The unusual confessor who broke the Etan Patz cold case
Killing Etan Patz in 1979 may have been the only time alleged killer Pedro Hernandez hurt someone. While he avoided detection for 33 years, the secret took enough of a toll that Hernandez broke down in tears as he confessed, appearing remorseful and ‘relieved.’
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Especially if reports that Hernandez has a serious illness are true, the confession “would be a revelation that would make sense, given a review of your life,” Mark Safarik, a former FBI profiler, tells the Monitor.Skip to next paragraph
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Certainly, Hernandez’s alleged secret may be more complicated – and disturbing – than police are letting on. While investigators say they have no evidence of sexual assault, and Hernandez has given no motive, it’s unlikely to investigators following the case that there wasn’t a sexual component to the crime. One explanation given by family is that, especially when he was younger, Hernandez was “hot-headed” and temper-prone. But a bad temper alone hardly a murderer makes, says Mr. Safarik.
“What they’re putting out about him, that he had a short fuse and could really fly off the handle, that doesn’t go with the planning, the luring – those are things you do when you’re trying to get a 6-year-old for sexual purposes,” says the former FBI agent. “The problem in any case with no physical evidence is that [police are] left with behavioral evidence.”
But that doesn’t mean Hernandez fits into a neat box, either. Most child killers and molesters are psychopaths who, unlike Hernandez, often don’t display remorse or sorrow at what they’ve done. At the same time, even child molesters on average only kill 1 out of 100 victims, usually releasing them before anyone even knows they’ve been missing.
"It looks like his crime was spontaneous rather than methodically planned," Northeastern University criminologist Jack Levin told ABC News. "Based on statistics concerning abductions by strangers and acquaintances, I would speculate that his motivation involved a sexual assault."
"It is conceivable that Hernandez never again molested a youngster," he added. "This is particularly likely in light of his confession."
Criminologists warn that, especially considering there are professed mental issues, that Hernandez may also have falsely confessed.
But given the many false leads, as well as several false confessions, in the Patz case already, experts say Hernandez must have given detectives something during the interrogation, which included a tour of the former bodega basement, that was corroborative.
One of his Maple Shade neighbors, Dan Wollick, told the New York Daily News that Hernandez seemed like a regular neighbor, a “nice guy” who mowed his lawn and waved hello to passers-by. “It had to be eating him alive,” Mr. Wollick said.