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.]