By Lisa R. Cohen, Grand Central Publishing, 379 pp. $25.99
For weeks Etan Patz had been begging his mom to let him walk to the bus stop alone.
It was 1979, and in the emerging Soho district of New York City, where strangers were an afterthought, such requests weren't unusual. Simply put, it was a different time, an innocent time.
Etan, the middle child of Stan and Julie Patz, was 6 years old with a fearless smile, a mop of dirty blonde hair and clear blue eyes — and within days of that image would come to haunt parents not only in New York but around the world.
On May 15, 1979, Etan kissed his mother goodbye, closed the door apartment door and vanished … never to be seen again. What would follow would become the catalyst for a movement that ultimately saved the lives of countless children, reuniting them with their grieving families.
Before Etan, there was no Meagan's Law, no Amber Alerts, no Center for Missing and Exploited Children, no milk cartoons or grocery store fliers. But the grinning photograph of one boy who simply vanished would help change all that while ultimately leading to conviction of a child-molesting monster.
In After Etan, TV producer Lisa Cohen, who followed the abduction case through its various incarnations, explores, not only the pain and suffering of Etan's parents but also the tireless investigations by the cops and district attorneys who still seek justice for Etan.
Excruciating is the only apt description for After Etan. Excruciating for the reality and pain it portrays in those who were left behind and excruciating in its ultimate conclusion of a missing persons case that has yet to be fully resolved.
Cohen's riveting, detailed narrative leaves no stone unturned, revealing not only the endless dead ends of the investigation but also of the case that literally changed the way parents protect their children. It seems hard to conceive, but before the disappearance of Etan Patz — along with the abduction of Adam Walsh two years later — the idea of a stranger stealing a child was relatively unheard of. Most disappearances were either considered to be part of a custody dispute or simply a runaway.
Etan's abduction changed the way law enforcement handles missing children reports.
But for a case that a generation of parents used as a cautionary tale to keep their own children safe, most have long since lost track of the tragedy. Cohen sheds turns her investigative gaze to what happened after the story fell from the headlines.
Inspired by an ongoing tragedy, After Etan is a triumph with all the gripping twists and turns of a taut thriller … sadly it's all so very true.