On May 25, 1979, a little boy left for school and never came home. Thirty years and countless investigations later, his family is hopeful the time has finally come to prosecute the man they believe is responsible.
Etan Patz was 6 years old, the middle child of Stan and Julie Patz, who lived in the SoHo district of New York City. Today, SoHo is a bustling, high-end shopping and tourism area. Back then, it was an emerging neighborhood, full of artists and adventurers. As Stan described it: "It had the lowest crime rate in New York City, mostly because there was no one here."
Because it was safe and very familiar, Stan and Julie had decided to allow Etan walk alone to his school bus stop two blocks away. Etan had asked for permission for some time, and on this day, they finally agreed. It was a different era -- in those days it was not uncommon for children to make such a solo journey.
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"At some point in every parent's life, they send their children to school alone," Stan said. "Did we do it too early? Obviously we did. Every parent wants their children to be outgoing, they want them to be friendly. When do you let them out of your sight? When they're 21?"
By late in the afternoon, when Etan had not returned home, the Patzes called the police. Officers searched the neighborhood. Stan Patz, a commercial photographer, scoured his darkroom. He had taken many photographs of Etan, and he took those pictures around the area, showing anyone he could. No one had any information to offer.
It was a difficult investigation, according to Lisa Cohen, author of a new book, "After Etan," containing never-before-revealed details of the case. "There were no leads. There was no crime scene. They couldn't dust for fingerprints ... They didn't even know where he disappeared."
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But those pictures helped turn the case into much more than just another crime. The images helped keep the story alive over the years and served as a reminder of lost innocence. Many people remember the case, and some say the way we raise our kids in this country forever changed on that day.
Anyone wishing to offer information in regards to this investigation is asked to call FBI/NYPD Cold Case personnel at (212)384-2200. All calls will be kept confidential.
At first, detectives considered the Patzes as possible suspects. But they quickly determined the parents had no involvement. So who did? It would take years before a suspect emerged.
His name was Jose Antonio Ramos. Some boys had accused him of trying to lure them inside a drainpipe, where he lived in 1982 in the Bronx. When police searched the drainpipe, they found photographs of Ramos and young boys who resembled Etan.
Ramos said the boys were "friends," and none turned out to be Etan. Ramos did tell detectives, however, that his former girlfriend had worked for the Patzes, walking Etan to and from school during a bus strike.
To this day, Stan Patz wonders why police did not make more of the direct link between what he calls this "horrible man" and his family. When no one pressed charges, the case was dropped and Ramos vanished.