The suspect in the 1979 disappearance of a 6-year-old boy from New York City has been formally charged with murder and kidnapping.
Pedro Hernandez, a 51-year-old resident of Maple Shade, N.J., was indicted by a New York City grand jury, which was made public on Wednesday. Hernandez was arrested earlier this year and investigators are stating he confessed. The district attorney’s office had no immediate comment.
Etan Patz’s disappearance led to an intensive search, leading a movement of publicizing the cases of missing children. Patz’s photo was one of the first to be put on milk cartons. His case turned May 25 into National Missing Children’s Day.
Patz was declared legally dead by his father more than a decade ago so he could sue convicted child molester Jose Ramos in the boy’s death. Ramos, who is now 69-year-old, was dating the boy’s babysitter in 1979 and was considered a suspect. He was later convicted of molesting two different children and is in a Pennsylvania prison.
Investigators began focusing on Hernandez this year after someone called police about comments made by Hernandez’s sister, stating she heard secondhand he told a church prayer group in the 1980s that he killed a child in New York City.
Hernandez, now a married father, was a teenage stock clerk at a convenience store when Patz disappeared on his way to school on May 25, 1979. Police say Hernandez told investigators he lured the boy into the store with the promise of soda.
Hernandez allegedly said he led the boy to the basement, choked him and then left his body in a bag of trash about a block away. The convenience store is now an eyeglass shop. City records pinpointing where garbage was dumped do not go far.
Defense attorney Harvey Fishbein describes Hernandez as bipolar and schizophrenic, with a history of hallucinations. The diagnosis could become the basis of a psychiatric defense claiming Hernandez agreed to speak to police without understanding his rights, and that the purported confession was a sick fantasy.
Patz’s body has never been found. His parents, Stan and Julie Patz, were reluctant to move or change their phone number in case their son tried to reach out.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.