New Jersey man charged with 1979 murder of NYC 6-year-old Elan Patz

Criminal profiler Pat Brown weighs in


A New Jersey man was charged Friday with murdering 6-year-old Etan Patz -- 33 years to the day after the New York City boy disappeared while walking to a school bus stop.

Pedro Hernandez, who authorities say confessed to choking Patz in 1979, had been taken to Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan and placed on suicide watch, sources close to the matter confirmed to Fox News. Hernandez was Friday evening on a second-degree murder charge by video conference from the hospital.

Court-appointed lawyer Harvey Fishbein told the judge Hernandez is bipolar and schizophrenic. He didn't enter a plea, and a judge ordered a psychological examination.

New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly announced Thursday that Hernandez, 51, of New Jersey, confessed to luring the child into a store with the promise of a soda before strangling him and disposing his body. 

Kelly said Hernandez, who was then 18, was working as a stock clerk at a bodega in Manhattan's SoHo neighborhood when he spotted Patz walking alone in the early morning of May 25, 1979. Hernandez then allegedly led Patz down into the basement of the bodega, where he choked him and disposed of him by putting Patz's body into a trash bag outside. Kelly said the motive of the murder is still under investigation.

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Before coming to the police to confess his role in Patz's death, Hernandez expressed remorse to a family member, saying sometime in the past few decades that he had "done a bad thing and killed a child in New York," police said.

Hernandez, who moved to New Jersey shortly after the boy disappeared, was picked up there late Wednesday in Maple Shade and was questioned Thursday at the Manhattan district attorney's office.

On Wednesday evening, Hernandez brought investigators to the scene of the murder and told them what happened. Police recorded three and a half hours of videotaped statements made by Hernandez.

"He was remorseful, and I think the detectives thought that it was a feeling of relief on his part," Kelly said Thursday. "We believe that this is the individual responsible for the crime."

Police notified the Patz family that Hernandez had come forward and implicated himself in the crime. When the NYPD determined that an arrest was appropriate, they called the family back this afternoon. Stan, the boy's father, was described as surprised and taken aback by the news, the NYPD said.

"He had a few specific questions. He was a little surprised, but I think after everything Mr. Patz has gone through, he handled it very well," said Lt. Christopher Zimmerman of the Missing Persons Squad.


Neighbors in Maple Shade said Hernandez lived with his wife and a daughter who attends college. They expressed surprise Thursday night at the arrest.

"I knew the guy. He was not a problem. His family was great people," said Dan Wollick, 71, who rents an apartment in Hernandez' home ."He didn't bother anybody."

After Patz's disappearance in 1979, he was the first missing child to appear on a milk carton. President Ronald Reagan declared May 25 -- the day the boy disappeared -- National Missing Children's Day. The boy was officially declared dead in 2001.  

Last month, the FBI ripped up a Manhattan basement for any forensic evidence that would help solve the mystery of what happened to Patz. The search turned up nothing.

The basement is the former workspace of retired handyman Othniel Miller, 75, of Brooklyn, N.Y., who was seen with Patz the night before he disappeared. Miller, whose workshop was on the route the boy would have taken to his bus stop, has denied any wrongdoing.

Although Kelly said the dig provided no link to Hernandez, the search hurtled the case back into the news, and a tipster then pointed police to Hernandez. Kelly said the person wasn't a relative, but knew that Hernandez had said he had done a bad thing, he said.

Investigators had long focused their attention on Jose Ramos, a drifter and onetime boyfriend of Etan's baby sitter. In the early 1980s, he was arrested on theft charges, and had photos of other young, blond boys in his backpack. But there was no hard evidence linking Ramos to the crime.

Ramos, now 68, reportedly admitted trying to molest Etan on the day of his disappearance, but denied abducting him or killing him. Ramos has never been charged criminally in the Patz case and is currently serving a 20-year prison term in Pennsylvania for abusing an 8-year-old boy there. Ramos is scheduled to be released from prison in November.

Some legal experts say prosecutors face an uphill battle in proving Hernandez is responsible for killing the boy -- despite his alleged confession to police.

"The public should not assume that the case is solved in light of the published reports of Hernandez’s detailed and gruesome confession," Mark Bederow, a New York criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor, told

"This will be an extremely difficult case to prove beyond a reasonable doubt without physical evidence, including Etan’s body, and without specific and unique evidence that both corroborates Hernandez’s statement and is information that would only be known by Etan’s killer," Bederow said. "Hopefully, for the Patz family’s sake, authorities possess such evidence."

Fox News' Cristina Corbin, Rick Leventhal, David Lee Miller and The Associated Press contributed to this report.