On May 25, 1979, around 8:00 a.m., Etan was last seen walking to his school bus stop in the New York City borough of Manhattan. His family lived in an apartment near West Broadway on Prince Street. The stop was two blocks away at Prince Street and Wooster Street. Etan’s parents let him walk to the bus stop by himself for the first time.
At the time he went missing, Etan was carrying a blue cloth bag with elephants on it and a dollar for a soft drink. His mother watched him from the window until he crossed Wooster Street, which was 150 yards from the bus stop. No one has ever heard from him again.
Etan’s bus stopped at the stop as usual at 8:10 a.m. and picked up a few kids, but Etan wasn’t one of them. Etan’s first-grade teacher at Independence Plaza School knew he wasn’t there, but she didn’t tell the principal. His parents didn’t find out he was missing until 3:15 p.m., when he still hadn’t come home. After asking his neighbors if he was with them, they called the police.
Jose Antonio Ramos, who was known to be a pedophile, was the main person thought to have taken Etan for many years. There are pictures of him with this case summary. In the 1970s, Ramos was a homeless man with mental problems who was known for beating up young boys as he traveled across the United States. He liked Etan and other boys with light hair.
When Etan went missing in 1979, Ramos was in New York City. He also dated a woman who used to work for the Etan family and walk their son to and from school during a school bus strike. Before Etan disappeared, he was thought to have followed the woman and abused her son. Police thought that Ramos might have seen Etan with the woman, which would have led him to the child.
Ramos said he was with a boy who looked like Etan on the day the boy went missing. He talked about how Etan’s shoes stood out because they had bright stripes.
Ramos went on to say that he told the child he was a “friend” of the former employee when he first met him. He then took the boy back to his apartment and tried to sexually assault him. But, he said, he stopped when Etan pushed him away and put the boy on a subway to Washington Heights so the boy could visit his aunt there. Etan doesn’t have any family in Washington Heights, though.
In 1983, Ramos moved to Watersmeet, Michigan, with a boy with light hair who he did not know. The boy was around 13 or 14 years old. In 1983, Etan would have been about that old. Ramos left the area when he was thought to have molested a few boys.
When he and the boy were in Michigan, the police took a picture of them. Later, when they looked at the photos again, they saw that the boy looked like Etan as he got older, so they decided to find the boy. People in Watersmeet had heard that the boy’s parents ran an orphanage in Columbus, Ohio, from what Ramos had said.
There was a record of the boy’s fingerprints because he had been arrested there. The prints were compared to Etan’s. They weren’t the same. To be sure, the police talked to the teenager and got a DNA sample. This proved that Etan and the boy were not the same person.
In 1985, the investigation briefly turned its attention to Israel, where a magazine published a picture of Etan taken by his father and labeled “Etan Ben Haim.” The picture wasn’t one of the ones given to the press, so the police were suspicious about where it came from. But no one was able to figure out where the picture came from, so the investigation turned back to Ramos.
Two of Ramos’s former cellmates told the police, separately, that Ramos had said things that were suspicious about Etan’s disappearance and that the boy’s body would never be found.
Ramos is said to have said that he had been following Etan and knew where Etan’s school bus went. He is in prison in Pennsylvania for molesting a blond boy, like Etan, for ten to twenty years. In February 2002, New York investigators decided not to press charges against Ramos in Etan’s case because they didn’t have enough proof.
In 2001, a judge in New York said that Etan was dead. The action made it possible for the Patz family to sue Ramos for wrongful death, even though he has never been charged in Etan’s case. At first, Ramos didn’t want to give a deposition about the case.
A Manhattan Supreme Court judge told Ramos in March 2003 that he had to answer questions under oath about what happened to Etan.
Ramos gave a statement in October 2003, saying that he was in a park with a boy named Jimmy, who was eight or nine years old, on the day that Etan went missing. He met Jimmy in Washington Square Park. Around 11:15 or 11:30 a.m., two police officers came up to him with a picture of Etan and asked if he had seen the child.
Ramos said that he took Jimmy to an apartment after the police left him alone. When asked if he had sexually abused the child, he used his right under the Fifth Amendment not to incriminate himself.
The authorities don’t believe Ramos’s story very much. Etan wasn’t reported missing until the afternoon of the day he went missing, and his picture wouldn’t have been passed around until a few hours later. Ramos’s story about where he was when Etan went missing has changed more than once.
In the deposition, Ramos didn’t answer many of the questions, so in May 2004, the judge in the case found him responsible for the child’s death. The judge told Ramos to pay Etan’s parents $2 million, but since Ramos is broke, it’s unlikely that any of the money will be collected.
In the spring of 2012, Othniel Miller, a carpenter, was briefly thought to have taken Etan. Miller gave Etan a dollar for helping him the day before.
In April 2012, the police looked for Etan’s body in the basement where Miller’s carpentry shop used to be because a cadaver dog smelled rotting bones. A deep dig turned up nothing. Miller has always said that Etan’s case was not his fault.
In a surprising turn of events, a suspect confessed to second-degree murder in May 2012, just before the 33rd anniversary of Etan’s disappearance.
Below this case summary is a picture of the suspect, Pedro Hernandez. At the time he was arrested, he was 51 years old and lived in New Jersey with his wife and daughter. When Etan went missing, he was an 18-year-old stock clerk at a local bodega.
Hernandez had told his family in vague terms as early as 1981 that he had hurt or done something bad to a child. Sometime in the 1980s, he told a church group that he had killed a child, but he never said Etan’s name or gave any details. Someone who knew Hernandez saw news reports about Etan’s disappearance while the child’s body was being looked for in Miller’s old basement workshop. This person remembered what Hernandez had said and told the police about him.
During a three-and-a-half-hour interview, Hernandez told investigators that he lured Etan into the store by offering him a soda, then took him to the basement and strangled him. Then, he put the body in a plastic bag and took it out with the trash. He said he hadn’t done anything sexual to the child and couldn’t say why he’d killed him.
The lawyer for Hernandez said that he has bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and both visual and auditory hallucinations. He said he was going to kill himself after he was arrested, so he was taken to a hospital to treat his mental health problems. He has never been a suspect in Etan’s case before 2012. He has never been in trouble with the law.
In 1979, they asked other people who worked at the bodega, but not Hernandez. Even if his confession is true and can be shown to be true, Etan’s body may never be found.
Nobody knows where Etan is, and his case is still open. Because of what happened, people think there was foul play. Lisa Cohen, a journalist, wrote a book called “After Etan” about his disappearance. It came out in 2009.