(NEW YORK) — Authorities on Friday began the first full day of digging for new evidence in the Etan Patz case following the startling discovery that the missing child may never have made it off his own New York City block.
Patz’s 1979 disappearance sparked a massive city-wide search then, but now the FBI and New York City police believe they may find evidence in what was at the time a handyman’s basement workshop, just steps away from where the boy was last seen.
The dig is taking place in a small basement room that belonged to Othniel Miller, now 75, and which was also frequented by the case’s longtime prime suspect, Jose Ramos.
Federal agents and New York City police began Thursday to tear up the concrete floor of the basement at 127 Prince St. in the SoHo section of Manhattan.
Patz was 6 when he disappeared on the morning of May 25, 1979, soon after leaving his parents’ apartment at 113 Prince St., the first time he was to walk to the school bus stop by himself.
Prosecutors reopened the cold case two years ago and began focusing on the Prince Street basement room following a positive hit by NYPD and FBI cadaver dogs.
Special odor-absorbing pads were placed in the room, capturing the scent of human remains — even decades old — that police cadaver dogs were able to detect.
Investigators then twice interviewed Miller before obtaining a warrant and beginning the dig.
NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly said an array of new technology unavailable to law enforcement in 1979, including x-rays and black lights, are being used in the investigation. The new investigation is also reexamining the decades-old assumption that Patz was abducted by convicted pedophile Jose Ramos. Ramos, now in prison for an unrelated case, was never charged with Patz’s abduction.
The preparations for the search included mapping the basement, making sketches, taking photographs and other procedures for collecting evidence. According to sources, the area of the basement where the dog picked up the scent appears to be one that had been resurfaced with fresh concrete at or shortly after the time of Patz’s disappearance.
The basement was searched in 1979, the year the boy disappeared, but the floor was never dug up.
Since then, drywall has been put up over the room’s brick walls. The drywall will be removed and the bricks examined and tested for blood evidence using advanced forensic techniques that were not available three decades ago, officials said.
The floor will also be dug up in a search for human remains, clothing or other evidence.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Chuck Johnston, CNN Newswire
Ray Sanchez, CNN Newswire