The Etan Patz case is again moving forward after more than three decades of grief for the young New York City boy’s family, and the man New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has said he believes killed the child may be indicted this week for Patz’s presumed murder.
Like much about the Etan Patz case, the news that the trial may move forward is still an exercise in frustration. When Patz was presumably snatched during a short walk to school in his SoHo neighborhood in May of 1979, the incident was one that impacted the city for years to come and changed how many families felt about its safety overall.
As the years ticked by, the Patz disappearance provided painfully few leads and no information of merit to put New York’s unease to rest (as much as was possible) following the incident. And along with Adam Walsh, Etan Patz provided a face for the “stranger danger” trend of the 80s, with the latter appearing on milk cartons with a plea for information leading to the boy or his presumed kidnapper.
Etan Patz was declared officially dead in 2001, nearly a quarter-century after he vanished without a trace from the city’s streets. But it wasn’t until May of this year, 33 years to the month that Patz was snatched, that a confession came in the case — from Pedro Hernandez, a resident in a mental hospital in New Jersey.
Pedro Hernandez, now 51, was 19 when Patz disappeared. And again, the confession seems to present as much strife for the family and police as it promises closure, as the supposed confessed killer may not be a reliable source of information.
“If the grand jury indicts Mr. Hernandez, the trial would be challenging. Mr. Fishbein has said that Mr. Hernandez has a long history of mental illness that includes diagnoses of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, with visual and auditory hallucinations … His mental health history could be used to raise doubts about the reliability of his confession.”
But back in May, Kelly said that despite a lack of hard evidence, he was confident Hernandez’s confession was solid:
“He was remorseful, and I think the detectives thought that it was a feeling of relief on his part … We believe that this is the individual responsible.”
Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance, however, is not so sure the case is closed just yet — he commented that the city “[needs] to make sure that accountability is levied as to the right person, and under appropriate evidence.”
Vance and others working on the Etan Patz case declined to comment on its progress today.