Case of Original Milk Carton Missing Kid, Etan Patz, Reopened

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AP / Ron Frehm / File

Stan Patz, with son Ari, holds a photo of Etan, his missing son

If you don’t know the name Etan Patz, you still might know the sad legacy of the boy’s 1979 disappearance.

Patz is best known as the first vanished child to be placed on the back of a milk carton, becoming the impetus toward strong legislative, financial and social support for the missing children’s movement. On May 25, 1979, Patz left his parents’ Manhattan home on his way to school, never to be seen again. That day is now designated as National Missing Children’s Day.

Just days after Etan would have turned 37, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance has reopened Etan’s case, taking a hard look at whether convicted child sexual abuser Jose Antonio Ramos had a role to play in Patz’s disappearance. 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 they have never seen. The boy was declared legally dead in 2001.

Although the publicity behind Etan’s case over the years failed to find him, the milk carton campaign it spawned was used in other cases and helped to find other missing children. Etan’s father Stan told the Wall Street Journal he was pleased that the case is open again after years of refusal by the office of Vance’s predecessor Robert Morganthau.

“To them it was closed. It was done and over with. Here, the new district attorney is willing to start fresh and look over the evidence,” Patz said.

Corrected May 28, 2010: The original version of this article stated that Etan’s birthday is in May. It is actually in October.