Relative: Man now suspected in Etan Patz death was reported to police decades ago
NEW YORK (CNN) — A member of Pedro Hernandez’s family walked into a Camden, New Jersey, police station in the 1980s and reported that Hernandez told relatives and others that he had killed a boy in New York and threw the body near a Dumpster — but there’s no indication anything came out of that report, the family member told CNN.
“You feel like they didn’t believe you. I felt empty and a little bit mad,” the relative said. “I was expecting something else.”
Now, 33 years after Etan Patz disappeared, Pedro Hernandez stands accused of choking to death the 6-year-old youngster after luring him to the basement of a corner grocery store in New York City, and of throwing away his body inside a trash bag.
The family member, who CNN has agreed to not identify, said there was no receipt of paperwork to document the information provided — nor was the relative ever contacted again about the report.
“Police asked whether I was mad” at Hernandez or had an ulterior motive, the source added.
Hernandez allegedly confided the information to a New Jersey church prayer group that included some members of his family and his then-spiritual adviser, the source told CNN.
Tomas Rivera, a leader of the prayer group, declined comment Monday on Hernandez or the prayer group, citing authorities who told him not to talk to the media.
At 19, shortly after Patz’s disappearance on May 25, 1979, Hernandez left his job as a stock clerk and returned to his mother’s home in North Camden, New Jersey. The attempt to tell police that Hernandez might have killed a child happened a few years after that.
CNN has not been able to reach Camden police for comment.
“When he moved home, he was really nervous and shaking all the time,” the family source said of Hernandez. “He constantly had diarrhea, and he spent a lot of time just looking out the window,” the source added, saying the behavior was out of character for Hernandez.
Hernandez also allegedly told his first wife that he had killed a boy, according to the source. CNN has not been able to reach her. The two divorced, and Hernandez has remarried.
Before Hernandez was picked up for questioning last week, the family source was visited by police and asked about any previous confessions from Hernandez about killing someone.
Surprised to be contacted after so many years had gone by without hearing anything, the family member asked, “What took you so long?”
The family member didn’t get an answer and doesn’t know what prompted police to visit.
The relative had no explanation for why no other relative spoke up years ago. “Maybe they didn’t want to get involved,” the source said. “I wasn’t going to stay quiet. I have a conscience.”
The family source said he was surprised on Friday, when Hernandez’ defense attorney announced in court that his client has a long psychiatric history, is on medication for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and suffers from hallucinations.
Attorney Harvey Fishbein said Hernandez — who was on suicide watch at Bellevue Hospital on Sunday — has not entered a plea due to a pending psychiatric evaluation.
New York police say they tracked down Hernandez after a tipster they won’t identify contacted police last month. The person came forward after seeing publicity surrounding the FBI’s search of an unrelated basement in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood, a half block from Etan Patz’ home.
New York police have not responded to a request for comment about the latest development.
But in a press conference Thursday, New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said no family members or spiritual advisers ever contacted police. It’s not clear whether Kelly was referring to the New York Police Department or any police department.
Meanwhile, police have asked New York’s Sanitation Department for trash pickup and dumping records dating back to 1979, said Vito Turso, a spokesman for the department.
“We said we would search for those handwritten logs,” he said. However, he said, businesses in the area could have hired private companies to haul away their trash, and “we would have no records of their pickup schedules.”
The Patz case was the first of several high-profile cases that catapulted concern about missing children to the forefront of national consciousness.
The relative of Hernandez is concerned about what Etan Patz’s parents must be going through.
“At this moment, they must be hoping this is the right guy, and they don’t go through this again,” the source said. “It’s going to be like a nightmare for them, if it turns out it’s not Hernandez.”
“They must want to know the truth and get this over with,” the relative added. “At least they will know.”
By Susan Candiotti and Ross Levitt