Etan Patz: New York police secure suspect’s confession, but doubts remain
Pedro Hernandez has admitted killing Etan Patz in 1979, but there are several reasons why police may have to be cautious
By Paul Harris
The goal of any police investigation is to secure a confession from the suspect.
That is doubly true for a high-profile murder investigation like the tragic killing of Etan Patz, a six-year-old New Yorker who vanished on his first unaccompanied trip to school 33 years ago.
Now that New Jersey resident Pedro Hernandez has told police that he strangled Etan in the basement of the Soho grocery store where he worked, it would seem the case can finally be closed.
But there are several reasons why the police investigation might still have to proceed cautiously.
1. There is no body. According to Hernandez, he put Etan in a bag and hid it with some trash somewhere in Manhattan. When he returned there several days later, it was gone. That means DNA evidence linking Hernandez to the crime is non-existent. It also means that definitive proof that Hernandez is telling the truth – which the finding of a body would represent – is not likely to happen.
2. Hernandez suffers from mental health issues, including schizophrenia, according to his lawyers. That could mean Hernandez suffers from delusions and hallucinations and could throw doubt on his story.
3. Hernandez’s confession came just a few days before the 33rd anniversary of Etan’s disappearance. Police in high profile cases have long known that they are often flooded with false leads and hoaxes at such times. It also came just a month after a high profile police dig in Soho looking for evidence which also generated a lot of publicity.
Again, that is something that could potentially generate a lot of fake claims.
4. The case is 33 years old and it may be difficult to corroborate much of Hernandez’s story with testimony from other people. Many witnesses may have moved on from the area, died or have memories that have dimmed after more than three decades. The Soho neighbourhood itself has changed beyond recognition from a gritty working-class place to the centre of New York‘s fashion industry.
5. Hernandez does not seem to have been on the radar of anyone on the case for the past three decades. Certainly not compared to Jose Ramos, a convicted paedophile currently serving time in prison for sexually molesting young boys. Ramos’s girlfriend babysat Etan and in 2004 a civil court found him responsible for Etan’s death in a case brought by the Patz family. Ramos has denied being involved.