The New York Criminal Law Blog

Etan Patz, Missing Since 1979, Found? Charges to be Filed?

He is the boy on the milk carton. When Etan Patz disappeared on May 25, 1979, it set the nation into a frenzy, as detailed by's Anthony Bruno. After a nationwide manhunt failed, and rewards for information went unclaimed, and the nation realized that the boy was gone, society itself changed.

Stranger danger, faces on milk cartons, and May 25, the National Missing Children's Day all emerged from that tragedy as everyday lexicon. What has not emerged is a resolution the cold case of Etan Patz.

Jose Ramos is by all accounts, a terrible human being. He is currently finishing a long-term prison sentence for molesting young boys. Prior to this, he admitted to molesting others. He dated Etan’s babysitter so that he could have access to her son, whom he also allegedly molested, and access to Etan.

Ramos has admitted to abducting Etan that morning and taking him back to his apartment. He claims, however, that after Etan turned him down, he took Etan to the subway to visit relatives in Washington Heights. The Patz family has no relatives in Washington Heights. With no further evidence to go on, the police concentrated on nailing Ramos for anything else, and eventually convicted him of the molestation of a different child. His prison term ends in November of this year.

Etan’s case was eventually shelved. His parents had him legally declared dead in 2001 so that they could file a civil suit against Ramos. The point was symbolic, as Ramos definitely has nothing of value to his name, other than prison pay. They were likely still seeking answers, and hoping that the civil suit’s discovery process would allow them to ask him questions that maybe, just maybe, he would actually answer this time. He did not, and the judge eventually found him at fault for the child’s death because of it, reports The New York Times. Still, no answers and no body were uncovered.

According to NBC New York, the New York Attorney General’s office reopened the case for unknown reasons just a few years ago. However, until a tip came in this week, they hadn’t announced any progress or leads. The tip alerted them to what was claimed to be the location of the body. The location was, at the time, a wood shop in a basement. According to TheTimes, it may have also been a site for sexual rendezvous back in the day. It is only 200 feet from the apartment where the family still lives.

Could it be, after all this time, that Etan’s body was only 200 feet from home?

If there is any forensic evidence recovered, a murder charge could still be brought. The statute of limitations bars most criminal charges in New York from being brought after more than a few years, but the bell (and the statute) never tolls on murder.

His previous convictions and other alleged incidents of molestation would probably not be admissible to prove guilt, as evidence is usually not allowable to show that someone is likely guilty because they did it before. However, a creative prosecutor might be able to get it admitted as evidence of a common plan or scheme to show that he had a pattern of abducting young boys and therefore this abduction is likely to have occurred in the same way.

The police, unable to prove that he killed Etan Patz two decades ago, wanted to keep Jose Ramos behind bars for as long as possible. Perhaps they bought just enough time.

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