Two years after they reopened an investigation into the disappearance of 6-year-old Etan Patz, the FBI and New York police are focusing on a Manhattan apartment building for new clues in the now three-decade-old disappearance and say a suspect is “involved.” Patz was the first missing child to be featured on the side of milk cartons, a practice that helped put the plight of hundreds of kids on kitchen tables nationwide.
Authorities are digging through a small basement in Manhattan’s SoHo district to find any evidence or remains of the boy, and expect to take several days to finish. NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said there was some connection between the building and Etan, but it is unclear exactly what the link is.
Etan was last seen on May 25, 1979 while walking alone to catch a school bus, two blocks from his home. The building police are excavating is along the path he would have walked to meet his bus. But the New York Daily News, citing unnamed sources, said the connection may be handyman Othneil Miller, whose basement shop is being searched, and who was said to have given Etan a dollar for helping him the night prior to his disappearance. The police questioned Miller, but never named him as a suspect and originally opted not to search his shop for clues because Etan’s parents said he was a family friend.
The Associated Press reported that authorities got word Etan’s remains may be buried in the basement and that an FBI dog indicated human remains could be in the space. A key element being reexamined in the case is if Miller renovated his workspace shortly after Etan disappeared. A clothing shop now occupies the space where Miller’s shop once existed.
Browne said authorities are looking for “either human remains, clothing or personal effects that may lead to the identification of Etan Patz.” Stanley Patz, Etan’s father, who still lives in the neighborhood, declined comment to reporters. Patz, and his wife Julia had their son declared dead in 2001.
But initially Patz, fervently searched for his son, placing flyers all over the area and a nationwide manhunt ensued. At one point, the search focused on Jose Ramos, who is currently imprisoned in Pennsylvania on a child sexual abuse conviction. He had been Etan’s babysitter around the time he disappeared. He has always denied having anything to do with the crime. In 2004 Ramos was found liable for Etan’s death in a 2004 civil trial. A judge ordered him to pay Etan’s family $2 million, which he has never paid. He is scheduled for release in November.
The Patzes became national advocates for child disappearance cases, and Etan’s face became the first of hundreds to appear on the sides of milk cartons. Despite the amount of time that has passed authorities say they intend to do their best to bring an end to the case.
“We are committed to this case, and despite the fact that a disappearance occurred in 1979, we are here today doing the best we can,” said FBI spokesman Tim Flannelly.