Pedro Hernandez, 51, told investigators this week he lured the little boy into the shop with the promise of a soda, then led him to the basement, choked him and put his body in a bag with some trash about a block away, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said. Investigators hadn’t determined any motive, he said.
Kelly said there is no physical evidence. But authorities say they have a detailed, signed confession, as well as accounts of incriminating remarks Hernandez made to others.
Hernandez didn’t yet have a lawyer, police said. An arraignment was expected Friday afternoon.
A law enforcement official told The Associated Press that Hernandez was taken to a hospital for a psychological examination early Friday. The official wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the investigation and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
While the arrest marked only the start of what could be a complex court case, it was a stunning turn in one of the nation’s most tortuous and baffling missing-children cases. Police had been aware of Hernandez, as the shop was in Etan’s neighborhood, but had never before eyed the married father as a suspect. Another man had long been the prime suspect, and investigators questioned yet a third man as recently as last month.
All the while, Stan and Julie Patz have stayed in same downtown Manhattan apartment, never even changing their phone number in case their vanished son tried to call.
“We can only hope,” Kelly said, “that these developments bring some measure of peace to the family.”
The Patzes and a lawyer for them didn’t immediately return calls Thursday.
At Hernandez’s home in Maple Shade, N.J., no one answered the door Thursday night. Neighbors said they were surprised at his arrest.
“I knew the guy. He was not a problem. His family was great people,” said Dan Wollick, 71, who rents an apartment in Hernandez’ home. “He didn’t bother anybody.”
The arrest — the first ever in the case — was a long-sought grail for authorities, including Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., who announced he was renewing the investigation shortly after he took office in 2010.
His office, which declined to comment Thursday, will now move on to the work of prosecuting a 33-year-old case in which no body has ever been found. Prosecutors will likely look to amass witness statements or other evidence to support Hernandez’ account.
Etan vanished in New York’s busy SoHo neighborhood, which was edgier then than the swath of chic boutiques it is now.