Thursday, May 27, 2010

Red Letter Day for Etan's Family

by Lisa R. Cohen

 On Tuesday I called Stan Patz. "Hi," I said. "Am I the first of the legions of annoying media calling you today to check in?"

Patz is the father of Etan Patz, the famous missing six-year-old who disappeared 31 years ago Tuesday, the day now marked as National Missing Children's Day. He vanished during a two-block walk from his downtown New York home to the school bus stop.

His mother (above, with Etan) kissed him goodbye on the sidewalk in front of their loft apartment, and he set off, taking that walk on his own for the very first time.

Last year, when I wrote the book about this then-30-year case, the only book ever written on it, I called it AFTER ETAN: The Missing Child Case That Held America Captive. There was a "Before Etan," and an "After Etan."

Before Etan, parents didn't have the image of that beautiful blond-haired boy, an image of what could be their own child's fate, lurking in their hearts. After Etan, they did, and for many, the world changed forever.

The case has never been officially solved, although the book details the best convincingly detailed argument for what happened that day, and then tells what happened in the twisting, turning years following, as law enforcement struggled to make sense of the mystery, unraveling clues over time. Because it's this incredible, ongoing mystery, every year, on May 25th, the media calls come in, a trickle over the last several, but the day is always marked by someone.

"I think it's going to be a pretty quiet one," Stan replied to me. "I'm not anticipating a lot of attention." Which, to Stan (below left), is good and bad. He hates attention, but on the other hand, he's fought for 31 years to keep people interested in solving this case.

"I was wrong," he wrote to me later that day. "A Wall Street Journal reporter has interviewed me at length, and his photographer was just here to take pictures."

"There is news," he continued, and I could almost hear the excitement in his words on the page. "The new Manhattan District Attorney has announced he's re-opening the case."

I got the call from the reporter himself soon afterwards and filled him in on some of the background of the case. I told him that this break was a testament to the tenacity of Stan and his cohort, the former Assistant U.S. Attorney Stuart GraBois, who had stood by Patz, followed the case for more than two decades, and had himself broken it, zeroing in on a most viable prime suspect.

Jose Antonio Ramos (right) has never been charged for Etan's abduction and murder, although in 2004 he was found legally responsible for Etan's death in a civil suit Stan Patz brought against him.

The former Manhattan D.A., Robert Morgenthau, had the case for decades but always insisted he didn't have enough evidence to prosecute. His spokesperson would always follow up with a "can't comment on an ongoing investigation," and no one could know exactly what their case was.

The new D.A., Cyrus Vance Jr, now says he's willing to take a fresh look. It doesn't mean they're about to convene a grand jury, or charge Ramos, or anything that concrete. But it does signal a willingness to go after Ramos for what many close to the case believe is the heinous crime he committed all those years ago. For that, and for the fact that he's not blindly sticking to the status quo, Vance (left) is to be commended.

There is no statute of limitations on murder. It's unclear, based on New York state law, if there's a statute of limitations on the kind of kidnapping charge they might be able to bring against Ramos.

Stan Patz is especially pleased because of a looming deadline. In 2012, Ramos will have served the full term for two other child molestation cases for which he was convicted. He was put in jail by prosecutor GraBois (right), not for the Patz case, but because of it. It was GraBois's gusto that led him to pursue the other cases when he couldn't nail Ramos on the Patz case. Ramos, it turned out, was a serial pedophile, but over the last 25 years, he's successfully been kept away from an entire generation of small victims.

But in two years, Ramos will walk free. Stan Patz and Stu GraBois want to make sure that won't happen. The wheels of justice grind slowly, and two years isn't very long at all by that measure.

Stan was grateful, after all, that Tuesday wasn't such a quiet day. And today, at last, there's a measure of hope.


Sibby said...

Lisa, I had known about the Patz case but it was your book that gave me the chilling details. I was heartbroken for all the Patz family has gone through, and what they continue to go through since Etan's disappearance. Hope that the new DA Vance can finally bring justice to Etan and his family.

Anonymous said...

Lisa, what is the status of the case? Is the DA going to bring charges before Ramos gets oout of jail a year from now?

Anonymous said...

What about the kid who came forward last year? 2012 No one dna tested or even called. Dr Levine's church group in soho knows. This kid even has a list of doctors that "worked his adoption" after the iskcon event called Bag Din Ryg in the 1977 rainbeau gathering But no one believes him. He said Julia cheated on Stan with Arjun. Sorry Stan.