Share this article

print logo

Police seek remains of boy missing in '79

Police and the FBI began searching a Manhattan basement Thursday for the remains of a 6-year-old boy whose 1979 disappearance on his way to school helped launch a missing children's movement that put kids' faces on milk cartons.

Etan Patz vanished on May 25, 1979, after leaving his family's SoHo apartment for a short walk to catch a school bus. It was the first time his parents had let him go off to school alone.

A forensic team planned to dig up the concrete floor and remove drywall partitions to find blood, clothing or human remains in the building, just down the street from Etan's home, police spokesman Paul Browne said. The work is expected to take up to five days.

Investigators received information over the past few months that Etan's remains might be buried in the basement of the building, which at the time the boy disappeared housed the work space of a carpenter who was thought to have been friendly with the boy, a law enforcement official told the Associated Press.

Two other law enforcement officials confirmed that an FBI dog detected the scent of remains at the building over the past few weeks.

Etan's disappearance drew national attention to child safety, ushered in a generation of parents who became afraid to send their kids out alone and helped fuel a movement to publicize missing children's cases. Etan's face was among the first to appear on milk cartons.

Etan's parents, Stanley and Julie Patz, became outspoken advocates for missing children. For years, they refused to change their phone number, in the hope that Etan was alive somewhere, and might call.

They never moved, although they obtained a court order in 2001 declaring the boy dead.

No one has ever been prosecuted for Etan's disappearance, but Stanley Patz sued an incarcerated drifter and admitted child-molester, Jose Ramos, who had been dating Etan's baby sitter around the time he disappeared.

Ramos, who is not the carpenter whose work space was being searched, denied killing the child, but in 2004 a Manhattan civil judge ruled him to be responsible for the death, largely due to his refusal to contest the case.

Investigators have looked at a long list of possible suspects over the years and have excavated in other places before without success.