What Happened To Etan Patz?

Father Stan Patz Thinks He Knows

Twenty-one years ago, 6-year-old Etan Patz vanished off the streets of New York City in broad daylight. His disappearance sparked a worldwide hunt. In the months and years that followed, he became the symbol for lost children all over America.

President Reagan named the day, May 25, National Missing Children's Day. Etan Patz has never been found, but his father thinks he knows what happened to him. Stan Patz came forward to speak about this case for the first time last spring when 60 Minutes II initially broadcast this story.

He did so because he wants everyone to know that the man he thinks is responsible for his son's disappearance - a man who has been behind bars for another crime - could soon go free. Correspondent Vicky Mabrey reports.

Click here to read the May 2000 report and the September 2000 update:
  • May 2000 Report
  • September 2000 Update

  • May 2000 Report

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

    Jose Antonio Ramos is the man Patz and others now consider to be the prime suspect in the case.

    For the last 10 years Ramos, who has a long history as a pedophile, has been locked up in a Pennsylvania state prison on a 10- to 20-year child molestation charge unrelated to the Patz case.

    This year Ramos was to get his first chance to be considered for parole.

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

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

    What happened to Etan Patz is a 21-year-old mystery. In May 1979, the 6-year-old had begged his mother to let him walk to the school bus stop alone.

    The search for Etan Patz consumed New Yorkers. Stan Patz, a professional photographer, printed his son's image endlessly. The photos were provided to a legion of police and volunteers in the Patz's Soho neighborhood. Etan's face was shown nationwide, in the hopes he would be spotted elsewhere. It became a reminder to parents that their own quiet streets might not be safe.

    Through it all, Stan and Julie Patz clung to hope. But as the years passed, the case stalled. The Patzes' hope slowly eroded. They turned away from the media spotlight.

    "For years after Etan disappeared, it was a deep mystery as to what happened to him. It made no sense. It made no sense at all," said Stan Patz. "When Ramos was arrested in 1982 and after - after evidence was developed against him, 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 y the Bronx police. He was suspected of trying to lure young boys into a drainage tunnel where he was living. CBS News obtained videotape of that session, where he was asked about photos found in the tunnel of boys, mostly blond, like Patz.

    Moments later Ramos denied any knowledge of Etan Patz, but then told authorities something that linked him directly to the boy.

      Jose Ramos: "(A woman) used to take care of him."

      "Took care of Etan Patz? Did you ever meet him?"

      Jose Ramos: "No, no never."

    CBS News spoke with the woman, who worked briefly for the Patzes. She declined to go on camera and asked to not be identified. She doesn't know anything about Etan's disappearance, she said. She did say that, although Ramos was never charged, he repeatedly molested her son. Her son, she said, grew into a troubled young man, and in the summer of 1999 he committed suicide.

    "Ramos had befriended this woman for his own devious purposes, which were to get at her child," said Stan Patz. "This is all something that we've learned subsequently....She was the connection to Ramos. And we now suspect that Ramos might have been following her back from school, stalking."

    The 1982 taped session also reveals something else: Ramos told police that he had once had a nervous breakdown and that in 1979, the year Etan disappeared, he had been hearing voices.

      Frank Carroll: "OK. Now, did this voice repeat the same thing? Or was it different topics?"

      Jose Ramos: "No. It - you know, it would try to force me to get violent."

      Frank Carroll: "OK."

      Jose Ramos: "I had to hold it back. I had to do a lot of really forceful holding back, you know. Cause I was - I was ready to explode."

    But despite his suspicious behavior around children, his admission of violent impulses and the connection to the Patzes through his friend, the woman, there still wasn't enough to charge Ramos with a crime.

    He was released.

    In 1985 when a federal prosecutor, Stuart GraBois, was assigned to the case. Six years after Etan's disappearance, GraBois was determined to breathe new life into the investigation. He combed through all the old files, until he got to Jose Antonio Ramos'.

    When asked what kind of man he was, GraBois called him "slick,...a manipulator."

    "What he - he would do is befriend families, befriend a child," GraBois said. "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...even come across as being a nice man, a friendly man. But I viewed him as Manson, like Charles Manson."

    When GraBois tracked Ramos down, he found him in Pennsylvania serving time for molesting a child. GraBois brought Ramos to New York for questioning.

    "At the time he believed that he was coming there for tax evasion, GraBois recalled. "Initially, we did not dissuade him of that."

    Then GraBois abruptly asked Ramos how many times he had had sex with Etan Patz. "And at that point he broke down," GraBois says.

    He said "that he wanted to get it off his chest, that it's been bothering him," GraBois said.

    Ramos then admitted that he had taken a boy to his apartment that day. A police report was filed by detectives present for the interview. It says that while inside the apartment, Ramos gave the boy a glass of juice. Then making what he described as a sexual advance, he picked the boy up and held him against him.

    Then Ramos dropped an even bigger bombshell: "He was 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," GraBois said. "At that moment, we believed that we had the right person."

    But Ramos didn't confess to sexual assault or murder. He said he let the boy go. Without a full confession and without physical evidence, GraBois couldn't charge Ramos with that crime.

    But he found another crime, yet another sexual assault in Pennsylvania. He tried the case himself. "I made application with the state attorney general to be deputized in Pennsylvania," GraBois said. That was so he could go try a case in Pennsylvania.

    That's the crime that put Ramos behind bars for the last 10 years, and possibly for the next 10.

    Publically that's as far as the case had gone until recently. Now Stan Patz said that behind prison walls Ramos has been doing a lot of talking.

    "I don't know how much I can say, but...over the years, he's made certain incriminating statements - statements to the effect that Etan's dead and that no one's ever going to find anything," Stan Patz said.

    (GraBois could not comment about whether there have been sources to whom Ramos has made other statements.)

    For his part, GraBois is no longer a federal prosecutor and won't discuss much of the recent evidence. Ramos has refused CBS News requests to talk about what he knows.

    But a CBS News investigation revealed that at least two inmates independently claim that Ramos told them details about Etan's disappearance.

    Law enforcement documents that CBS News has seen state that Ramos admitted that he approached the boy by saying he was the friend of the woman who worked for the Patzes and that later, in his apartment, Ramos sexually molested Etan Patz.

    The same inmate reported that Ramos said, "Grabois knows that I did it, and it's killing him that he can't get it out of me."

    "He's admitted...that he's the one that did it," says Stan Patz. "And he has said that they'll never find the body."

    While testimony by fellow inmates is often viewed with skepticism, authorities close to the case believe these statements are highly credible.
    Stan Patz is now convinced that his son was brutally assaulted and murdered at the hands of Jose Ramos.

    "I believe this man stalked my son. I believe he lured him back to his apartment. I think he used him like toilet paper, and I think he threw him away....I want him to admit it," said Stan Patz.

    Twenty-one years later, the pain of that day has not lessened. Stan Patz keeps waiting for the New York district attorney to bring charges against Ramos, even as he waits to find out if Ramos will be paroled in Pennyslvania. In May, Patz planned to send Ramos a package, as he has for years.

    Said Stan Patz: "This is the poster that I send to Ramos...twice a year: on Etan's birthday, October 9th - and on May 25th...And I type on the back, ...'What have you done with my little boy?'"

    When asked if he imagines himself coming face to face with Ramos, Stan Patz said he does: "I would ask him that question: 'What did you do to my little boy? I want an answer.'"

    September 2000 Update

    Stan Patz has still not received an answer, but in June Ramos did get his answer.

    He was denied parole and is not scheduled for further review until 2003.

    Stan Patz now plans to file suit against Ramos for the wrongful death of his son. And a high-profile New York attorney has offered to take the case pro bono.

    The father tells 60 Minutes II that he's not interested in any money, just accountability.