After nearly 25 years in prison Jose Antonio Ramos, the former prime suspect in the Etan Patz case, who was convicted on unrelated charges of child molestation in Pennsylvania, is set to go free. Ramos, a drifter and a street vendor, who sold trinkets and toys, came to investigator’s attention in 1982, after some boys accused him of trying to luring them to the drainage tunnel in which he lived. Police searched it and found photos of light-haired boys like Etan.
Further investigation revealed that Ramos had been dating the woman who walked Etan to the bus every day so that he could get to her son, whom he had allegedly molested more than once, though she never pressed charges. Ramos also told them that he was “90% sure” that a boy he had brought back to his apartment to rape on the day that Etan disappeared, was the missing boy on TV, but Ramos said he put the child on a train. Though investigators did not believe him, thinking that Ramos had possibly sold Etan as a sex slave, they could not get anything else out of him. In 1985 Ramos was seen traveling in the company of a light-haired young “friend,” who some speculate was Etan, older and with no memory of his name or family. Twice jailhouse snitches offered their help to police saying that Ramos had told them that he did something to Etan, but investigators were never able to get enough evidence on Ramos either to charge or clear him. Ramos was declared responsible for Etan’s death in civil court for lack of evidence, and the case of the missing boy stayed cold, the perceived killed incarcerated and unable to hurt other children.
Then in May, 2012, police arrested Pedro Hernandez, a mentally unbalanced Camden, New Jersey man, for Etan’s murder after he confessed to killing him. Hernandez told them that he had strangled Etan in the bodega in a rage, and that he had disposed of the boy’s remains in the garbage. Police have searched the SoHo bodega where Hernandez worked at the time of Etan’s disappearance several times. They have thoroughly investigated Hernandez, but they have still not announced any hard evidence they may have found tying Hernandez to Etan’s disappearance. Anyone who remembers the confession of John Mark Carr in the JonBenét Ramsey case will also remember that the confession alone of a person with mental illness is not likely to be enough to convict. Hernandez was remanded for a psychological evaluation, and was then transferred to Riker’s Island as police continue their investigation.
So the case sits, with one possible suspect being released from prison next month, the other, mentally ill, waiting in jail for a prosecutor’s decision on whether or not he has enough evidence to proceed to trial, and the victim’s family anxious and in pain.