Updated 04/19/2012 11:26 PM
Police Search SoHo Basement For Possible New Clues In Etan Patz Case
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As FBI and NYPD investigators search a SoHo basement for possible new evidence in the 1979 disappearance of six-year-old Etan Patz, published reports on Thursday said a Brooklyn handyman is a person of interest in the case.
Law enforcement officials would not comment on whether Othneil Miller, a 75-year-old handyman who worked in the basement of 127 Prince Street, was involved in Patz' disappearance.
The boy was last seen leaving his family's SoHo loft in 1979 for his first solo trip to the school bus stop.
The original missing poster for Etan Patz, courtesy of NYPD
The incident was a cold case for decades, but on Thursday a tip guided law enforcement to the concrete basement of 127 Prince Street, where an FBI dog picked up the possible scent of a body. FBI and NYPD crews could take as long as four days to dig up the concrete floor and knock down some walls in search of new evidence.
On Thursday, the law enforcement agents spent 10 hours in the 13-foot by 62-foot basement, noting the position of every object, before work began.
"They'll be taking down some drywall to examine the original wall. There's been some drywall put up since that time," said NYPD spokesman Paul Browne. "They're excavating part of the basement itself, taking up the concrete that covers the floor and digging up the dirt underneath that, looking for human remains, personal effects or clothing."
"There is probable cause for us to be here executing this search warrant. But the takeaway, we obviously hope to bring closure to the investigation and the family, but the takeaway to the public is that we are committed to these cases," said FBI New York Office spokesman Tim Flannelly.
According to reports, Miller, who lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, was only recently considered a suspect in the case. Authorities suspect he befriended Etan shortly before he disappeared.
Miller was arrested in Florida a few years ago and charged with driving with a suspended license.
His family declined to speak with NY1 on Thursday, but neighbors said that Miller is a friendly man who mostly keeps to himself and they did not believe that Miller ever knew the missing boy.
One neighbor described Miller as a "man of God" who regularly attends church.
By late Thursday, Miller had not been charged with a crime.
In 2004, a civil court judge determined Jose Ramos, the boyfriend of Etan's babysitter, was responsible for the boy's death.
However, former Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau long argued there was not enough evidence to bring criminal charges against Ramos, who is currently serving time in Pennsylvania for molesting two boys.
Two years ago, current Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. reopened the case, though no new evidence was ever found.
Ramos, who is serving a 20-year sentence in Pennsylvania for child molestation, is up for parole this year.
Many SoHo residents watching the ongoing investigation on Prince Street said they still remembered how the neighborhood reacted to Etan's disappearance.
"People used to say where is Etan and that was the biggest question and still, to this day, people are asking that question," said a SoHo resident.
"You know something? It's never a cold case. If it's a kid missing, you've got to do everything you can, no matter how long it takes," said another.
Etan Patz, who was one of the first missing children to appear on the side of a milk carton, was legally declared dead in 2001.
The anniversary of Etan's disappearance, May 25, was declared National Missing Children's Day by President Ronald Reagan back in 1983.