A notorious 35-year-old disappearance has once again found its way to the public consciousness after the FBI interviewed an American man living in Europe, believing he could be Etan Patz, the boy who went missing after school in New York in 1979.
The unidentified American expat told ProPublica that the FBI called his office and asked him questions, suggesting he might be the missing boy, even though he didn’t even know who Etan Patz was.
The FBI interview isn’t out of the ordinary. The bureau is known to follow any leads it's given, but it is the timing of the action that raises questions. It comes just before the trial of a man charged with the murder of Etan (whose body was never found) is set to begin.
Pedro Hernandez, who worked at a bodega near where the boy lived in the SoHo area of Manhattan, confessed in 2012 to strangling the boy but later recanted his confession. Hernandez has a history of mental illness, but the trial is still set to begin April 23.
He reportedly confessed to the crime at a New Jersey church prayer group in the 1980s, only a few years after Etan disappeared. His sister has said it was an “open family secret” that Hernandez confessed to the crime at the prayer group.
With no physical evidence to use in a trial, all prosecutors have against Hernandez is his confession and anything he may have said to others regarding the case in the past. The inconsistency of Hernandez’s stance may be what is prompting authorities to continue to follow tips on the boy.
To further complicate the case, a convicted child molester told police that he was almost sure that he had brought Etan back to his apartment on the day he disappeared, but says he sent him away on an uptown train afterwards.
That man, Jose Ramos, was charged in a civil court but never criminally convicted. He spent 20 years behind bars in Pennsylvania for unrelated child molestation convictions. He has been ordered to appear at Hernandez’s trial but is appealing the order.
ProPublica says the FBI has followed countless leads in the Patz case, going as far to travel to Israel and DNA testing a petty criminal.
The American living in Europe, who wants his identity kept secret, says he thought the call was a hoax, since he is 11 years younger than Etan would now be. He told ProPublica that the FBI was dead serious, though, and seem to be intent on following any leads that may suggest Etan Patz is still alive.