Etan Patz Case Still Captivates 30 Years Later

Time— 16:25. No cops yet. Julie was very nervous. She had called everybody for a clue. I called 1st Pct to find out where the cops were. Minutes later two patrolmen were in our place, asked basic questions (marriage, friends, family) and jumped in their car to go down to PS 3 Annex.

— Stan Patz's account of May 25, 1979 (written June 1979)

The police told Stan and Julie they needed to confirm that Etan really wasn't in school that day, but on the Friday evening of Memorial Day weekend, there was no one at the school to call. When one of the officers realized he knew the custodian there, they headed over.

Stan went into his home darkroom. He had no photos of Etan lying around, but remembered that back in March he'd done a lengthy photo shoot of the boy and there were proof sheets—thirty-six miniature headshots on each page. He grabbed a few of them and ran down the stairs, heading out onto Prince Street to show them to shopkeepers, brushing past his downstairs neighbors on the landing coming in. Peggy Spina had just picked up her 7-year-old daughter, Vanessa, from afterschool art class. Vanessa was one of Etan's constant companions, but Stan didn't even notice the girl, let alone question her. He tossed back one sentence to Peggy as he bolted past. "I think we've lost Etan." Then he was up the street, leaving a bewildered mother ushering her own child in the front door of their apartment.

"Lost Etan," Peggy thought. "How do you 'lose' a kid? And how could he be lost in the middle of the afternoon?" Her older daughter, 10-year-old Paula, was home, having shamelessly faked sick that morning to skip school. Julie had just called down, she told her mother, to ask if anyone had seen Etan. Still, Peggy assumed this was a simple mixup.

Stan took his proof sheets to the health food store, the bodega, the M&O Market, and the Eva Deli, then to the Houston Street playground. No, everyone said, shaking their heads as they looked at the tiny pictures, they hadn't seen Etan.

Sometime that afternoon Sandy Harmon, a woman who sometimes worked for the Patzes, arrived at the loft. She had come to pick up the keys from Julie. The place had once been burglarized in their absence, and Julie had asked Sandy to housesit while the family was away for the weekend. Sandy, of course, now learned she would not be staying in the loft that weekend after all; instead she helped Julie look for phone numbers to nearby hospitals, sitting awkwardly in the front room, trying to think of other places to call. After a brief stay she left, to pick up her own son, who himself was in daycare nearby.

At the P.S. 3 Annex school, a police officer went through the school records to confirm Etan's absence, before he finally called back to headquarters to ask for backup. Ten long hours after Etan was last seen, a full- on search for him began.

At 5:15, Detective Bill Butler got the radio call. He and his partner immediately drove to Prince Street, where by 5:30 they were joined by three other detectives from the First Precinct. Stan showed them pictures of Etan, while Julie repeated the day's events as she knew them. She would recite them again and again countless times in the days to come.

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