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Etan Patz case: Police dig in basement, question second man in search for boy who disappeared in 1979

Investigators say Othniel Miller – a man who worked near the bus stop where 6-year-old Etan Patz went missing in 1979 – raised suspicions after police recently questioned him about the disappearance. NBC's Ron Allen reports.

NEW YORK -- The FBI and NYPD dug into the concrete floor of a SoHo basement Friday to search for the remains of Etan Patz, a 6-year-old boy who went missing 33 years ago on his short walk to the school bus stop.

NBC New York was first to report the break in the cold case on Thursday.

Investigators have also questioned a second person in connection with the re-examination of evidence. NBC New York has learned that on the morning Patz disappeared in 1979, that man was observed at the building where police are searching now, and also worked with a handyman who authorities are eyeing in the case.


Officials are searching the basement of a building on Prince Street that is connected to the handyman they say had contact with Patz just before he went missing on May 25, 1979, according to a law enforcement official.

The FBI plans to dig up the entire concrete floor and remove drywall partitions to find blood, clothing or human remains in the building, but law enforcement sources have said investigators will pay specific attention to areas of the basement where a cadaver dog recently picked up scents for human remains.

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Dumpsters were brought onto the scene Friday to hold the broken-up concrete. Investigators formed a line from the basement outside to the containers, passing chunks of concrete from one person to the next. By the end of the day, one was filled with debris.

When the floor is removed, the dirt underneath will be sifted for human remains.

The 13-by-62 basement is located at 127B Prince Street, about 200 feet from the building where Patz lived.

Law enforcement sources say investigators have talked to the handyman, Othneil Miller, and that he made statements that raised their suspicions.

In a recent interview with investigators, he blurted out “What if the body was moved?” according to an official.

Sources also say they have evidence to suggest Patz had been in the basement before.

Miller's grandson, Tony Miller, said Friday outside the home that Othneil Miller is a "good guy" who "wouldn't do this." His lawyer, Michael Farkas, said he denies any role in what happened to the boy.

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Investigators recently went to the DA seeking a search warrant  based on the new information.

The search for Patz in 1979 was one of the most high-profile missing child cases in New York City history. President Ronald Reagan declared May 25 National Missing Child Day in his honor.

Two years ago, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said he was reopening the case, taking a fresh look at the evidence.

The DA declined to specify at the time why the case was reopened.

Patz was legally declared dead in 2001.

Neighborhood Reacts to New Search for Patz

The prime suspect has long been Jose Ramos, who had connections to Patz's former babysitter. Ramos is serving 20 years in prison in Pennsylvania for another child molestation case.

In the 1980s, U.S. Attorney Stuart GraBois resumed the investigation of Ramos. When GraBois asked Ramos how many times he had sex with Patz, Ramos "broke down," GraBois told 60 Minutes in 2000.

During that questioning, Ramos admitted to having taken a young boy to his apartment on May 25, 1979, and that he later recognized the boy as Patz, declared missing on the news.

But Ramos said the boy had refused his advances, and that he let him go. Without any evidence, GraBois was not able to charge Ramos with the crime.

The Patz family filed a civil case against Ramos, and in 2004 State Supreme Court Justice Barbara R. Kapnick declared Ramos responsible for Etan's murder. The family was awarded $2 million, which they have not collected.

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