Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Disappearance of Etan Patz

The Light-Haired Teenage Boy

Jose Antonio Ramos never made a full confession.  In subsequent interrogations, he flitted around the issue but basically stuck to his original story:  he had taken a young boy who might have been Etan Patz to his apartment for sex and released him later that day.  The police and prosecutors handling the case were sure he was lying, but they had no proof.  Charges could not be brought against him.  But Stuart GraBois was not about to let Ramos serve out the remainder of his sentence in Pennsylvania and go free.  The Patz family deserved to know what had happened to their son, and GraBois vowed to do everything he possibly could to bring Ramos to justice.

Ramos, a Puerto Rican-American, was born in the Bronx on July 23, 1943.  The oldest of five brothers, he claimed to have had sexual relations with one of his brothers when they were children.  He also claimed to have been molested by an uncle.  After dropping out of high school, he enlisted in the Navy in 1960.  At various times he has claimed to have received decorations and commendations in the Navy and has boasted of having held an executive position in a New York advertising firm, accomplishments that cannot be substantiated. 

By the early '70s he had become a drifter, bumming his way around the country, earning money selling used merchandise on the streets.  Over the years he had been arrested several times in several different states for a variety of crimes from burglary and battery to "exposing his person."

When he was arrested in the Bronx in 1982 for allegedly luring young boys into his makeshift drainage-tunnel residence, the police were unable to assemble enough evidence to bring charges, but five months later he was arrested again, this time at a video-game arcade in Times Square, for propositioning three young boys between the ages of 9 and 12.  Charges were filed against Ramos but were later dropped when the boys, all of them street-tough delinquents, failed to answer subpoenas for their testimony. 

In 1983 Ramos showed up outside Watersmeet, Michigan, where several thousand members of the Rainbow Family, a loose collective of hippie holdovers, New Agers, and assorted free spirits, were having their annual gathering.  Ramos was observed handing out Star Wars figurines and trading cards to the children at the convocation's Kid Village.  His behavior alarmed some of the caregivers, and they alerted the Rainbow Family's internal security force, the Shanti Sena, who asked Ramos to leave.  He departed without putting up a fuss.

Two years later he showed up at the Rainbow Family annual gathering at the Mark Twain Forrest in Missouri.  He was traveling with a light-haired teenage boy.  They'd arrived in a 1978 blue Ford school bus that Ramos had bought at an auction in Coconut Grove, Florida.    Once again Ramos was spotted hanging around Kid Village, handing out small toys and trinkets, and the Shanti Sena were immediately alerted.  They remembered Ramos from their last encounter with him, and this time they took his picture and kept an eye on him.  While at the gathering, Ramos made friends with a couple from Erie, Pennsylvania, and their two little boys. 

After the Rainbow Family reunion, Ramos showed up unannounced at this couple's home on several occasions.  Whenever he came, he offered to do work around the house—painting, car repairs, whatever needed doing.  The couple eventually trusted Ramos enough to let him baby-sit their boys while they were away for a day or so.  They later discovered that Ramos had molested one or both of the children while they were under his care.

Incredibly, the following year Ramos and the teenage boy arrived at the next Rainbow Family gathering at Hearts Content in Pennsylvania's Allegheny National Forest.  Once again the Shanti Sena caught him hanging around Kid Village, and this time they followed him back to his blue bus and banged on the door.    Ramos was inside with his teenage friend and a little boy he'd met at the gathering.  He swore he hadn't touched the child, but the Shanti Sena didn't believe him.  They photographed both him and the light-haired teenager, and gave Ramos a stern warning to stay away from the children.  At least one of the Shanti Sena was convinced that Ramos was scouting out children he could kidnap and sell. 

Sensing that they meant business, Ramos abandoned his companions and fled from the gathering with only his dog, an akita named Jesse.  But the Shanti Sena finally decided it was time to notify the police about this man.  State troopers intercepted Ramos near Route 80 in Shippenville, Pennsylvania.  He was arrested and charged with "involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, statutory rape, and indecent assault."  He confessed to sexually assaulting the child in his bus, but because the police failed to read him his Miranda rights, the confession had to be thrown out and the case was dropped.

Ramos went free but not for long.   The next year he was convicted of molesting the two young boys in Erie and sentenced to prison at Rockview State Penitentiary in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania.

Etan Patz
Etan Patz

His blue bus, which had been impounded by the police in Shippenville, was declared abandoned and sold to a salvage dealer who towed it away and cleaned out its contents.  Among the items found in the bus was Ramos' diary.  The man who found it flipped through it quickly, decided it was worthless, and tossed it into the fire where he was burning the rest of Ramos' trash.  No one will ever know if Ramos had written anything that could have connected him to the disappearance of Etan Patz.

But what became of the light-haired teenage boy who had been traveling with Ramos?  The Shanti Sena had noted in 1986 that he was about 13 or 14, which was about how old Etan Patz would have been.  Could this have been him?  What happened to him after Ramos had fled the Rainbow Family gathering?

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