Etan Patz Case Still Captivates 30 Years Later

PHOTO After Etan

On the morning of May 25, 1979, Julie Patz finally agreed to allow her middle child, 6-year-old Etan Patz, to walk the two blocks to the school bus stop alone. He had been asking for months. It was not far, through a New York City neighborhood he knew well.

The terrible drama that unfolded in the weeks and months after the disappearance of Etan Patz captivated the country. Now author Lisa R. Cohen has told the entire story, beginning with the morning Julie watched Etan walk down the block and turn the corner, in "After Etan: The Missing Child Search That Held America Captive."

Watch the story on "2020" Friday, May 29 at 10 p.m. ET.


May 25, 1979

Police hypnotist: About what time is it?

Julie: About 7:00 a.m.

Hypnotist: What do you do?

Julie: Get out of bed.

— Julie Patz hypnosis transcript, August 7, 1979

In August of 1979, nine weeks after Etan Patz disappeared, his mother, Julie, was hypnotized by police to recall the events of Friday, May 25.

She was nervous but eager to do anything to add to the shortage of clues. She began to retrace her steps that day, minute by minute. After a stoic 10 minutes, the NYPD hypnotist stopped her and told her she was doing a wonderful job, but that she had to start all over again from the beginning. And this time, he said, she needed to stay completely in the present tense, as if every minute were just happening now. He thought it would help her to recall the day more easily. He actually used the word "easily." Julie started again. "The alarm clock is ringing," she said. "Stan is shutting it off."

Her husband turns over and goes back to sleep. He had worked late the night before. Julie pulls herself out of bed, unwillingly, but she has a lot to do. Their across- the- street neighbors, Larry and Karen Altman, have invited them to their country place for the weekend. The weather is changeable this time of year—lots to pack. Julie's in-home daycare group will be arriving soon, bringing their daily chaotic mess of arts-and-crafts supplies, spilled Cheerios, and sweet cacophony. The other wild card this morning is Ari, her 2-year-old. A playmate of his had slept over the night before, the toddlers snuggled under blankets on the floor in the front room that doubled as the daycare center. This means an extra wiggly body to keep track of. And when Julie peeks in, sure enough they are awake already, "reading" their books amid the bedclothes.

As usual, when Julie wakes Etan, he hops right out of bed. Eight-year-old Shira is a different story. Once awake, Shira might lie in bed imagining ways to get out of having to go to school. Today is really part of the long weekend, she might argue, and then it's almost the end of the term, and it isn't like anyone's learning anything this late in the year anyway. Julie has already decided she isn't going to push her daughter too hard. She goes to her room to throw on a long blue-and-yellow peasant dress with white flowers and pull her shoulder-length brown hair back in its usual casual ponytail.

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