Search resumes in high-profile New York missing child case

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 21, 2012 11:13 AM
Search resumes in high-profile New York missing child case

By Edith Honan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Investigators in New York resumed the search for clues on Saturday into the 1979 disappearance of 6-year-old Etan Patz, digging into a Manhattan basement for a third day in hopes of solving a case that has confounded police for three decades.

The boy was formally declared dead in 2001. But his fate has remained a mystery and the case, which helped spark a national movement on the issue of missing children, has continued to resonate with New Yorkers.

Police declined to say if there were new suspects in the case. But a law enforcement official confirmed that investigators had spoken recently with Othniel Miller, a handyman in the SoHo neighborhood who previously used the basement as his workshop.

Fresh concrete was poured onto the basement floor "shortly after" Patz's disappearance, the law enforcement official said. Police have said the building was searched by investigators at the time, but the flooring was left undisturbed.

Police are using jackhammers to tear up the basement of the building, which is less than a block from where Patz once lived with his parents. Investigators plan on Saturday to begin removing soil from the site.

"It's continuing and ongoing," said FBI spokesman Peter Donald.

Police spokesman Paul Browne declined to say whether Miller was considered a person of interest in the case.

Miller's attorney, Michael Farkas, said his client had been cooperating with authorities and denies any involvement in the disappearance.

Police said they expect the search for clothing and human remains in the basement area of the SoHo building to last about five days. Any evidence that turns up will be examined at the site, but then sent to the lab for further testing, police said.

Authorities began digging up the basement after a cadaver-sniffing dog indicated the possibility of human remains, police said.

Patz disappeared on May 25, 1979, while walking to a bus stop two blocks from his home. It was the first time his parents had allowed him to make the trip alone.

No one was ever criminally charged in the disappearance, but in 2004 the Patz family won a $2 million civil judgment against Jose Antonio Ramos, a friend of Patz's babysitter who has denied any involvement in Patz's disappearance. The sum has not been paid.

Ramos, who was separately convicted of child molestation in Pennsylvania, is currently serving a prison sentence in that state. His sentence will expire in November.

The Patz case startled New York in 1979, and the boy's image was one of the first of a missing child to be printed on a milk carton - a practice widely used in the 1980s to publicize cases of children who had vanished in the hope that someone would see the picture and come forward with new information.

(Editing by Will Dunham)