Etan Patz was only 6-years-old when he kissed his mother goodbye and made his way down the block to wait for the school bus. It had been the first time his parents had allowed little Etan to walk to the bus stop alone, but it would be a decision that they would regret for the rest of their lives.
Etan never made it to class that day, but it was not apparent that he had disappeared until he did not return home from school. Etan’s mother called the police to report that her son had been missing. His body has never been found.
For nearly 40 years the Patz family has been looking for answers on what happened to their son on that spring morning of 1979. Throughout the years there had been one prominent suspect in the case, a convicted pedophile from the Patz family’s neighborhood named Jose Ramos. Ramos had allegedly confessed that he knew what had happened to Etan, but there was never enough evidence to charge Ramos in the boy’s abduction.
In 2001, the Patz family were able to have Etan declared legally dead, though his body had never been recovered, in order to pursue a civil suit against Ramos. Ramos lost the case in 2004 and was ordered to pay the family $2M. This ruling was later overturned.
In 2012, a second suspect stepped forward to confess to the abduction and murder of Etan Patz. Pedro Hernandez, a former deli clerk at a bodega near Etan’s home, claimed that he had taken the child to the store’s basement where he strangled him and then discarded his body in the trash several blocks away. No one had any reason to doubt Hernandez’s confession and the case was brought to trial.
It was during the initial trial in 2012 that the defense brought attention to Hernandez’s low IQ and claimed that his mental illness had caused him to have difficulty distinguishing between fantasy and reality. The case was later dismissed. Hernandez was then taken back to court in 2015. This time the case resulted in a hung jury and a retrial was ordered to begin in October of 2016. In February of 2017, a jury found Hernandez guilty, but many question this verdict.
Hernandez’s defense says that they doubt this will be the last time the case will go to trial, as many unanswered questions remain. Witnesses called to testify in the case have raised some doubt in Hernandez’s guilty and at least one witness told The New York Times that there is a possibility that Hernandez had imagined his encounter with Etan that day, as the defense had claimed.
Did Pedro Hernandez really kill Etan Patz? Or had it been the original suspect and convicted pedophile Jose Ramos? While a verdict may have officially closed the investigation for good, the mystery of Etan Patz still lingers.