When Patz vanished, Hernandez lived in the same Manhattan neighborhood as the boy and worked at a nearby bodega. Hernandez was known to investigating detectives, but it was unclear what brought them back to him this week.
Patz’s disappearance 33 years ago launched a national movement and focused attention on missing children. It was the case that prompted dairy companies to put the photos of vanished children on milk cartons.
Neighbors in Maple Shade said Hernandez, his wife, Rosemary, and their teenage daughter lived in the rented duplex for three to five years. But the family generally kept to themselves
Hernandez was a mystery to neighbors.
Neighbors recalled Hernandez taking out the trash on Thursdays, smoking cigarettes on his landing.
"Ordinary people. Quiet, good neighbors," said Maryanne Hammel, who lives across the street.
"He said hi, he waves. He seems like a nice guy," said Ashley Kabbeko, a neighbor.
Kabbeko said it was a "little scary" and she was "a little freaked out" that Hernandez may have killed Patz.
"That’s why they say, always watch for the quiet ones, I guess," she said.
Dan Wollick, 71, who lives in the duplex’s other apartment, said he believes Hernandez maybe worked at home because Wollick recalled him being at mostly during the day.
"They said he confessed …. He’s been living in his private hell for the last 33 years," said Wollick said.
"If it’s true, his life is over."
Wollick last saw Hernandez smoking a cigarette earlier in the week.
Kabbeko’s mother, Jeannie Cool, 50, who also lives next door, said she saw Maple Shade police and other officers at the house early Wednesday but didn’t know what to think of it.
She recalled that when her son recently invited Hernandez’s daughter to a barbecue, she declined to come, saying she had Bible study.
"I had the chills when I heard," she said Thursday. "Maybe if it’s the truth, they’ll have a little closure," she said of the Patz family.
Around 2 p.m., authorities dropped Rosemary and her daughter back home. Hernandez was not with them, Kabbeko said.
On Thursday, Rosemary and her daughter were holed up in the home as a dog barked to the sound of reporters pleading with her to speak about her husband.
A few hours later, she and her daughter emerged as police escorted them to their car. A crush of reporters snapped pictures, rolled cameras and yelled questions.
They hung their heads and didn’t say anything.
Hernandez was taken into custody on Wednesday and initially transported to the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office for questioning by law enforcement officers from New York. The Manhattan district attorney’s office is heading the probe by the FBI and New York police. Hernandez was then taken to New York.
Hernandez emerged as a person of interest in April, about the same time as a widely publicized search of a Manhattan basement, the Associated Press reported.
Jason Laughlin, a spokesman for the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office, confirmed a man was questioned but released no further details. Laughlin said local investigators assisted New York authorities to help make contact with "people they wanted to talk to in connection with their work."
The development came one day before the anniversary of the Patz’s disappearance, when detectives traditionally receive a landslide of hoaxes and false leads related to the case.
Wearing a backpack, Patz, a boy with sandy hair and a toothy grin, vanished May 25, 1979. He had been walking alone to his school bus stop for the first time, two blocks from his home in the city’s SoHo neighborhood.
An exhaustive search followed and the case received a crush of media attention. Thousands of fliers were plastered around the city, buildings canvassed, hundreds of people interviewed.
SoHo was not a neighborhood of swank boutiques and galleries as now, but of working-class New Yorkers who were rattled by the news.
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, down the street from the building that was examined in April. They have endured decades of false leads, and a lack of hard evidence.
The April excavation of a Manhattan basement yielded no obvious human remains and little forensic evidence that would help solve the decades-long mystery of what happened to the boy.
This article contains information from the Associated Press.