By SHELLEY NG and JEREMY TANNER
PIX11.com | @shelleyng08 | @jeremy_tanner
3:40 PM EDT, May 24, 2012
NEW YORK (WPIX)
Police have arrested and charged a New Jersey man in the 3-decades old disappearance case of 6-year-old Etan Patz.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly confirmed that Pedro Hernandez, 51, confessed to stabbing Patz to death and disposing of the body parts plastic trash bags. Hernandez said he was stocking shelves inside a bodega when he saw Patz waiting for the bus outside the store. Promising him a soda, Hernandez then lured Patz to the basement where he killed him.
Hernandez is now charged with second degree murder after being taken into custody Wednesday evening. He will be arraigned Friday.
"He spoke to our detectives, we have a written, signed confession," Kelly said, adding that there is no physical evidence. Hernandez said he came forward because of "the recent notoriety" after police developed a new lead in the case in April and dug up the concrete basement of 127B Prince Street in Soho.
Kelly confirmed that he had never tried to confess during the 33 years after the crime.
The case jumped back into the media spotlight in April when FBI agents searched another SoHo basement that was a workshop when Patz disappeared on May 25, 1979. That search did not turn up any human remains, however. Othneil Miller, 75, a handyman who befriended Patz and worked in the basement, briefly became the focus of the renewed investigation.
Patz's disappearance lead to one of the most extensive missing child searches in the nation. He also was the catalyst for a national movement focusing on missing children, and became the first missing child to be featured on the back of a milk carton.
Patz has never been found and, in 2001, his family declared him legally dead.
Jose Ramos, an imprisoned child molester, was considered the prime suspect in the case of the missing child -- before Hernandez stepped forward.
Although he was never charged in the case, officials determined he was the boyfriend of Patz's babysitter. In the initial 1979 investigation, Ramos admitted to police he had tried to lure and molest Patz on the day the boy disappeared, but he did not kill him.
In 1982, an NYPD detective caught Ramos in the middle of a sexual act with a child he had lured to a deserted Times Square lot. Detectives arrested Ramos and additionally learned he had molested his girlfriend's two sons.
Although he was never prosecuted, a New York civil case in 2004 declared him solely responsible for Etan's disappearance and death. Ramos has been in a Pennsylvania jail since the mid-1980s, serving his sentence for molesting the two boys and is due to be released in November.
Each year, on the anniversaries of Etan's birthday and disappearance, the child's father Stan Patz sends Ramos a copy of his son's missing child poster. On the back he types the same message: "What did you do to my little boy?"
Claudia Levy moved into the SoHo neighborhood in 1974. She says at that time, letting a child out into the neighborhood unattended was the norm.
"You never would expect anything would happen to a child. It was unconscionable," Levy said.
Jay Dow contributed to this report.
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