New Jersey Man Confesses to Killing 6-year-old Etan Patz in 1979

Pedro Hernandez, a 51-year-old New Jersey man, has been arrested in the case of a missing New York City boy whose disappearance captivated a nation back in 1979.

A heartbreaking mystery that tortured a Manhattan couple and stymied police for more than three decades apparently was solved Thursday after a New Jersey man confessed to strangling 6-year-old Etan Patz. Photo: Multimediaimpre/Flickr

New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, speaking at a news conference Thursday night, said Pedro Hernandez, 51, confessed to choking 6-year-old Etan Patz in the basement of the small food market where Hernandez worked stocking shelves, then disposed of the body in a plastic bag that he threw in the trash, reports Reuters.

The boy left his apartment on the morning of May 25, 1979, to walk to his school bus stop. That was the first time his parents had allowed him to make the journey on his own, according to LA Times. Etan never came back, and a body was never found, but Etan’s parents, Stan and Julie, never gave up hope that their little boy would come home.

Hernandez told the police he promised the boy a soda, took him to his store – just blocks from Etan’s lower Manhattan home – and killed him there.

“In the years following Etan’s disappearance, he had told a family member and others that he had … ‘done a bad thing and killed a child in New York,’ ” Kelly said of Hernandez.

“He was remorseful, and I think the detectives thought that it was a feeling of relief on his part” to confess, Kelly said. “We believe that this is the individual responsible for the crime.”

Time Newsfeed writes that Kelly could not explain why Hernandez was never questioned in the case.

“I can’t tell you why 33 years ago he wasn’t questioned,” Kelly said. “Other people in the bodega were questioned.”

Hernandez left his job days after Etan disappeared and moved to moved to Maple Shade, New Jersey, just outside Camden, where neighbors on Thursday described him as a quiet man who showed no outward signs of a darker past.

“The family was never a problem. He cut the grass. He shoveled snow. He didn’t bother anybody,” said his neighbour Dan Wollick, 72.

Etan’s parents Stan and Julie Patz exhausted themselves looking for their son and turned the search into a campaign for the cause of missing children nationwide.

Stan Patz, a professional photographer, had distributed Etan’s pictures virtually everywhere, and the boy’s photo was used by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children for its milk-carton campaign. Etan’s was the first of many children’s pictures to be placed on the backs of the cartons.

Etan’s parents, Stan and Julie Patz still live in the same appartment and didn’t even change their phone number in case their son tried to reach out.

Lt. Christopher Zimmerman, who told Stan Patz about the news, described him as “a little surprised,” adding, “After everything Mr. Patz has gone through, he handled it very well.”

“I was glad to tell him … but I didn’t want to upset him any more than he may have been,” Zimmerman said.

For most of the past decade, the investigation focused on Jose Ramos, a convicted child molester now in prison in Pennsylvania. He had been dating Etan’s baby sitter at that time.

Ramos was later convicted of child molestation in a separate case in Pennsylvania. He is due to be released from prison in November.

Although Etan Patz was formally declared dead in 2001, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance decided to re-open the case in 2010 and investigators tore apart the basement in April looking for clothing and human remains after a cadaver-sniffing dog sensed something at the site.

“I just cannot imagine what they have gone through,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters on Thursday, referring to Etan’s relatives. “And I certainly hope we are one step closer to bringing them some measure of relief.”

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