New York Police Department detectives on Wednesday searched the New Jersey home of a man charged with murdering a 6-year-old boy who went missing in 1979, looking for shreds of evidence in a case that has bewildered authorities for three decades.
Armed with a search warrant, more than a dozen officers and a NYPD Crime Scene Unit van arrived at the Maple Shade, N.J., home of Pedro Hernandez on Wednesday afternoon. According to police, Hernandez confessed last month to killing Etan Patz, after authorities received a tip that he was involved in the boy's disappearance.
Chief NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said only that the search was part of an ongoing investigation.
Hernandez lived at the home with his wife and daughter. Neighbors have expressed surprise at his arrest, saying he was "not a problem" and "didn't bother anybody."
Etan went missing on his way to school on May 25, 1979, the first time he was allowed to walk to the Manhattan bus stop alone. Hernandez was working as a stock clerk at a convenience store near where Etan was last seen. Hernandez has said he lured the boy to the basement with the promise of a soda, suffocated him and then put his body in a bag, put the bag in a box and walked it down the street, where he left it in an alcove with trash, according to authorities.
But there has been no evidence to back up the claim. No body was found. The convenience store has long been renovated into an eyeglasses shop. Sanitation records that could show where trash was dumped do not go back farther than 1989.
City garbage is dumped at the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island, but private trash collectors also pick up refuse in the city and dump it at several locations in New Jersey and Brooklyn. No digging has been ordered.
Prosecutors don't necessarily need physical evidence to corroborate Hernandez's story: It could be just as simple as the fact that he worked at the store at the time of the boy's disappearance. Still, investigators were working diligently and interviewing Hernandez's family and friends, including a church leader who claimed Hernandez once confessed to him.
Hernandez's attorney said his client was bipolar and schizophrenic and had visual and auditory hallucinations. Hernandez has not entered a plea in the case.
A lawyer for Hernandez's wife, Rosemary Hernandez, said Wednesday that the Manhattan district attorney's office called to let her know about the search and allowed her to be there. The lawyer, Robert Gottlieb, said neither he nor her family knows what authorities are looking for.
Gottlieb said he's working with Rosemary Hernandez because she wants "to make sure the DA's office understands the severity of the mental illness" that her husband has. He said she has witnessed Hernandez having hallucinations and delusions over the years.
"She is firmly of the belief," he said, "that the confession is unreliable."
The district attorney's office had no comment about the search warrant.
Associated Press writer Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.