, a member of a Pentecostal Church, was arrested and charged in the killing of Etan Patz. A major NYPD press conference led by Ray Kelly claimed that Hernandez had admitted to relatives over the years that he killed a little boy. One of the relatives had tipped the NYPD, and they were off and running, making an arrest.

Hernandez claims he had worked for the corner bodega back in 1979 when he was nineteen as a stock boy. He had seen Etan at the school bus stop that fatal morning and offered him a soda if he came down to the basement with him through open ground floor iron doors. According to Hernandez, the boy did, missing his bus. And then Hernandez claims he strangled the child to death and put him in a plastic garbage bag, which he carried to a dumpster several blocks away and threw away. His garish story continues.

Several weeks after, he quit his bodega job and moved to New Jersey. Yet not one of the 300, 1979 grid-of-cops had ever asked him a single question. He worked literally at the scene of the crime. Somehow, he didn’t arouse anyone’s suspicions when he quit his job so soon after the crime and moved away, across the river to Jersey? Also, didn’t he arouse suspicion hauling a plastic bag big enough to hold the body of a six-year old in it, or when he tossed it into a dumpster?

Is it any wonder that Mr. Hernandez is now sitting in Bellevue Hospital, one of NYC’s major psychiatric institutions? And that we hear now that he suffers from hallucinations. Did he hallucinate committing the murder? Experts will tell you that people confess to crimes they didn’t commit all the time. Would it not have been better to fully vet Mr. Hernandez’s psychiatric record before the arrest and press conference? Or was the urge to play hero and exploit the situation too powerful?

Unfortunately, now, prosecutors will have to prove Hernandez’s guilt that he did it. He can’t offer an “I don’t remember” as an answer to how and why, which is what he has been doing. Certainly “tipsters” are of value in apprehending criminals. But Hernandez is convicting himself, with ample help from the press, merely through his assertion. The NYPD and FBI, I believe, are helping as well. In all due respect, this doesn’t sound kosher at all.

If what I’m saying sounds terribly cynical, it’s not. “NY1’s Inside City Hall’s Errol Louis spoke with New York’s Criminal Justice Reporter Murray Weiss about why he has issues with the arrest of Pedro Hernandez for the killing of Etan Patz.” They were basically the concerns I have with the Hernandez confessions.

As for Ramos, what? He sits chuckling in prison that he got away with murder? How must the Patz family feel as NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly quietly grandstands on the quality of NYPD competence after all this time?

Frankly, of the three suspects, Ramos the sex-offender, Othneil Miller the 75-year-old carpenter, handyman, and Pedro Hernandez, the “I can’t remember” confessor, seems least likely to be the murderer. And if he isn’t, this will be a serious black eye for our men in blue—to have bungled this case one more time.

It has put the family through the ringer one more time, stirred up turmoil in the Soho community, and come up sadly empty. In this strange whodunnit, I’d rather not sit here hoping Hernandez did, unless considerable evidence can be brought forth, including motive, method, time and place, under the scrutiny of psychiatric and police professionals.

If he did commit this horrific crime, if he does suffer from hallucinations and god knows what else not looked into before his arrest, it would be a sorry day for the NYPD, the FBI, and law enforcement in general, to convict and not remand him to a mental institution. It would gain them no respect. And some is desperately needed, if not for the living, then for the dead.

Jerry Mazza is a freelance writer, life-long resident of New York City. An EBook version of his book of poems “State Of Shock,” on 9/11 and its after effects is now available at and He has written hundreds of articles on politics and government as Associate Editor of the (formerly Online Journal). Reach him at

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