Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Disappearance of Etan Patz

Future Flight Captain

Published: 05/29/2010

The morning of May 25, 1979, was hectic at the New York City home of Stanley and Julie Patz.  They lived in a converted loft in Manhattan's Soho district, pioneers in a section of the city that would later become the place-to-be for New York trendsetters.   Soho had been Manhattan's manufacturing zone, characterized by block after block of 19th century, iron-fronted factories standing shoulder to shoulder.  On overcast days it was easy to imagine the gloomy sweatshop conditions of old New York, but in the 1970s, a fair number of these buildings were dark and empty, and the streets were desolate and forbidding at night.  Still, people were making their homes in the neighborhood, breathing new life into it.  Artists were first drawn to the area, attracted to the large, open spaces and cheap rents.  Stanley Patz, a photographer, and his wife Julie lived in a loft on Prince Street with their three children: Shira, then age 8; Etan, 6; and Ari, 2.

Etan Patz Missing Poster
Etan Patz Missing Poster

Julie ran a day-care center out of her home.  On the morning of May 25, as was her routine, Julie got her own children ready for the day as she prepared for the 14 preschoolers she cared for.  As Julie dished out breakfast for her family, little Etan started agitating to walk himself to the bus stop again.  He'd been asking if he could for some time now.     A six-week school bus strike had just ended; the buses were scheduled to resume service that day.  During the strike, the Patzes had hired a woman to walk Etan to school, but now that the buses were back, Etan pleaded with his parents to let him walk the two blocks to the bus stop by himself.  Etan was a good boy, and it was a close-knit neighborhood where the residents watched out for the children, so the Patzes gave in and told him he could walk to the bus stop like a big boy.Etan was elated.  He was dressed all in blue that day—blue pants, blue corduroy jacket, and blue sneakers with distinctive fluorescent stripes along the sides.  He carried a blue cloth bag with an elephant pattern on the fabric.  And as usual he was wearing his black "Future Flight Captain" pilot's cap, which covered his straight, light-brown hair.  He pulled it down low over his brow, shading his blue eyes.  He wore his prized cap all the time, even to bed.  He'd bought it at an outdoor flea market for 10 cents.

Julie took Etan downstairs to the street and gave him a dollar for a soft drink at the local bodega.  It was a misty morning, and the pavement was wet.  Julie watched Etan as he started his big journey, two short blocks to the corner of Prince and West Broadway where the bus would pick him up.  She kept her eye on him as he proceeded to the first corner at Wooster Street.  After he crossed, Julie went back upstairs, confident that Etan could make it the rest of the way by himself.  It was just 150 feet to the bus stop.

A woman who lived nearby saw Etan as he stood on the corner of Wooster and Prince, a relatively quiet intersection, as he waited to cross.  A mailman also saw him at that intersection.  They were the last people known to see Etan Patz.

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