Etan Patz Case Still Captivates 30 Years Later

Just before eight, Julie calculates it's time to go. Etan walks ahead of his mother down the three flights to the front door. He isn't tall enough to reach the lock himself, and has to wait while she opens the door. Julie looks up the street. It's a gray day, and at the moment the sun is behind her back, hiding around the corner. She feels it rather than sees it, struggling to come out.

The detective poised taking notes beside Julie in the hypnosis session had never sat through one of these. He was skeptical and suddenly confused. May 25 had been a drizzly day; how could Julie see the sun? Later, after she'd gone home, she called him. She'd just realized that the time sensor on a streetlamp behind her that morning had been defective and it had flickered on and off. That must have been what I felt as sunshine, she explained. Looking up the street, Julie hopes the weather will be better for the next few days, since they plan to spend most of it outdoors, on this holiday weekend in the country. She sees the familiar figures of other parents and their children beginning to congregate near the bus stop, which is just barely out of sight around the corner. Mother and son stand in front of their door, heads together, talking briefly about afterschool plans. Come home quickly, she tells him, you have to help pack for the trip. She kisses Etan goodbye.

He smiled and waved, turned around and walked away. She watched him, head down, as though he were counting his steps. She waited until he crossed the first of the two streets that stood between their home and the bus stop. If she was wavering at all, well, there were the babies upstairs, unsupervised. She turned and went inside, back upstairs to contain whatever toddler havoc Ari and his friend had wrought in the few minutes she'd been gone.

As Julie relived those few last moments to the hypnotist, she slipped unaware from present tense to past. Living in that exact moment again seemed to be just too hard.

Julie: I'm kissing him and I give him a hug. I say so long, tell him to have a good day. I watched him for a little while and I went in the door and flipped the lock and closed it, I ran upstairs. ... [long pause]

Hypnotist: Let me just wipe those away.

Julie: No, that's alright. They feel good. There haven't been enough.

Hypnotist: Well, you can have all you want here.

— hypnosis transcript, August 7, 1979

The account contradicted one important detail widely reported in the days following May 25. When Julie Patz first told police about her movements that morning, she remembered coming back inside and going out on the balcony fire escape that fronted Prince Street, to watch her son reach West Broadway and turn the corner.

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