Commissioner Kelly answers questions at the press conference (Chris Robbins / Gothamist)

On the eve of the 33rd anniversary of Etan Patz's disappearance, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly announced that 51-year-old NJ resident Pedro Hernandez was arrested in the murder of the six-year-old boy. Kelly said that Hernandez told relatives, "I did a bad thing. I killed a kid in New York."

According to Kelly a tipster called the NYPD's missing persons department and said that Hernandez told relatives and a spiritual advisor that he killed a boy, but never gave a name. Hernandez was 19 and was working as a stock clerk at a bodega at 448 West Broadway (now JF Rey Eyewear). He allegedly lured Etan from his school bus stop with the promise of soda, strangled him in the bodega's basement, and then disposed of the body in a plastic bag, leaving it around a block away from the bodega, which clarifies earlier speculation about how the boy was killed and disposed of. Kelly said it was "unlikely" that any physical remains would be found.

2012_05_phernandez.jpgThere is no motive or physical evidence. Kelly said, "We have a written confession, a signed confession. We believe there is probable cause to go forward with this arrest," adding that the investigation was ongoing. He said that the police contacted Etan's parents, Stan and Julie Patz, about the arrest, "We can only hope these developments bring a measure of peace to the Patz family." The NYPD's head of the missing persons department, Lieutenant Chris Zimmerman, said he spoke to Stan Patz, who "seemed surprised. I wouldn't call it good news but I was glad to tell him."

When the NYPD went to Hernandez's house in Maple Shade, New Jersey last night, Zimmerman said he "wasn't confrontational at all.... It was a very casual encounter. He was friendly with detectives." The police said that Hernandez voluntarily came to New York with detectives and brought them to the scene of the crime last night. Kelly said he believed that Hernandez had no prior criminal record.

Etan's May 25th,1979 disappearance occurred on his walk to the school bus—for the first time on his own—from his parents' loft at 113 Prince Street to the stop on West Broadway just two blocks away. The disappearance rocked the city and then the country, as Stanley and Julie Patz's unrelenting efforts to find their son galvanized the neighborhood and helped spur a nationwide movement to find missing children (Etan's photograph was the first on a milk carton). The Patzes also never moved from their apartment and changed their phone number, in hopes Etan would return.

His body was never found, complicating efforts to charge the man who many believed was the prime suspect, Jose Ramos, a "drifter" who dated one of Etan's babysitters and who was arrested while allegedly trying to sexually assault some young blond boys. Ramos, currently imprisoned for molesting boys in Pennsylvania (he's up for parole this year), was found responsible for Etan's death in 2004 in a civil lawsuit, but maintained he never killed the child.

Last month, the FBI and NYPD examined the basement of a former area handyman, Othniel Miller. The FBI had re-interviewed Miller, after his ex-wife claimed he raped a young niece. During the interview, Miller, a stroke victim, allegedly "grew aroused" while shown a book of photos of young children and made the remark “What if the body was moved?" when asked where Etan's body was. Miller's family has insisted he is innocent and emphasized how the elderly man was cooperating with the investigation.

Kelly said that last month's dig and publicity about the case probably led the tipster to contact the police, and that the FBI was not contacted: "This tip came into the NYPD." The commissioner said that Hernandez was never a suspect in the 1979 investigation and that while others in the bodega were questioned, Hernandez never was. Kelly said, "I can't tell you why. It was 33 years ago, I can't tell you why," adding that Hernandez was an "undocumented employee." Asked if the reports were true that Hernandez had confessed to police at the time but was ignored, Kelly said, "No."

Tomorrow the Manhattan DA's office is expected to formally charge Hernandez with second degree murder.

With Jen Chung