Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Get to know Jose Antonio Ramos

by Lisa R. Cohen

As I wrote in my last post, Cyrus Vance Jr. is beginning his new term as Manhattan's District Attorney by taking a different tack than his predecessor, the legendary Robert Morgenthau.

Morgenthau meted out criminal justice in New York City for three decades until finally retiring in January. Throughout almost his entire reign, he demurred from pursuing the infamous Etan Patz case. "Not enough evidence," he'd say, on the few occasions he even deigned to comment.

The case involved the disappearance of six-year-old Etan Patz off the streets of New York on his way to the bus stop, walking the two blocks on his own for the first time ever. He was never seen again. The mystery sparked a nationwide manhunt and a shift in our cultural sense of safety.

Even if you didn't read my last post, you would know from reading any one of numerous headlines, or watching ABC News Nightline's lengthy top story last Friday, that Vance has revealed he's taking a fresh look at the 31-year-old case with an eye to (hopefully) bringing charges against Jose Antonio Ramos.

Ramos is coming to the end of a very long prison stint in Pennsylvania for molesting two boys back in the '80s. He's due out in November 2012, unless a new charge can start the clock ticking again. Since there's no statute of limitations for murder, nor, in some situations, for felony kidnapping, the Patz case might be the way to do it. But people need to know more about Ramos to understand why people like Stuart GraBois, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney, have fought so hard for so many years to keep him locked up.

Ramos's mug shot, grim and forbidding, has been splashed across the tabloids for years, but few have ever really talked to him, or even met him.

I have, and it's not an experience I'd want to repeat. When he refused to talk to me for my book, AFTER ETAN, I was disappointed. But part of me was glad not to face the barrage of invective and crazy I'd been through on the first go round, for a prison interview I produced at ABC News back in 1991, the only time Ramos has ever talked on camera.

Ramos has been locked away since a June day, much like this one, in 1986, when he was arrested in his converted school bus by the side of a highway. He'd gotten stuck there when the bus sputtered to a halt, just as he was about to hit the interstate heading across state lines.

He was trying to escape the Pennsylvania State Police, who'd put out a BOLO (Be On the Lookout) for him, once they'd heard the story of a sweet faced eight-year-old I call Joey. Joey and his parents walked into a Western Pennsylvania barracks, sat down in front of a video camera, and with little hesitation and no artifice, Joey told police that over a period of two days Jose Ramos had anally and orally assaulted him several times.

Joey didn't appear traumatized, just slightly uncomfortable, mostly unaware that he would be affected for the rest of his life. That's exactly the kind of victim Ramos would go after. A boy, often, although one father I talked to said Ramos used to wheel his pre-verbal twin toddlers off to babysit for hours at a time, and we'll never know what happened to them on his watch.

But usually his target was a boy, one whose parents were either very open, absent or in some way marginalized - impoverished, or a junkie or alcoholic ... maybe just hapless.

Ramos was very attentive to both parent and child. He looked menacing, but his voice was soft and mellifluous. After a while, he'd offer to take the boy fishing, or to the movies, eventually on sleepovers; a welcome break for a beleaguered single mom. He talked about wanting to be a father figure, giving these little "friends" of his what they desperately craved - attention and affection.

On at least one occasion, another (four-year-old) victim told police Ramos threatened to kill him if he alerted anyone. But sometimes a child was so eager to please, he'd simply go along with Ramos's seduction, not understanding what was happening. Maybe some of it even felt good. That was the plan, to create a victim who had "participated" and so was just as much to blame. Joey hadn't been coerced in a classic sense, and in a way, that was part of the damage done.

I met Joey four years after Ramos had gotten to him. He was a likeable boy, but he seemed numb and slightly sad. In those four years, he'd been attacked countless times over, by other kids who knew what had happened, and who hurled offensive slurs, ostracizing him. His own brother, fearing he'd be tainted by association, was the worst offender. Joey's grades had tanked. He had recurring nightmares of Ramos chasing him. It was heartbreaking.

When I interviewed him for the book, Joey, now an adult, told me that was worse than the sexual abuse. By then he was old enough to understand what had really happened to him, to suffer anguish because he hadn't put up a fight, and to turn his loathing inward. His family hadn't had the resources to get him treated properly. Again, heartbreaking. Ramos left a swath of such victims around the country, wandering from one to the next. When I heard he'd settled for awhile near a home for Downs' Syndrome children, and even targeted some of them, it literally made me nauseated.

Since that June day in 1986, Jose Ramos hasn't had access to a young victim. In two years, if and when he walks free, he'll have been without for 27 years. Maybe he'll be too old, too wary, too chastened to stalk again. I very much doubt it.

I hope he never gets that chance. But if he does, take a good look. Get to know this face well.


Anonymous said...

We never put a cap on the resources we spend to defend and protect the rights of loathsome people such as Ramos, but victims are left to fend for themselves. They and their families are left to sort out their shattered lives while their attackers gets endless attention and support for being monsters. The world is turned upside down. I bet Ramos has spent these years in jail fantasizing how to victimize another child. He should never be free again.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Did Ramos have a relative(s) living in the upper Manhattan area?
He claims to have put Etan on a train for Etan to visit someone in upper Manhattan?
Is this a clue?

Anonymous said...

I had a friend who did 10 years in prison for committing indecent liberties with three pre-teen to teen boys. After serving what I consider very little time for the mental, physical, and emotional abuse he put these boys through, he began serving five years of parole outside of his prison term. I found out very recently, however, that he is back in prison for breaking parole by looking at porn on a computer in a public library. These predators do not change. They are sick in the head. To this day, I'm still shocked that my friend (no longer a friend) could have committed such a heinous crime. He will most likely be back out on parole in 2 and a half years.

Anonymous said...

I hope one day they create a law act "No Deal for Perverts" life in prison is what you'll receive and it should be in maximum areas along with the rest of the criminal population.