Handyman in Etan Patz Probe Says He's Innocent

Handyman Othniel Miller says he's cooperating with cops.

April 20, 2012, 11:02 AM

April 20, 2012 -- A lawyer for the handyman Othniel Miller whose basement workshop is the focal point of a new investigation into the Etan Patz case today denied he had anything to do with the little boy's disappearance more than three decades ago.

"Mr. Miller did not do this," Michael Farkas, the attorney for Miller, told reporters outside the Brooklyn building where Miller lives.

"Mr. Miller denies involvement with what happened to this beautiful young boy and he's going to remain cooperative to the extent that's reasonably possible given this investigation," Farkas said.

Patz, who was 6, disappeared on the morning of May 25, 1979, soon after leaving his parents' apartment at 113 Prince St., the first time he was to walk to the school bus stop by himself.

Authorities today began the first full day of digging in the Manhattan basement at 127 Prince St. for new evidence, following the startling discovery that the missing child may never have made it off his own New York City block.

Patz's 1979 disappearance sparked a massive city-wide search 33 years ago, but now the FBI and New York City police believe they may find evidence in what was then a handyman's basement workshop just steps away from where the boy was last seen.

The small basement room at the center of the investigation belonged to Miller, now 75, and was also frequented by the case's longtime prime suspect Jose Ramos.

Federal agents and New York City police began Thursday to tear up the concrete floor of the basement and the excavation was in full swing today and by mid afternoon the basement "was all in pieces," said FBI Special Agent Tim Flannelly .

Between 30 and 40 cops and FBI special agents hauled the parts of basement up and into bins. Later the material will be sifted and sorted.

NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly described the methodical way investigators were digging in the basement, using workers from New York's ConEd power company to assist with jack hammering.

The room, he said, was divided into four sections with concrete being removed from one section before digging commences in the next section. He said it was "a very controlled and precise digging operation, actually started with the back wall."

Prosecutors reopened the cold case two years ago and began focusing on the Prince Street basement room following an interview with Miller.

That interview prompted the FBI and NYPD to put special odor-absorbing pads in the room for four days. When those pads were presented to cadaver dogs, they signaled the odor of human remains. The dogs were then brought to the basement where they again indicated the scent of human remains.

Investigators then interviewed Miller again before obtaining a warrant and beginning the dig.

Kelly said an array of new technology unavailable to law enforcement in 1979 including x-rays and black lights are being used in the investigation.

The new investigation is also reexamining the decades old assumption that Patz was abducted by convicted pedophile Jose Ramos. Ramos, now in prison for an unrelated case, was never charged with Patz's abduction.

The preparations for the search included mapping the basement, making sketches, taking photographs and other procedures for collecting evidence.

According to sources, the area of the basement where the dog picked up the scent appears to be one that had been resurfaced with fresh concrete at or shortly after the time of Patz's disappearance.

The basement was searched in 1979, the year the boy disappeared, but the floor was never dug up.

Since then, drywall has been put up over the room's brick walls. The drywall will be removed and the bricks examined and tested for blood evidence using advanced forensic techniques that were not available three decades ago, officials said.

The floor will also be dug up in a search for human remains, clothing or other evidence.

For the Patz family, it has been more than three decades of agonizing investigations and years of wondering what happened to their blond son with the gorgeous smile.

In an interview with "20/20" in 2009, the boy's father Stan Patz said, "I still gag with fear that this child must have felt ... when he realized he was being betrayed by an adult."

The case had been dormant until Manhattan DA Cy Vance Jr. reopened the case. Former DA Robert Morgenthau had declined to proceed with the case, citing insufficient evidence.

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