Etan Patz Case Still Captivates 30 Years Later

But under hypnosis, she discovered her mind had played a trick on her. Perhaps her unconscious wanted her to have gone out on the balcony so badly, it had given her the false memory. In reality, back upstairs, she eyed the toddlers, then went off to take a quick shower and get ready for work. The rest of "her" kids would be showing up soon, as well as her staff. Julie's in-home daycare made good use of their space. Five days a week eight kids and two assistants filled the rooms with snack time, rest, and play. Showered and ready, Julie tidied up, packed Shira off to school after all, and began gathering the weekend belongings before the daycare kids arrived. Karen Altman would be picking up Etan along with her own daughter Chelsea at the bus stop after school, as she often did, so at least Julie would have a little extra time to prepare. But soon, her chattering, riotous group was spilling in, pushing at every molecule in the room, and bouncing back off them, and Julie was immersed in her day job.

By 3:30 p.m. Etan was still not home, and Julie was a little concerned. A lengthy school bus strike had just ended. This was the drivers' first week back, so maybe the bus had been delayed. Julie kept sticking her head out the wide expanse of windows in the front, where she was always able to see her children approaching from well up the block. Finally she phoned Karen Altman, whose own windows looked in on the Patz loft from directly across the street. "Is Etan over there with you?" Julie asked. "No," said Karen. She'd assumed that when Etan hadn't gotten off the bus he had gone to another friend's, as he often did, for a semi-regular playdate. With Julie on the line, she asked Chelsea if she knew where Etan had gone after school.

"Etan wasn't in school today," Chelsea said. Julie tried to contain her panic, but her voice, one of her most revealing features, betrayed her with a tight shake, and she immediately ended the call.

At 10 minutes to four on Friday afternoon, at the start of a holiday weekend that would shut the city down for three days, Julie Patz phoned the First Precinct to report her son missing. The officer who answered asked Julie if she and her husband were having marital troubles—maybe a custody dispute? No, said Julie. Maybe he ran away? No, Julie insisted, her voice rising. The officer promised to send someone over.

Julie hung up and called her husband, Stan, a photographer who was working at a friend's photo studio uptown. By this time she was frantic. Stan, in a moment of pure denial, finished the soggy cheeseburger that was his late lunch, then jumped on the subway downtown.

At the loft, a group of preschoolers were being shepherded into the lobby, Julie's assistants handing off children to their moms, trying not to frighten any of the youngsters. The contained, tense faces of the adults gathering outside shook Stan and a sense of urgency overtook him. He ignored the elevator, running up the back stairs to the third floor. It was almost 4:30.

Stan took one look at Julie and knew nothing good had happened during the time he had been on the subway. She was ashen. Stan's fantasy as he sat on the R train rattling down Broadway, that he would arrive to learn the whole thing was a big misunderstanding, was just that—a fantasy. In between calls to neighbors and friends, his wife had been dialing local emer- gency rooms, and wondering where the hell the cops were.

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