(NEW YORK) — A fresh investigation into the disappearance 33 years ago of a little boy named Etan Patz led to the Manhattan basement workshop of a handyman named Othneil Miller on Thursday.
Investigators believe that Patz, who was 6 years old when he vanished in 1979, was in Miller’s basement the night before he disappeared, when Miller befriended the boy and gave him a dollar, sources told ABC News.
Federal agents and New York City police began to tear up the concrete floor of the basement at 127 Prince St. in the SoHo section of Manhattan. The basement was Miller’s workshop in 1979.
Patz’s disappearance as he walked to the bus stop alone for the first time in his young life has haunted the city. The search for Patz has been one of the largest, longest-lasting and most heart-wrenching hunts for a missing child in the country’s recent history.
The new investigation is also re-examining 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.
Thursday’s probe, which was reopened by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance in 2010, began with an interview of Miller.
Based on that interview, law enforcement sources said, a dog was brought to the scene as a warrant was drawn up. The cadaver dog got a positive hit for possible human remains. The warrant was served and the preparations for the excavation, expected to last five days, began.
For Stu Grabois, the assistant U.S. attorney who spent 27 years on the case, it was good news to hear of the new probe.
“I am pleased that Cy Vance is exploring everything that can help to bring justice to the Patz family,” Grabois said.
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.
Sources told ABC News that even if a body had been kept for 24 hours or less and then moved, a trained dog could pick up the scent decades later.
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.
“It’s a joint FBI-NYPD search for human remains, clothing or personal effects,” NYPD spokesman Paul Browne told reporters outside the building after investigators entered using a search warrant.
For the Patz family, it has been more than three decades of agonizing investigations and years of wondering what happened to their blond son with the gorgeous smile.
In an interview with 20/20 in 2009, the boy’s father, Stan Patz, said, “I still gag with fear that this child must have felt…when he realized he was being betrayed by an adult.”
The case had been dormant until Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. reopened the case in 2010. Former D.A. Robert Morgenthau had declined to proceed with the case, citing insufficient evidence.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio