After 33 years, it looks like law enforcement might have a new lead on the disappearance of Etan Patz, a 6-year-old who was last seen walking to his school bus stop in Soho on May 25, 1979.
Forensics teams from both the NYPD and the FBI assembled at 7 a.m. yesterday morning at the basement of 127 Prince St. at Wooster St., which according to reports currently serves as a storage space for the Leslie/Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art. Police say new evidence led them to search the property. Several stores on and near the property, including a Lucky Brand store and the boutique Wink, have been closed to facilitate the investigation.
The building was originally searched in 1979 when it housed a carpentry workshop. Othneal Miller, who used to live in the building’s basement apartment, used to reportedly pay the young Patz to do minor chores around the building. At the time of Etan’s disappearance, the basement had a dirt floor where officials hope to find personal effects or human remains. NYPD spokesman Paul Browne stated that the case is still being treated as a missing person, and not a homicide.
The joint investigation began in 2010 after Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance reopened the case after the parents of Etan, Stanley and Julie Patz who still live in Soho, petitioned Vance to find out the fate of their son. Tim Flannelly, of the FBI’s New York Field Office, stated that a combination of new and reexamined evidence led them to search the property.
Work has begun in earnest, but is painstakingly slow. The NYPD plans to work around the clock and expects to complete their search of the 13’x62’ property within the next four days. Investigators are currently mapping out the unused basement before the meticulous removal of the drywall and cement floor. At press time, they have begun removing bookcases from the room.
“We’re going about this very carefully, to make sure that if any evidence is found it will be preserved for forensic testing,” said Flannelly.
The six-year-old Etan became the poster child of missing children everywhere, and thanks to the tenacity of his parents, was the first child to have their face on a milk carton during the 1980s. No one was ever prosecuted in connection with Patz’s disappearance.
Sean Sweeney, Director of the SoHo Alliance and a longtime neighborhood resident, recalls when SoHo was filled with artist lofts and industrial retail stores at the time of Etan’s disappearance. The residents were a very close knit community, he said.
“When Etan Patz disappeared, his mother contacted all the other mothers. There wasn’t a lamp post south of 8th St. that didn’t have his missing child poster on it,” said Sweeney. “I think part of Etan being so well known was that his parents were tenacious. His father was a photographer and they had a good picture of him. At the time, missing children were barely reported in the news or not at all.”
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