Etan Patz Case: With No Clues to Boy’s Disappearance, Search Ends

Only four days after it began, authorities have ended the search in a Manhattan basement for the remains of 6-year-old Etan Patz, who vanished 33 years ago.

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AP / New York City Police Department
AP / New York City Police Department

Provided by the New York City Police Department, this 1979 photo shows a missing child poster for Etan Patz.

A subterranean dig in a Manhattan basement turned up little in the search for 6-year-old Etan Patz, leaving New York police investigators and the FBI empty-handed in the three-decade probe for clues in the boy’s disappearance.

Only a hair and one or two non-human bones — possibly from food — were found in the search. Although it hasn’t been determined who the hair belonged to, it was likely not Etan’s because his blonde hair color does not match the strand that was found. However, authorities are examining a stain to determine if it is from blood.

(MORE: Etan Patz: FBI Searches New York Basement for Sign of First Missing ‘Milk Carton’ Boy)

Authorities focused in a building in New York’s SoHo district, now occupied by clothing stores, in their search last week. The building was believed to have been along the path where Etan would have walked from his home to catch a school bus, but instead disappeared without a trace on May 25, 1979.

Etan became a national symbol of abducted children after his disappearance, becoming the first “milk carton” child. In their search for their son, his parents garnered wide attention for the case. However, after years of exhaustive looking, the Patzes had their son declared dead in 2001.

An excavation began in a basement of the building, which in those days housed a shop used by handyman Othneil Miller, now 75, who was said to have given Etan money for doing small jobs. He had never been named as a suspect and Etan’s parents named him as a family friend, so his shop was never originally searched.

Miller’s lawyer, Michael Farkas, told the New York Post that his client was the victim of a false accusation. “Mr. Miller decries these efforts to sully his good reputation and destroy his family,” he said. “He has absolutely no responsibility for the terrible tragedy that befell young Etan Patz, and he grieves for Etan’s fate, as all New Yorkers have for decades.”

(MORE: Etan Patz: A Brief History of the ‘Missing Child’ Milk Carton Campaign)

Police say the dig has ended and the debris removed will go to a Staten Island, N.Y. landfill for preservation.

The prime suspect in the case continues to be Jose Ramos, currently serving time in Pennsylvania for sexually assaulting two boys; he is scheduled for release in November. He was found liable for Etan’s death in a 2004 civil trial, but has never paid a cent of the $2 million a judge ordered him to pay to Etan’s parents.

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