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Etan Patz case: New focus on handyman who knew missing boy

April 20, 2012|Tina Susman

 NEW YORK -- FBI agents searching for the remains of Etan Patz, the poster child for missing children who vanished 33 years ago on his way to school, have spoken to a New York man who apparently knew the boy, and have dug up most of the basement where the man once worked.

The renewed search for Etan, missing since May 25, 1979, kicked into high gear Thursday when searchers converged on a stretch of Prince Street in Manhattan’s SoHo district, along the same block where Etan lived and where his parents still live.

On Friday, law enforcement officials confirmed that agents had visited the Brooklyn home of Othniel Miller, 75, the previous day, though they did not describe him as a suspect.

Miller was a handyman and carpenter who used the basement at 127 Prince St., a few doors down from the Patz apartment building. Miller’s daughter, Stephanie Miller, told CBS that the FBI had spoken to her father. “He cooperated with them, went to the site, and he doesn't have anything to do with it," she said.

Nobody ever was charged in Etan’s disappearance, though Etan’s father, Stanley Patz, and an investigator assigned to the case became convinced that a convicted pedophile named Jose Antonio Ramos was to blame. In 2004, a civil court ruled that Ramos was responsible for Etan’s death – the boy was declared legally dead in 2001 – but Ramos denied involvement. He is serving time in a Pennsylvania prison on an unrelated child molestation charge and is due for release this year.

Renewed interest in the case came after the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., reopened it in 2010. Since then, dogs have been brought into the basement on Prince Street where Miller worked. They detected something beneath the floor, which was replaced shortly after Etan vanished. Law enforcement officials say this, combined with other details, provided enough probable cause to obtain a search warrant and begin digging up the floor in search of the remains of Etan, who was 6 when he vanished.

"We do have good probable cause to be here," Tim Flannelly, the special agent in the FBI's New York office, told reporters at the scene of the search Friday.

“We’re out there looking for this body. We’re going to be here as long as we need to be here,” said another FBI official, who added that searchers already had removed most of the concrete early Friday. By noon, they were carrying chunks of concrete from the building.

Police have said the search could go on several days, but the FBI official said anything was possible. “If we’re in the back of the basement and we find some evidence, this could grind to a standstill,” he said.

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