Revisiting The Patz Case

Unraveling The Sad Fate Of A Little Boy

May 25, 2004, marked 25 years since the day a six-year-old boy named Etan Patz vanished off the streets of New York City in broad daylight. His disappearance sparked a worldwide manhunt, and in the months and years that followed, he became the symbol for lost children all over America. President Reagan even named May 25th National Missing Children's Day.

Etan Patz has never been found.

When 60 Minutes II first reported on this case four years ago, Etan's father, Stan Patz, came forward to speak about the man he believes is responsible for his son's kidnapping…and murder. After the story aired, and after the Manhattan district attorney told Patz there was not enough evidence to bring criminal charges, Stan Patz took matters into his own hands, to try to keep a known child molester away from other parents' children.

"He's a predator, and he should never be allowed to be near children again," said Patz. "He should be kept behind bars until he's too old to walk."

Jose Antonio Ramos is the man Stan Patz and others consider the prime suspect in the case.

"I don't even know about Patz," Ramos insisted. "They're trying to hook me up with the Patz kid, that's bull..."

Ramos has a long history as a convicted pedophile and has been locked up in the Pennsylvania state prison since 1990 on a 10-to-20-year child molestation charge unrelated to the Patz case.

In 2000, Jose Ramos had his first chance to be considered for parole. That's what prompted Stan Patz to speak out on 60 Minutes II.

He said, "I would appeal to anyone who could possibly keep him in jail. This is the time to come forward."

CBS News Correspondent Vicki Mabrey asked, "Is it enough that he is in prison now, even on an unrelated charge?"

Replied Patz, "For me, it is enough that he's behind bars? Well, no. It isn't. I really do want him to admit it."

What happened to Etan Patz is a 25-year-old mystery. On that day in May 1979, the six-year-old boy begged his mother to let him walk to the school bus stop alone, for the first time. From their fire escape, you can see the route: two blocks and around the corner. But Etan never arrived at school that day.

The search for Etan Patz consumed New Yorkers and the nation. Stan Patz, a professional photographer, printed his son's image endlessly, to be shown throughout the world. Etan's face became a reminder to parents that their own quiet streets might not be safe.

Through it all, Stan and Julie Patz clung to one hope: "I am assuming he's alive and well," said Stan Patz.

"I mean, we have his belongings all over the house," said his mother, Julie. "To put them away is saying to -- to us, and to our children that he's gone and he's not coming back."

But, as the years passed, the case stalled. The Patzes' hope slowly eroded. Together, Stan and his wife quietly raised their two other children out of the media spotlight.

"For years after Etan disappeared," says Stan Patz, "it was a deep mystery as to what happened to him. When Ramos was arrested in 1982, I will not tell you it was a relief, but it was an answer."

In 1982, three years after Etan's disappearance, Ramos was picked up for questioning by the Bronx police, suspected of trying to lure young boys into a drainage tunnel where he was living. 60 Minutes II obtained videotape of the session, including a section during which police ask Ramos about photos, found in the tunnel, of boys, mostly blond, like Etan Patz. He mentions a woman named Susan, calling her "a good friend of mine I've known for years. Lady friend."

Moments later on the tape, Ramos denies any knowledge of Etan Patz, but then told authorities something that linked him directly to the boy: "Susan used to take care of him." He denied ever having met Etan, though.

It turns out that Susan, who didn't want 60 Minutes II to use her last name, worked briefly for the Patzes, walking Etan to school. Investigators believe that's how Ramos first came in contact with the boy. Susan says that Ramos molested her son, who committed suicide five years ago.

Stan Patz: "She was the connection to Ramos. And we now suspect that Ramos might have been following her back from school, stalking."

Vicki Mabrey: "Not just her son, but do you think stalking your son as well?"

Stan Patz: "That's what we all think now."

But Ramos' revelations in the 1982 interview weren't enough to charge him with a crime. He was released. It seemed like just another dead-end lead in the Patz case until 1985, when a federal prosecutor named Stuart Grabois was assigned to the case. Re-examining the evidence, he focused on one suspect.

Vicki Mabrey: "I've seen video of him. I've seen pictures of him. It's hard to believe that a child could trust him. What is it about him, that made it possible for him to be a pedophile?

Stuart Grabois: "One of the things he did was to travel around the United States in a converted school bus, giving out Matchbox cars, and toys to young boys, to entice them onto the bus. And, you know, even come across as being a nice man, a friendly man. But I viewed him as Manson-like, Charles Manson."

Stuart Grabois tracked Ramos down in Pennsylvania, serving time for molesting another child. Under Grabois' tough grilling, Jose Ramos broke down and admitted that he had taken a boy to his apartment that day. In the written report of that session, Ramos is quoted as saying he "gave the boy a glass of juice, then when making when he described as a sexual advance, he picked the boy up and held him against him."

It was the first and only time that Jose Ramos would admit any connection to Etan's disappearance.

Stuart Grabois: He's 90 percent sure that the young boy he took that day, May 25, 1979, was the same boy whose picture he saw both in the newspaper and on television, that being Etan Patz."

Vicki Mabrey: "He told you he was sure?"

Stuart Grabois: "90 percent sure. And I would say, at that moment, we believed that we had the right person."

But Ramos said he let the boy go, and without a confession, Grabois couldn't charge Ramos with Etan's disappearance. So when he learned of another outstanding case against Ramos, yet another sexual assault in Pennsylvania, he tried the case himself.

Stuart Grabois: "I made application with the state attorney general to be deputized in Pennsylvania."

Vicki Mabrey: "So that you could go and try a case in Pennsylvania?"

Stuart Grabois: "That's correct. I had mentioned to Ramos that I would do that. He didn't believe me. And the one thing most prosecutors would not do is to bluff, because we lose credibility."

Grabois, who has since retired from the U.S. attorney's office, put Ramos behind bars for the last 14 years. Publicly, that's as far as the Patz case had gone, until Stan Patz first told 60 Minutes II, back in 2000, that behind prison walls, Ramos had been doing a lot of talking.

Said Stan Patz, "Over the years, he's made certain incriminating statements, to the effect that Etan's dead and that no one's ever gonna find anything."

Ramos himself refused 60 Minutes II's request for an interview. But there were jailhouse informants, Stan Patz said, to whom Ramos confided. Says Etan's father, "He's admitted that he's the one that did it. And he has said that they'll never find the body."

Those statements are what finally convinced Stan Patz.

"I believe this man stalked my son," he says. "I believe he lured him back to his apartment. I think he used him like toilet paper, and I think he threw him away."

In his first interview with 60 Minutes II, Stan Patz said that every year, he sends Ramos a package: a poster of Etan, which he sends on Etan's birthday (Oct. 9) and on May 25.

"And I type on the back: 'What have you done with my little boy?'"

A month after that first piece aired on 60 Minutes II, Jose Ramos was denied parole. His sentence actually runs to 2014, although he gets another chance at parole every year.

As for Etan's case, the Manhattan D.A.'s office still calls it an "ongoing investigation." But after 25 years, the D.A. has yet to press criminal charges. So three years ago, Stan Patz took the painful step of having Etan declared legally dead. He then filed a lawsuit against Jose Ramos for the wrongful death of his son.

In April, a civil judge found in Stan Patz's favor.

Recently, 60 Minutes II sat down again with Stan Patz and his legal team: former prosecutor Stuart Grabois and the attorney who handled the civil case, Brian O'Dwyer.

Vicki Mabrey: "What is the real effect of the civil case?"

Brian O'Dwyer: "Well, there are three effects. One is the -- assignment of responsibility, that a court of law has told the world that Jose Antonio Ramos is responsible for the death of Etan Patz. Two, we're seeking a monetary judgment. And three, we have asked that the judge refer this to the sex offenders crime unit, to see that we can make sure that he never is in a room again alone with a young child."

Vicki Mabrey: "How can you do that?"

Brian O'Dwyer: "The judge can order that. And we're gonna ask the judge to order that."

What does Etan's father want to see in the Ramos case?

"If I had my way," says Stan Patz, "he'd stay in jail for the rest of his life."

And does the civil case help with that goal?

"Yes, it does," he says.

Adds O'Dwyer, "And I'm hoping that the next step will be that the D.A. will take a look at this and decide to prosecute him criminally."

They want the district attorney to look at evidence from the civil trial, which includes those statements from the two former inmates in Pennsylvania, who claim Ramos all but confessed to them.

Vicki Mabrey: "There's a saying that you can't trust a jailhouse snitch. Why do you believe those informants?"

Stuart Grabois: "For a number of reasons. At this point in time, they have absolutely nothing to gain. They are no longer in prison and are still willing to come forward."

Vicki Mabrey: "If you were prosecuting it, do you think you would have enough evidence now that you would actually take it to court?"

Stuart Grabois: "Personally, I would."

In the meantime, even though Stan Patz knows it's a long shot, he plans to ask for $10 million in damages, with any money going to charity.

Ramos has no money. What do the Patzes hope to gain by a monetary settlement?

Stan Patz: "He's boasted, in the past, that he could ... give some reporter a story, and they'd win the Pulitzer Prize. So he knows that there is value to what he has to say. And we're hoping if he ever made money, he could never profit from it. It would just bother me very much if, somehow or other, he beat the system again, and profited by it."

Vicki Mabrey: "Even with this ruling, do you feel that that question has been answered sufficiently to the world now? Does the world know that Jose Antonio Ramos killed your son?"

Stan Patz: "No, I don't think so. The only way that question will be answered is if he ... admits what he did."

Vicki Mabrey: "Do you still write to him every year?"

Stan Patz: "I do."

Vicki Mabrey: "That's been 25 years now. Are you really expecting an answer?"

Stan Patz: "No. No. But I just want him to know that we have not forgotten what he did."