NYPD Say Man In Custody in Etan Patz Disappearance

By: From CBS News, Posted by Ralph Hipp
By: From CBS News, Posted by Ralph Hipp

NEW YORK (CBS, AP) -- The 33-year-old cold case surrounding the disappearance of Etan Patz took a turn Thursday, with New York police taking into custody a New Jersey man who authorities say has implicated himself in the 6-year-old's death.

In this 1979 photo provided by the New York City Police Department shows a missing child poster for Etan Patz. New York City Police and the FBI began digging up a New York basement Thursday, April 19, 2012 for the remains of the 6-year-old boy whose 1979 disappearance on his way to school drew helped launch a missing children's movement that put kids' faces on milk cartons

CBS News senior correspondent John Miller reports the individual, identified as Pedro Hernandez, then 18-years old, once worked in a SoHo shop just blocks from Patz's home in lower Manhattan. Detectives say he confessed to killing Patz. Sources say that Hernandez admitted to luring the boy into the store with candy, strangling him, and placing the body in a box. He said he put the box out with the trash and when he came back later, it was gone.

"He basically said he did it," a law enforcement source told CBS News. Investigators say while Hernandez's story may be difficult to corroborate, they believe he is credible.

While a source who has been briefed on the investigation could not provide details, the source indicated that it is unlikely a body will be recovered. "The way he [Hernandez] described how the body was disposed of, it does not sound like we would be able to recover remains at this point."

Hernandez, 51, was questioned by New York City detectives for hours in Camden, N.J., Wednesday before agreeing to come to New York City with investigators, where he has been questioned further at the office of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance.

New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said in a statement earlier Thursday that the individual made statements "implicating himself" in the boy's 1979 disappearance and death, though official charges have yet to be filed. Speaking at a news conference on Coney Island, Mayor Michael Bloomberg cautioned that "there is still a lot more investigating to do," according to CBS New York.

Hernandez had lived in New Jersey since the early 1980s and his family members left his home Thursday afternoon under police escort without commenting. Hernandez has a trail of arrests for minor charges including bad checks, drunken driving, and at least one charge of domestic violence.

A woman who answered the door at Hernandez's Maple Shade, N.J., home confirmed to the Associated Press that he was in custody. Neighbors said he lived with a woman and a daughter who attends college.

"I can't believe something like that," neighbor Dan Wollick, 71, told the Associated Press. "This guy, he doesn't seem that way."

It's unclear what led police to question Hernandez. There has been a list of around 10 suspects in the cold case that the district attorney's office intended to focus on, but Hernandez wasn't on that list, Miller reports.

After vanishing May 25, 1979, while walking by himself for the first time to his school-bus stop, Patz sparked a national outcry over missing children, becoming the first missing child whose picture was put on the side of a milk carton. Friday is the 33-year anniversary of Patz's disappearance.

The Manhattan District Attorney's office reopened the search for Patz in 2010. In April, police and the FBI spent days digging up a basement in Patz's SoHo neighborhood looking for clues. Sources told CBS News then that cadaver dogs had indicated the presence of human remains during a search there but a subsequent search and analysis found no such traces.

Patz was officially declared dead in 2001 so the family could pursue a civil lawsuit against Jose Ramos, a convicted child molester serving time in prison who for years was the most prominent suspect. His girlfriend used to babysit Patz. Ramos has denied killing the boy, though a civil judge found him responsible for Patz's death in 2004.

Recently, investigators questioned a 75-year-old Brooklyn handyman who in 1979 had a workspace in the basement that was excavated last month. The man, Othniel Miller, was not named as a suspect and denied any involvement.

Miller's lawyer said there was no connection between Miller and Hernandez.

"There has been no law enforcement action taken or implicated against Mr. Miller as of yet. Mr. Miller is relieved by these developments, as he was not involved in any way with Etan Patz's disappearance," attorney Michael Farkas said.

The Patz family is on vacation out of state and was not available for comment on the latest developments.

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