(NEW YORK) — Police Thursday arrested a former grocery worker in the 1979 murder of Etan Patz, apparently ending a mystery of what happened to the 6-year-old boy that has haunted New York City for three decades.
Pedro Hernandez, 51, confessed to police that he lured Patz to his death with the promise of a soda. He took police back to the basement of a Manhattan bodega and showed them where he strangled Patz.
He said he stuffed the boy’s body into a plastic garbage bag, carried it to another location in the SoHo neighborhood and dumped it in the trash.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said Hernandez provided no motive for the killing.
Patz, a handsome blond boy, vanished on the first day he was allowed to walk to the school bus alone on May 25, 1979. Friday is the 33rd anniversary of his death.
Kelly said detectives were drawn to Hernandez in recent days because Hernandez had told family members and friends as early as 1981 that he had “done a bad thing and killed a child in New York.”
It was one of those family members or friends who alerted police following renewed interest in the case when police excavated the basement apartment of a building on the same block last month where Patz lived and Hernandez worked.
Kelly said police had informed Patz’s parents, who have for years wondered just what happened to their 6-year-old son.
“We only hope these developments bring some measure of peace to the family,” Kelly said.
Patz, who disappeared on a rainy New York day not unlike the one on which Hernandez was arrested, launched the modern missing persons movement and led to missing children being featured on milk cartons.
Hernandez was taken into custody at his residence in Maple Shade, N.J., on Wednesday morning, where he lives with his wife and daughter. The apartment is rented by his wife Rosemary Hernandez, who let her husband move in after he told her that he was dying of cancer.
New York City police officers accompanied by local cops took him into custody at his New Jersey home at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday and brought him to the Camden County, N.J., Prosecutor’s Office for initial questioning. He was then taken to New York City for additional questioning by authorities there.
Though police have named other suspects in the past, none had ever been arrested or charged.
The search for Etan has been one of the largest, longest lasting and most heart-wrenching hunts for a missing child in the country’s recent history.
Hernandez was taken into custody one month after the investigation into Patz’s disappearance returned to the headlines when police excavated a Manhattan basement in the hopes of finding evidence about the boy’s death.
At the time police named Othniel Miller as a suspect. The dig focused on a basement room, where Miller once operated a workshop.
The dig yielded no obvious human remains and little forensic evidence that would help solve the decades-long mystery of what happened to the boy.
Miller’s lawyer Michael Farkas said authorities had not been in touch with his client since Hernandez’s arrest Wednesday.
The boy’s parents, Stan and Julie Patz, were reluctant to move or even change their phone number in case their son tried to reach out. They still live in the same apartment, down the street from the building that was examined in April.
The family did not immediately return a message requesting comment.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Chuck Johnston, CNN Newswire