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Entries in Othneil Miller (3)

Sunday
Apr222012

Etan Patz: ModeForensics Help Authorities Reinvestigate Disappearance 33 Years Ago

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Thirty-three years after Etan Patz disappeared, all eyes are on the basement at 127 Prince Street in New York City as authorities use technological advances that can even detect if a body was moved to reinvestigate the cold case.

Patz, who was 6, disappeared on the morning of May 25, 1979, soon after leaving his parents' apartment at 113 Prince St., the first time he was to walk to the school bus stop by himself. The boy's 1979 disappearance sparked a massive citywide search that decades later led authorities back to handyman Othneil Miller's small basement workshop -- this time to excavate it after cadaver dogs detected the smell of human remains.

Lawrence Kobilinsky, a forensic scientist at John Jay College Criminal Justice in New York City, said vast improvements in technology since Patz disappeared, including agents that detect traces of blood and ground penetrating radar, are allowing investigators to crack "relatively old" cold cases by looking beyond what the eye can see.

"Back then there was every reason to look [in the basement] but there was no reason to break down the ground or the walls at that time." he said. "If you see something you could swab it. If anything was visible they'd be able to bring it up."

Investigators likely used ground-penetrating radar at the scene to look below the surface of concrete and drywall, he said.

"What the instrument does is it sends ultra high frequency radiation into the ground and essentially the waves, the energy travels down until it hits a discontinuity. If it hits a skeleton, they will bounce back. You can see an image on a monitor. It will go right through concrete, very, very deep into the ground," he said.

The technology is so sophisticated it is even able to detect voids in areas where a body temporarily may have been hidden, Kobilinsky said.

"If a body has been moved, that means the ground has been disturbed. A discontinuity can be picked up. It tells you this is a place worth looking at," he said.

And if the excavation finds human remains, a forensics team will be able to isolate mitochondrial DNA and match it to a maternal relative of Etan, who would share the same mitochondria.

Even traces of blood may yield clues.

"Certainly they were spraying either Luminol or BlueStar. This is a blood detection system," Kobilinsky said, adding that either agent would be able to detect traces of blood, even after 33 years.

Not only does blood remain traceable, but so does the human scent. An interview with handyman Othneil Miller two years ago after the case was reopened prompted the FBI and NYPD to put special odor-absorbing pads in his old workshop for four days.

When those pads were presented to cadaver dogs, they signaled the odor of human remains. The dogs were then brought to the basement where they again indicated the scent of human remains in an area a source said was resurfaced with concrete at or shortly after Patz disappeared.

Lynne Englebert, who trains and handles a human remains detection dog with the Institute for Canine Forensics, said cadaver dogs working cold cases is a relatively new coupling and one that was formed in the last decade.

Dogs train for their certificiation for one to two years and practice finding "old crunchy bones" with their handlers, Englebert said.

"We as human beings never lose our scent. If [a body] had been there for a while, that scent would still be there," she said, indicating that even if investigators do not find remains in the basement, it is possible human remains may have once been there before being moved.

But not everyone is prone to throw their trust to the dogs.

Kobilinsky said it wasn't clear whether the dogs are reliable.

"I'm not terribly optimistic they'll find a body. I think they will alert to things other than human remains, [such as] animal decomposition or rotting organic material," he said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Apr202012

Handyman in Etan Patz Probe Says He's Innocent

Spencer Platt/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- A lawyer for the handyman Othneil Miller whose basement workshop is the focal point of a new investigation into the Etan Patz case Friday denied he had anything to do with the little boy's disappearance more than three decades ago.

"Mr. Miller did not do this," Michael Farkas, the attorney for Miller, told reporters outside the Brooklyn building where Miller lives.

"Mr. Miller denies involvement with what happened to this beautiful young boy and he's going to remain cooperative to the extent that's reasonably possible given this investigation," Farkas said.

Patz, who was 6, disappeared on the morning of May 25, 1979, soon after leaving his parents' apartment at 113 Prince St., the first time he was to walk to the school bus stop by himself.

Authorities Friday began the first full day of digging in the Manhattan basement at 127 Prince St. for new evidence, following the startling discovery that the missing child may never have made it off his own New York City block.

Patz's 1979 disappearance sparked a massive city-wide search 33 years ago, but now the FBI and New York City police believe they may find evidence in what was then a handyman's basement workshop just steps away from where the boy was last seen.

The small basement room at the center of the investigation belonged to Miller, now 75, and was also frequented by the case's longtime prime suspect Jose Ramos.

Federal agents and New York City police began Thursday to tear up the concrete floor of the basement and the excavation was in full swing Friday.

Prosecutors reopened the cold case two years ago and began focusing on the Prince Street basement room following an interview with Miller.

That interview prompted the FBI and NYPD to put special odor-absorbing pads in the room for four days. When those pads were presented to cadaver dogs, they signaled the odor of human remains. The dogs were then brought to the basement where they again indicated the scent of human remains.

Investigators then interviewed Miller again before obtaining a warrant and beginning the dig.

Kelly said an array of new technology unavailable to law enforcement in 1979 including x-rays and black lights are being used in the investigation.

The new investigation is also reexamining the decades old assumption that Patz was abducted by convicted pedophile Jose Ramos. Ramos, now in prison for an unrelated case, was never charged with Patz's abduction.

According to sources, the area of the basement where the dog picked up the scent appears to be one that had been resurfaced with fresh concrete at or shortly after the time of Patz's disappearance.

The basement was searched in 1979, the year the boy disappeared, but the floor was never dug up.

Since then, drywall has been put up over the room's brick walls. The drywall will be removed and the bricks examined and tested for blood evidence using advanced forensic techniques that were not available three decades ago, officials said.

The floor will also be dug up in a search for human remains, clothing or other evidence.

For the Patz family, it has been more than three decades of agonizing investigations and years of wondering what happened to their blond son with the gorgeous smile.

The case had been dormant until Manhattan DA Cy Vance Jr. reopened the case. Former DA Robert Morgenthau had declined to proceed with the case, citing insufficient evidence.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Apr192012

Etan Patz Search Leads to Handyman's Basement 33 Years Later

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- A fresh investigation into the disappearance 33 years ago of a little boy named Etan Patz led to the Manhattan basement workshop of a handyman named Othneil Miller on Thursday.

Investigators believe that Patz, who was 6 years old when he vanished in 1979, was in Miller's basement the night before he disappeared, when Miller befriended the boy and gave him a dollar, sources told ABC News.

Federal agents and New York City police began to tear up the concrete floor of the basement at 127 Prince St. in the SoHo section of Manhattan. The basement was Miller's workshop in 1979.

Patz's disappearance as he walked to the bus stop alone for the first time in his young life has haunted the city. The search for Patz has been one of the largest, longest-lasting and most heart-wrenching hunts for a missing child in the country's recent history.

The new investigation is also re-examining the decades-old assumption that Patz was abducted by convicted pedophile Jose Ramos. Ramos, now in prison for an unrelated case, was never charged with Patz's abduction.

Thursday's probe, which was reopened by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance in 2010, began with an interview of Miller.

Based on that interview, law enforcement sources said, a dog was brought to the scene as a warrant was drawn up. The cadaver dog got a positive hit for possible human remains. The warrant was served and the preparations for the excavation, expected to last five days, began.

For Stu Grabois, the assistant U.S. attorney who spent 27 years on the case, it was good news to hear of the new probe.

"I am pleased that Cy Vance is exploring everything that can help to bring justice to the Patz family," Grabois said.

According to sources, the area of the basement where the dog picked up the scent appears to be one that had been resurfaced with fresh concrete at or shortly after the time of Patz's disappearance.

Sources told ABC News that even if a body had been kept for 24 hours or less and then moved, a trained dog could pick up the scent decades later.

The basement was searched in 1979, the year the boy disappeared, but the floor was never dug up.

Since then drywall has been put up over the room's brick walls. The drywall will be removed and the bricks examined and tested for blood evidence using advanced forensic techniques that were not available three decades ago, officials said. The floor will also be dug up in a search for human remains, clothing or other evidence.

"It's a joint FBI-NYPD search for human remains, clothing or personal effects," NYPD spokesman Paul Browne told reporters outside the building after investigators entered using a search warrant.

For the Patz family, it has been more than three decades of agonizing investigations and years of wondering what happened to their blond son with the gorgeous smile.

In an interview with 20/20 in 2009, the boy's father, Stan Patz, said, "I still gag with fear that this child must have felt...when he realized he was being betrayed by an adult."

The case had been dormant until Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. reopened the case in 2010. Former D.A. Robert Morgenthau had declined to proceed with the case, citing insufficient evidence.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio