(NEW YORK) — A suspect in the disappearance of 6-year-old Etan Patz 33 years ago has confessed to strangling the little boy and disposing his lifeless body in a box, authorities said.
New York City police on Wednesday detained Pedro Hernandez, 51, who worked at a corner store in the Manhattan neighborhood where Patz vanished more than three decades ago. Friday is the anniversary of the boy’s disappearance.
Police have expressed a “cautious optimism” that they have cracked a cold case that has haunted New York City for decades and was a major reason that the photos of missing children were put on milk cartons.
The suspect, who would have been 18 when Patz disappeared, has told investigators that he strangled Patz and put his body in a box to dispose of it.
But the police have yet to charge Hernandez with any crime. Those charges could come as early as Thursday.
Hernandez was questioned when the reinvestigation of the long dormant case resumed in January 2010. The suspect has made numerous admissions implicating himself, but investigators remain cautious because some of Hernandez’s statements contradict known facts, sources said.
Patz disappeared in May 25, 1979 while walking to school for the first time near his parents’ apartment in SoHo section of Manhattan.
“An individual now in custody has made statements to N.Y.P.D. detectives implicating himself in the disappearance and death of Etan Patz 33 years ago,” Commissioner Ray Kelly said in a statement.
Hernandez was taken into custody at his residence in Maple Shade, N.J., on Wednesday morning. He had never previously been named as a suspect.
New York City police officers accompanied by local cops took him into custody at his New Jersey home at 7:30 a.m. Hernandez lives in the rental apartment with his wife and daughter. Neighbors describe him as quiet and “the best tenant ever.”
Though police have named other suspects in the past none have ever been arrested or charged. Mayor Michael Bloomberg declined to provide details Thursday, but said, “A person of interest is in custody and being questioned.”
“The suspect came forward and made a statement implicating himself. I caution you all that there’s a lot more investigating to do,” the mayor said.
On Thursday morning, NYPD Chief of Detectives Phil Pulaski walked along Prince Street, where Patz vanished. Pulaski and his team were reexamining the crime scene in light of new information they have obtained from questioning Hernandez.
Neither Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, nor the FBI would comment on the investigation.
The family did not immediately return a message requesting comment.
Watch the full story on ABC’s 20/20 Friday at 10 p.m. ET
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Chuck Johnston, CNN Newswire
Ray Sanchez, CNN Newswire