By Murray Weiss, DNAinfo Columnist / Criminal Justice Editor
MANHATTAN — The NYPD returned to the former SoHo bodega where Etan Patz was allegedly murdered to break into an old storage room where coal that fueled the building’s furnace used to be kept, DNAinfo.com New York has learned.
All they found was garbage.
The coal room is in the basement of 448 West Broadway, which used to house the bodega where Etan's confessed killer Pedro Hernandez once worked.
When detectives first swarmed the building after Hernandez's arrest in May, they found the room inaccessible, save for small apertures where coal could be dumped in from a chute above and shovelled out through an opening at the bottom.
Detectives could peer into it, but could not get in.
When cops returned to the building Wednesday, they were with Emergency Service Unit officers equipped with saws and other tools to cut through the wall. Because the room housed coal for so long, cops first did an air quality check to
ensure no noxious fumes would be released, sources said.
Once inside the coal room, though, they found nothing related to the boy's disappearance.
Evidence teams collected all the trash they found, sources said, but they do not believe it will yield any clues to what happened to Etan.
Detectives also spent a couple of hours taking a complete new set of photographs of the basement, including the coal room, in the event Hernandez’s stunning confession to the 1979 murder case is presented to a grand jury.
The new activity at the old bodega where Hernandez worked as an 18-year-old teen came hours after DNAinfo’s “On The Inside” column reported new insights into the murder probe.
Topping the list of new details was the revelation that Hernandez’s first wife told detectives she found a photo of Patz in her husband’s personal belongings in the the mid 1980s.
She said the photo of the smiling, blond-haired six-year-old appeared to have been cut out from one of the Missing Persons posters that circulated for years after Etan's May 25, 1979 disappearance.
DNAinfo.com New York also reported that Hernandez was never interviewed by cops after Etan vanished, and moved away just weeks after the case grabbed national attention.
Detectives working the case now are "absolutely convinced" Hernandez is the killer, but found his name mentioned only once in a single police report from 1979, which said he was working on the day Patz disappeared. There was no follow up interview with him, the NYPD concluded.
Despite their confidence in the case against Hernandez, some investigators who worked the case over the years are skeptical and believe that Jose Ramos, a convicted pedophile who used to date Etan’s babysitter, is the prime suspect.
In fact, a Manhattan Civil Court judge ruled Ramos responsible for Patz death in 2004.
Ramos is expected to complete a lengthy sentence for child abuse in Pennsylvania in October, around the same time Hernandez is next due in a Manhattan court.
Hernandez, who is schizophrenic, is presently being held on Rikers Island after undergoing psychological evaluation at Bellevue Medical Center.
Etan disappeared after being allowed to walk to a school bus stop alone for the first time.
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