He might have disappeared for good if not for a former federal prosecutor named Stuart GraBois. After taking over the case in 1985, GraBois labored persistently for justice for the Patz family. He eventually found out that Ramos was in custody in Pennsylvania in connection with an unrelated child molestation case.
GraBois brought Ramos to New York to meet face-to-face. Ramos had no idea why he was there. Out of the blue, GraBois asked him directly, "How many times did you have sex with Etan Patz?" According to GraBois, Ramos "froze" and said, "I'll tell you everything."
Ramos' response is now known as "the 90 percent confession." He admitted taking a young boy back to his apartment for sex on the day Etan disappeared and told GraBois he was 90 percent sure it was the boy he later saw on TV. As GraBois pointed out, "the only boy missing and on television that evening was Etan Patz." GraBois said that at that moment he "believed we had the right guy."
But the confession was not complete. Ramos did not use Etan's name and he claimed he had "put the boy on a subway."
GraBois himself would never hear the last 10 percent of the story that he was after. However, working with FBI agent Mary Galligan, he came up with a plan to get it another way.
During Ramos' time in lockup, two convicted criminals, acting separately, approached GraBois and Galligan. Each claimed to have knowledge about Ramos and volunteered to try to get more information from Ramos about the Patz case.
The arrangement was special, according to Galligan. "The unique situation in this case, which I don't think I ever had again in my career was, we had two informants at the same time who didn't know there was another informant." Each convict's story could be corroborated by the other, making both stories more credible.
The first informant, called "John Morgan" in Cohen's book, told Galligan and GraBois that Ramos told him that he knew what happened to Etan. Ramos had even drawn a map of Etan's school bus route, pointing out that he knew Etan's stop was the third one, Morgan told the investigators. Galligan called this an "ah ha" moment in the case, "because there was no way that John could have known that information. I mean there are moments in this case that are beyond chilling ... Your mind has to take a moment to digest."
Then the second informant, "Jeremy Fischer," took his turn as Ramos' cellmate. A convicted con artist, Fischer's skills worked to perfection. "I set the stage and he spilled it, shall we say," Fischer told ABC News in a phone conversation from his current prison in Texas. "Pure and simple, it was a con!"
Ramos had a sex therapy workbook he needed to complete in order to be considered for parole. Fischer acted as his personal therapist, encouraging Ramos to "open up" about what he had done. Eventually, Fischer said, Ramos told him graphic details of what he had done that day. This time, according to Fischer, Ramos used Etan's name ... repeatedly. Fischer told the investigators that Ramos drew another map, identifying the exact spot where he claimed to have picked up Etan in SoHo and where he took him -- his apartment in the East Village. But he did not admit to killing the boy.