The man in custody Thursday over the unsolved 1979 murder of Etan Patz has confessed to luring the little boy into the basement of a SoHo bodega before choking him to death, New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said Thursday.
Pedro Hernandez, 51, of Maple Shade, N.J., was charged with the with second-degree murder,a former grocery worker to choking the young boy in the in the basement of the small food market then disposed of the body in a plastic bag that he threw in the trash.
Hernandez has since moved to Maple Shade, New Jersey, just outside Camden, where neighbors on Thursday described him as a quiet man who showed no outward signs of a darker past.
Word of a break in the cold case comes exactly five weeks after police tore apart a Manhattan basement in a search for the boy’s remains.
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 .
Kelly said Hernandez had not given a reason for murdering the child. He also said the Patz family had been informed of Hernandez's confession and arrest.
Sandy-haired Etan vanished while walking alone to his bus stop for the first time, two blocks from his home in New York's busy SoHo neighborhood, which was a working-class part of the city back then but is now a chic area of boutiques and galleries.
Etan'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.
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. His photo was among the first of a missing child to appear on a milk carton.