Etan Patz Biography

New York City resident Etan Patz disappeared in 1979, when he was 6 years old. In February 2017, a jury found Pedro Hernandez guilty of the boy's kidnapping and murder.


Born in New York City in 1972, Etan Patz was 6 years old when he disappeared in 1979, near West Broadway and Prince Street in New York City. More than 30 years after his disappearance, police reopened Patz's case, and a new suspect, New Jersey resident Pedro Hernandez, was charged with Patz's murder. Hernandez's first trial ended with a deadlocked jury, but he was convicted of kidnapping and murder at the conclusion of a second trial in February 2017.

Bus-Stop Disappearance

Born in New York City on October 9, 1972, Etan Patz grew up in Manhattan, in an loft building near the corner of Prince Street and West Broadway. Patz was nearing the end of his first year of kindergarten when tragedy struck: On May 25, 1979, around 8 a.m., while he was walking by himself for the first time to the school-bus stop located just two blocks away from his home, Patz disappeared. 

Public Reaction to Etan Patz Case

Immediately after Patz's disappearance, Patz's father, Stanley, a photographer, posted photos of his son throughout New York City, and police initiated a weeks-long search. 

Patz's story, along with several other missing children cases in the United States, spurred a nationwide movement in the early 1980s, in an effort to bring crimes against children to the forefront. Patz's photo was reportedly the first printed on a milk carton, as part of a missing child search. On the fourth anniversary of Patz's death, in 1983, President Ronald Reagan designated May 25 as "National Missing Children's Day," to bring attention to the victimization of children.  

Investigation and First Trial

For several years, detectives focused on a convicted sex offender, Jose Ramos, as the prime suspect in the case. After years of waiting for answers, Patz's parents received a legal update to their son's case in 2001, when a New York judge declared Patz legally dead.

More than 30 years after his disappearance, with the appointment of Cy Vance Jr. as District Attorney of New York City, police reopened Patz's case. Following a tip from a relative, a new suspect, New Jersey resident Pedro Hernandez, was brought in for questioning. In May of 2012, Hernandez confessed to killing Etan Patz. In November 2012, he was indicted in Patz's death and charged with second-degree murder and first-degree kidnapping. 

Hernandez, a husband and father, was 18 years old and had been working as a store clerk at the time of Patz's death. According to The New York Times, Hernandez told police that he had taken Patz into the basement of his store on the morning of May 25, 1979, after promising him a soda, and then strangled and killed him. According to police reports, Hernandez was not able to explain to police why he had killed Patz, but stated that his actions had not been sexually motivated.

Following the confession, several media outlets reported that, according to Hernandez's family members, Hernandez suffered from mental illness. Following Hernandez's confession, investigators conducted another search of the bodega basement and surrounding area, as well as Hernandez's home, but were unable to find Patz's remains. Hernandez told police that he had dumped Patz's body in a garbage bin.

Opening statements in the trial of Hernandez began at the end of January 2015. In May 2015, the judge declared a mistrial after the jury said that it could not reach a decision. Out of the 12 jurors, 11 had voted to convict Hernandez, but there was one holdout.


A second trial began in October 2016. During three months of testimony, many of the same points were rehashed, with the defense pointing to Hernandez's unstable mental state and the prosecution highlighting the details of the defendant's confession.

Following nine days of deliberations, the jury on February 14, 2017, found Hernandez guilty of kidnapping and second-degree felony murder. He was scheduled to be sentenced at the end of the month. 

The verdict brought some relief for Patz's relatives. “The Patz family has waited a long time, but we finally found some measure of justice for our wonderful little boy Etan,” said Stanley Patz.

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Etan Patz, 1978 (Photo: Stanley K. Patz via WikiCommons)

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