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FBI, NYPD Search Building In Cold Case Disappearance Of Etan Patz

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork)  -- There was a renewed hope for answers Thursday in the case of a New York City boy who went missing more than 30 years ago.

FBI agents and members of the NYPD were back in SoHo searching for clues in the disappearance of then-6-year-old Etan Patz, who went missing on May 25, 1979.

Patz disappeared near the basement of a building located at 127 Prince St., which sits just a block and a half from where he and his family lived. His parents allowed him to walk to the school bus by himself for the first time on the day he went missing.

What Made Authorities Search The Building Now?

In 2010, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. reopened the case to take a new look at evidence. The search warrant came in Thursday, CBS 2's John Slattery reported.  Sources told 1010 WINS a cadaver dog led authorities to the basement of the building where officials are looking for Patz's remains.

NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne said a forensic team would eventually dig up the concrete floor and be looking for any evidence of the boy's disappearance. The 31-foot by 62-foot basement is located beneath a number of clothing stores and, Browne said, investigators began their search by removing drywall to access the area where they plan to dig.

It is an undertaking that could take as many as five days.

WCBS 880's Marla Diamond Hears From Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne


"We're looking for human remains, clothing or other personal effects of Etan Patz," Browne told reporters, including WCBS 880's Marla Diamond.

FBI Questions Handyman Who Was A Family Friend

Exclusive video shot by CBS 2 Thursday showed a frail-looking Othniell Miller as he was escorted by the FBI into his Brooklyn apartment after being questioned in the decades-old cold case.

Exclusive Video Of Othniell Miller
Exclusive video Of Othniell Miller, a former handyman, who was questioned in the case by the FBI, according to his daughter. (credit: CBS 2)

Sources told CBS 2 that the handyman, who worked in the building where police are searching, knew Patz and occasionally gave him $1 for helping him do some work.

Miller, who was questioned after the disappearance, had put down a cement floor in the basement shortly after the boy disappeared, but police never dug it up because Patz's parents said Miller was a family friend, CBS 2's Sean Hennessey reported.

"I know they felt fondly toward him. They liked him," author Lisa Cohen said.

Cohen wrote a book about the case, called "After Etan," and said Miller was the one figure she was never able to interview.

"I knew police had him on a list with so many other people all those years ago. I think they had really not thought he was of enough interest to pursue him more than they did. So it's interesting they're taking another look," she said.

Despite the police questioning, Miller's daughter, Stephani Miller, spoke to CBS 2 exclusively and said her father "had nothing to do with the murder." She said the FBI reached out to her father two weeks ago.

"The FBI has been here to investigate the case. He cooperated with them, went to the site and he doesn't have anything to do with it," Stephani Miller said.

"The FBI and the NYPD are looking for evidence in the Etan Patz investigation. It's one of many leads that we're pursuing. It is a joint matter between the FBI and NYPD and no conclusions should be made about specifically why we're here or what we're looking for," FBI spokesman Tim Flannley told 1010 WINS.

1010 WINS' Juliet Papa reports


Etan Patz Search
Police outside SoHo building in Etan Patz search (credit: Marla Diamond/WCBS 880)

Who Was Previously Suspected In The Case?

For years, the prime suspect in the case was Jose Antonio Ramos, who has known Patz's babysitter. Ramos is currently serving time in a Pennsylvania prison for an unrelated case involving child abuse. He had been suspected in the Patz case because he had made jailhouse admissions to other inmates, CBS 2's Slattery reported.

Ramos denied killing the child, but in 2004 a Manhattan judge ruled him to be responsible for the death, largely due to his refusal to contest the case, the Associated Press reported.

Former District Attorney Robert Morgenthau never thought there was enough evidence to re-open the case, Slattery reported.

Missing Boy's Case Brings Back Bad Memories For Many

Patz's disappearance caused a frenzy in New York City. It also prompted huge changes in the way missing child cases were handled. Patz was the first missing child to appear on the back of a milk carton.

"We obviously are looking to bring closure to the investigation and to the family, but that'll be determined throughout the course of this case," Flannley said. "We are obviously optimistic that we might find evidence, but, again, people shouldn't draw conclusions from this. We're doing the best we can to bring closure in this matter."

"I still feel pain, any time I see them I still feel pain, personally, for them," said Susan Schulson, who sees Etan's parents in the neighborhood from time to time. "Their pain can never end."

CBS This Morning senior correspondent John Miller covered the story both when it broke and later when he worked for the FBI.

"This case is a historic case, like the Lindbergh baby disappearance. It's an iconic case that really changed how we think about and deal with missing children," Miller said.

So why wasn't the floor dug up at the time?

"They didn't have anything more than it was a new concrete floor and this handyman knew Etan Patz and had a relationship with him. They didn't have what would've rose to the level of probable cause," Miller said. "There must be some work they have done or some new leads that they have put together, maybe in reference to that individual, to give them enough to go to a judge and say 'We need to break that floor up.'"

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