MANHATTAN — The man charged with killing 6-year-old Etan Patz in SoHo more than three decades ago confessed to murdering the boy to his church group in the 1980s — a piece of evidence that may bolster the suspect's admission in a case that appears to be devoid of physical evidence — according to a published report.
Pedro Hernandez, 51, who was arrested last Thursday and charged with murder, allegedly revealed his deadly secret to parishioners at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Camden NJ, decades before investigators arrested him last week.
"He confessed to the group," said Tomas Rivera, the leader of St. Anthony of Padua, according to the New York Times.
According to the paper, Rivera did not alert the authorities about what Hernandez said "because he did not confess to me," the paper said.
But Rivera, 76, who met with detectives last week, refused to say anything else about the case on the advice of cops, according to the Times.
The suspect's sister, Milagros Hernandez, 45, apologized on behalf of her family on Sunday to the Patz family.
"We are deeply sorry to the family if our brother had anything to do with this, and we are praying for them — that somehow they can find peace," she said, according to the Daily News.
The sister told the paper that her siblings also knew that Hernandez claimed to have killed a child, but no one went to the cops.
"The family stopped talking about it," she said, according to the News. "It was like they just put it away and no one wanted to pay attention to it anymore."
Hernandez claimed to the NYPD last week that he he killed Patz in the bodega where he worked as a stock boy, just two blocks from the boy's home on Prince Street in May 1979.
He allegedly lured the boy to the basement with a promise of a soda, strangled him and then dumped his body in the trash in an nearby alley.
Investigators were poring over old Department of Sanitation Records in an attempt to locate where the boy's body might have ended up, according to reports.
Among the possibilities are Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island, which is now closed, the Fountain Avenue landfill in Brooklyn or the Gansevoort Street incinerator, the New York Post said.
According to the paper, Hernandez claimed that he hid Patz's body in a refrigerator before dumping it in the alley.
He led police on a tour of the basement site last week in which he recreated the attack, according to sources.
At his arraignment on second degree murder charges Friday, Hernandez's lawyer Harvey Fishbein said the suspect suffers from hallucinations, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
In addition to the fact that Patz's body has never been found, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said that cops had no physical evidence in the case, adding to the burden on investigators.
FBI officials remain unconvinced that Hernandez is the killer because of the lack of physical evidence and the suspect's mental history, sources said. And according to the Post, the Manhattan DA's office was pressured into signing off on the arrest despite a lack of evidence aside from the confession.
But other officials believe Hernandez may be behind the murder, saying he knew "intimate details" about the murder that only the real killer would know, sources told the Post.
Those details, which stunned investigators, remain under wraps — only known by a few investigators — in order to avoid false confessions, the paper said.