My review of After Etan

Reporter Lisa Cohen, who’s been covering the Etan Patz disappearance for years now, has put together a very impressive account of the investigation with all its twists and turns. Though the book covers thirty years, the story never drags, and I stayed up and sacrificed precious sleep to get through it, although I knew already how it ended — or didn’t end, as it were. Etan Patz has never been found and the prime suspect in his disappearance, a thoroughly creepy pedophile named Jose Antonio Ramos, has never been charged in his case.

The first half of the book mainly focuses on the pain of Etan’s parents, Stan and Julie, and their struggle to keep their own sanity and provide a normal life for their two remaining children. It’s a very rare and intimate window into how a family copes with having a missing child. Stan and Julie aren’t sure how to answer when a stranger asks them how many children they have. Etan’s younger brother was very afraid to turn six, because Etan was six when he disappeared. Tipsters, well-wishers and cranks phoned the Patz home at all hours and Stan kept a log of every single call, just in case one of them lead to his son’s whereabouts. Julie was remonstrated by strangers when they recognized her on the street: they accused her of negligence for letting Etan walk to the bus stop alone the day he was abducted, and flat-out told her that his disappearance was all her fault.

The second half of the story focuses more on Jose Antonio Ramos and the quest by a dedicated federal prosecutor, Stuart GraBois, to bring Ramos to justice for the crimes he’s committed against children. Largely through his efforts, Ramos was sent to prison for twenty years for an unrelated child molestation charge, but he’s not going to stay in there forever. GraBois continues to lobby for charges in Etan’s case, and I hope this book will spur that effort along. He is the real hero in this story, a tireless advocate not only for Etan but for other children Ramos violated. Using actual dialogue from transcripts and recordings, Cohen makes you feel like you’re actually in the room with Ramos and GraBois as they talk about Etan and Ramos makes a “90% confession.”

This is a must-read for those interested in the Patz case and the phenomenon of missing children in general. Though it’s 400 pages, it felt like a much shorter book to me. The details and the snappy journalistic writing style moved it along. I don’t think it could have been any better written.

[Incidentally, I was very pleased that I didn’t discover any errors on Etan’s Charley casefile as I read the book. Of course there’s info I want to add now, but nothing in the book contradicted what I say on my site, so I’ve gotten it right.]

Improvements I’d love to make to Charley if I could

Most of these are never going to happen. But a girl can dream, right?

1. Learn to use style sheets and put Charley on them. It would make updating and correcting cases a lot easier, at least I’ve heard it said.
2. Have a really nice NCMEC-style search engine so you can search by name, race, height, whatever. My brother the computer programmer promised to make one when he had time. That was three years ago and he’s had two kids since then.
3. Have foreign cases as well as American ones. Unfortunately I’m swamped with American cases as is, and in any case I can’t read any foreign languages. (In an aside, I’m seriously thinking about enrolling in college to study Yiddish, but that wouldn’t be much help to Charley.)
4. Have photo indexes as well as name indexes. When I first started Charley after the MPCCN died, I was going to put up photo indexes, but I eventually scrapped the idea.
5. Have footnotes on my casefiles, so I can identify just what scrap of information came from where and when people yell at me about supposed mistakes I can say, “I got it from ____.”

Reading After Etan now

I am presently on page 137, out of 400. Stuart GraBois has just taken over the case. So far it’s very good. Surprise: Etan’s surname does not rhyme with “cats” or even with “cots,” but instead with “gates.” I will have to retrain my brain to say his name right.

Did I mention here that Lisa Cohen, After Etan‘s author, generously sent me a free copy of the book and thereby saved me $24.99? If I haven’t before, I must say that she is awesome. I love anyone who gives me free books.

Daniel Hauser and his mom return on their own

I didn’t write about this before, but I’m sure quite a few of you have heard of Daniel Hauser. He’s 13 years old and has cancer. The doctors think that with chemotherapy he stands a very good chance of surviving. He went through one course of chemo, but then refused any more and the tumors have grown since then. Daniel and his parents said they thought chemo would kill him and they were going to try Native American holistic healing practices instead. (Snort.) He and his mom, Colleen, fled when child protective services got involved to force them to abide by the doctors’ orders.

Anyway, Daniel and his mom have returned voluntarily from Mexico to face the music. It looks like they just didn’t want to hide anymore. At any rate, Colleen promised she’ll do what the court advises for Daniel from now on. I hope she holds to that. I would be a lot more sympathetic if the chemo only stood a small chance of working, or if the doctors said it would only prolong his life but Daniel would die of the cancer in the end. But I expect if that was the case, the family court would not be getting involved. For the Hausers to refuse a treatment that is predicted to be 90% effective, in exchange for doing…well, nothing, is lunacy.

Being an atheist, of course I don’t believe in “faith healing,” nor do I believe in New Age-type treatments. Acupuncture and herbal remedies is about as far as I’m willing to go. I do believe in the right of parents to decide what’s best, medically, for their child (even if their decisions seem dumb to me), and the right of children to have input in their medical decisions once they reach their teens. But I don’t believe those rights should be without qualification. Their freedom ends when the medical condition becomes life-threatening. The protection of life is paramount.

A lot of people, perhaps even the majority, can be awfully stupid when it comes to medical decisions. Like, for example, people with high cholesterol who refuse to take, or stop taking, medications that could prolong their life. And who goes through their full course of antibiotics even after the symptoms disappear, every time? Also people who smoke, when they know perfectly well what the dangers are — I’ve never understood that at all. When Daniel Hauser turns 18, he’s allowed to be as much of a moron as he wants about this. Until then, he should do what the doctors say, because if he doesn’t, he’ll probably never reach 18 at all.

Okay, so I lied

About the upcoming Washington DC trip: I said there would be no Charley updates, but I was probably wrong about that, because today I bought my first laptop. Mortgaged my soul to the credit card company for $750, but interest free financing for 18 months so even I should be able to pay that off. So I can take the laptop to DC with me and update Charley from there. If I want to. I will kind of be on vacation after all, and might not want to spend four hours a day writing up casefiles.

I also bought another rat. Her name is Gypsy and she’s kind of freaked out, still not entirely convinced I’m not going to eat her. She’s a rex. She’s just a baby now, but her hair will become curly as she gets older. I would have preferred to wait a bit to get another rat, but I didn’t want Belle to be alone for too long. Rats are very sociable critters and get depressed if they don’t have ratty companions.

Next time I put them in my car on a hot day, I’m putting in a frozen water bottle too, so they can cool down. One lesson learned the hard way. 😦