Why didn't Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance attend Police Commissioner Ray Kelly's momentous news conference last Thursday on the Etan Katz case?
Kelly announced that a suspect the public had never heard of -- Pedro Hernandez, a worker in a bodega near where 6-year-old Etan disappeared -- had been arrested after confessing to Etan's 1979 murder, and implied the case was solved.
Sources say Kelly had expressly invited [some say strong-armed] Vance to the news conference while excluding the FBI, which had worked with the NYPD for decades on the Patz case.
While at his news conference Kelly indicated that Hernandez's admission had ended the 33-year-old hunt for Etan's killer, Bureau officials remain skeptical, the sources said.
The FBI had expressed similar doubts about Kelly's trumpeted arrests in two recent terrorism cases involving so-called "lone wolves," distancing itself from both.
In each case, the so-called lone wolves -- Ahmed Ferhani and Mohamed Mamdouh in the first case, and Jose Pimentel in the second -- were indicted by Vance in state court because the FBI did not consider any of the suspects to be serious terrorism threats.
At each news conference, announcing their arrests, it was Vance, not the FBI., who stood at Kelly's side.
By choosing not to appear with Kelly at last week's news conference, Vance, too, appeared to express doubts.
His absence was all the more noticeable, considering the last line of Kelly's press statement, announcing Hernandez's arrest and confession: "We are working very closely with the Manhattan district attorney."
A top city law enforcement official said that Vance's reluctance to attend Thursday's news conference may also be related his re-election in 18 months and his attempt to avoid a repeat of another headline-grabbing case in which he followed the NYPD's lead -- his premature arrest last year of Dominque Strauss-Kahn.
Shortly after the NYPD pulled DSK off a Paris-bound plane, following his encounter with a maid in the Sofitel Hotel, Vance charged him with sexual abuse and attempted rape -- only to drop the charges because of subsequent doubts about the maid's credibility.
Instead, without Vance, Kelly had S. Andrew Schaffer, the NYPD's deputy commissioner of Legal Matters at the news conference, apparently to give Hernandez's arrest a legal imprimatur.
Schaffer was a silent prop. As with all Kelly news conferences, only the commissioner spoke for the department.
Sources also say that Vance is seeking to ensure that the FBI remains involved in the case.
Just a month ago, the Bureau dug up a Soho basement near where Etan disappeared, but failed to find evidence implicating another suspect.
After Hernandez's arrest, FBI agents attended case meetings at Vance's office along with the NYPD, sources say.
"The impression I am getting is that Vance wants the FBI involved even if it's only to raise his comfort zone with the investigative steps that remain before going to a grand jury," the source said.
Furthermore, sources say that neither the DA's office nor the FBI helped interrogate Hernandez in Camden, New Jersey. The interrogation, which led to a confession, was an exclusive NYPD affair.
The problem with Hernandez's confession and arrest, say law enforcement officials, is not that the police arrested him prematurely. As NYPD spokesman Paul Browne pointed out, once Hernandez confessed, detectives had no other choice than to arrest him.
Rather, the problem is Kelly's never-ending penchant for publicity and self-promotion [to say nothing of diverting people from his much-criticized Stop and Frisk and Muslim spying policies].
For in the Patz case, Hernandez's arrest is not the final step but only the beginning.
Hernandez's history of mental illness means that his confession, by itself, is not enough to indict, much less to convict.
"I have a bad feeling," said retired NYPD Lieu. Commander Vernon Geberth, the author of a definitive textbook on homicide.
"You need more than a confession. You need a body. You need forensic evidence. And there is none."
Kelly's statement at his news conference implied otherwise. Referring to Hernandez's confession and arrest Kelly said, "We can only hope that these developments bring some measure of peace to the family."
WHAT THE POST KNOWS. According to the New York Post, the NYPD has secret information never made public that only the killer knows. And 30 years ago, Hernandez told this to detectives, who blew him off.
This is startling.
"Pedro Hernandez provided detectives with 'intimate details' about the murder of Etan Patz that only the killer could have known," the Post reported.
Sources told the Post that "investigators were stunned to learn that Hernandez had this inside information, which cops never disclosed to the public despite intense public scrutiny and three decades of frustration in trying to unravel what happened to the 6-year-old in 1979."
"The specifics have remained secret and are known by fewer than a dozen current law-enforcement officials, including Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, the sources said." [Question: if this inside information was so great, why wasn't Vance at the news conference?]
Then, the Post said this: "Meanwhile Kelly was said to be furious with the way the investigation into Hernandez was initially handled."
"He's upset and wants to know... Kelly is pissed. The heat is on."
Given the Post's reputation for, shall we say, exuberance, let's see how this all holds up.
THE LONDON CONNECTION. So there was Kelly in London, announcing Hernandez' arrest before barreling back to New York to hold his news conference.
How long was he in London? Nobody knows as Kelly refuses to make public his schedule, citing "security" concerns.
Two English newspapers reported last week that Kelly had been in London, advising authorities about security for the upcoming Olympics. Did they invite him? Or was he there on his own? More interestingly: who paid for his trip?
MORE MIKE. A day after the announcement of Hernandez's arrest, the Daily News' Mike Lupica was already slobbering over Kelly, this time writing that as a young cop, Kelly, apparently off-duty, had visited the block where Etan disappeared:
He was working vice in those days, back in 1979, in what they called the 'Public Morals Division' at the NYPD. He was back from Vietnam and he was a young cop with two young children -- ages 11 and 13. So he was both a parent in the city and a policeman when Etan Patz disappeared on his way to school.
Let's see. That visit would be a couple of years after Kelly walked a beat in Harlem and supposedly befriended a young Al Sharpton, who was then attending school in Brooklyn. Apparently, the future Rev was playing a lot of hooky those days, hanging around Harlem enough to become pals with Kelly.
Let's hope that Lupica's description of Kelly has more credibility than that Paul Browne-spun fairytale.
SHOT CLOCK STILL TICKING. With all the brouhaha over the Patz case, let's not forget Kelly's ticking time bomb, which so far he has successfully defused.
That's his commission to examine whether the downgrading of crime statistics is a city-wide problem.
Kelly formed the commission after police broke into the apartment of whistle-blower cop Adrian Schoolcraft, then took him against his will to the psych ward of Jamaica Hospital after Schoolcraft claimed that commanders in his Brooklyn precinct were systemically downgrading crimes. Spokesman Browne estimated at the time that the commission's report would be completed within six months. It's now more than two years. One of the three commissioners has already died.
For the record, the report is 697 days late.