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Etan Patz's possible killer is South Jersey resident


For somebody pretty well schooled in history, I must admit I had never heard of Etan Patz until about a month ago.
For those of you unaware of Patz’s story, you’re about to hear a lot more about it in the coming days.

On May 25th, 1979, six-year old Patz, who had apparently begged his family to let him walk by himself to the bus stop in his Soho, New York neighborhood all year, was given permission to finally do so on that Friday morning before Memorial Day weekend by his mother Julie, who was strongly opposed to this during the school year.

The last time anybody saw Patz is when he was on his way to that bus stop. He was never seen again.

The case gained national attention across the country, thousands of fliers with Patz’s picture on it were distributed thorughout New York, and Patz became the first missing child to be featured on the back of a milk carton. While Adam Walsh might be known as the poster child for missing children, Etan Patz’s disapperance first brought this social issue to the national forefront. The term “stranger danger” was coined not too long after. And all of those McGruff Crime Dog commercials that you used to see on TV 48 after school in the 1980’s would probably never have been made if not for what happened to Patz. Even President Reagan declared May 25th National Missing Children’s Day in 1983. Etan Patz photo: gothamist.com

There have been very few leads generated over the years in the Patz case. For years, a suspect named Jose Ramos was considered the prime suspect in the case. Ramos once dated Etan’s babysitter. A Supreme Court declared Ramos responsible for Patz’s murder in 2001 and Patz was declared legally dead. However, there has been no circumstantial proof that Ramos harmed Patz, and he is currently serving time in a Pennsylvania jail for a child molestation charge.

Just last month, Patz’s case again made headlines when police got an alert from a cadaver dog they brought to the basement of a building connected to handyman Othneil Miller, who apparently had contact with Patz prior to his disappearance. Police removed the drywall that was installed shortly after Patz’s disapperance in 1979 and thoroughly examined the entire basement.

No human remains were found.

However, the attention brought on by the events of last month prompted somebody to give the police a tip in regards to the case. And almost 33 years to the day after Etan Patz’s disappearance, police have taken 51 year-old Pedro Hernandez of Maple Shade, NJ into custody in Camden and have charged him with second degree murder.

On Wednesday, Hernandez confessed to the authorities that saw the young boy as he waited at the bus stop on Friday, May 25th, 1979. He lured Patz into a bodega in Manhattan and choked him to death. Hernandez, who was a local store clerk near Patz’s apartment, moved to South Jersey shortly after these events and has been there ever since. He is married and has a teenage daughter. Apparently, Hernandez has mentioned of the crime in the past and how he had done a terrible thing to a boy in New York a long time ago. New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has gone on record saying they believe Hernandez is responsible for the crime.

Police: Man Arrested in Etan Patz Disappearance by associatedpress

Frankly, I don’t know what is more disturbing as I type this: Having a person who possibly committed this heinous, unthinkable crime living right in our back yard in South Jersey, or the fact that somebody who is an everyday civilian in society is doing exactly that- existing in society while keeping this secret for more than a quarter of a century. Hernandez’s neighbors are astonished at the fact that someone like Hernandez could be implicated in such a crime. Everyone harbors some secrets in their lives, and Hernandez has most likely lived in his own private hell for a long time.

In saying that, that does not compare to the torment Etan’s parents, Stanley and Julie Patz have to revisit every May 25th. Once again, there is no concrete evidence that Hernandez is Patz’s killer. There probably never will be, but hopefully this will bring some kind of closure to Etan’s family, who are still alive and living in the same apartment which they experienced the greatest tragedy of their lives 33 years ago today.

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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Photo: gothamist.com