Chuck Colson (right) was an aide to former President Richard Nixon (left).
Chuck Colson, a former aide to Richard Nixon, evangelical leader, author and nonprofit founder, died Saturday at the age of 80. He passed away at a hospital in Northern Virginia, three weeks after surgery to ease intercerebral hemorrhage — a large pool of clotted blood in his brain. Colson was Nixon’s special counsel and was part of the Watergate scandal which led to Nixon’s resignation. He was known as the president’s “hatchet man,” and also served on Nixon’s re-election committee, which plotted and attempted to steal information from the Democratic Party headquarters.
Colson pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and served seven months of a one-to-three year prison sentence. Prior to the start of his prison sentence, Colson became a born-again Christian. After his release from an Alabama prison, Colson founded Prison Fellowship, a nonprofit organization that conducts outreach to prisoners to “seek the transformation of prisoners… through the power and truth of Jesus Christ.” According to his bio for Prison Fellowship, Colson formed the idea of Prison Fellowship when a fellow inmate told him “there ain’t nobody cares about us. Nobody!” Colson started the organization and ran it for 33 years.
Jim Liske, CEO of Prison Fellowship, told CBS News that Colson continued to meet with top elected officials and leaders but “would rather be in prison embracing an inmate.” Colson wrote more than 30 books on religion and faith. In 1991 he founded BreakPoint, where he broadcast daily radio commentaries on news and politics “from a Christian perspective.” Colson never left the political scene, consistently advocating on behalf of conservative policies. He opposed abortion and same-sex marriage and supported the Iraq war. In 2008, President George W. Bush gave Colson the Presidential Citizens Medal. Colson is survived by his wife, Patty, three children and five grandchildren.
The FBI remains “cautiously optimistic” that agents will find evidence in a SoHo basement in the 1979 disappearance on then 6-year-old Etan Patz but authorities stress there are “no guarantees.” In a society obsessed with television series like CSI, Law and Order and Criminal Minds, we expect miracles from the men and women of law enforcement. Frankly, investigating cold cases is tough business. Consider the statistics. In one year, the Department of Justice says that almost 800,000 children under 18 are reported missing. 203,900 children were the victims of family abductions. 58,200 children were the victims of non-family abductions.
Think those statistics are staggering, check these out:
According to the latest online victimization research,
- Approximately one in seven youth online (10 to 17-years-old) received a sexual solicitation or approach over the Internet.
- Four percent (4%) received an aggressive sexual solicitation – a solicitor who asked to meet them somewhere; called them on the telephone; or sent them offline mail, money, or gifts.
- Thirty-four percent (34%) had an unwanted exposure to sexual material — pictures of naked people or people having sex.
- Twenty-seven percent (27%) of the youth who encountered unwanted sexual material told a parent or guardian. If the encounter was defined as distressing – episodes that made them feel very or extremely upset or afraid – forty-two percent (42%) told a parent or guardian.
While agents warn against “too much hope” that Etan will be found, consider this. The FBI and New York Police Department had enough information to get a search warrant and these law enforcement professionals felt the information was solid enough to warrant them tearing up a basement floor and utilizing some very modern forensics techniques to try to find this boy and bring justice to whomever is responsible for his disappearance. A look at cold case files caused renewed interest in Etan. Investigators began focusing recently on a handyman after a review of old case files showed that a concrete floor in a building in SoHo where he once had a workshop — and that was on the route Etan took when he disappeared — had looked uneven or was not all the same color, a person briefed on the case said on Friday.
The explanation the handyman, Othniel Miller, gave shortly after Etan disappeared 33 years ago — that work had been done beneath the floor — led investigators to conduct a new round of interviews in recent weeks that led to the search and excavation of Mr. Miller’s old work space this week, the person said. Mr. Miller was not initially a suspect, the person said, in part because he told investigators that he had not been in SoHo the morning of May 25, 1979, when Etan vanished while walking from his home to a school bus stop. “He said he wasn’t there; he had some sort of alibi, and it sort of checked out,” said the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation was continuing. That alibi was supported in part by a coworker, the person said.
On Friday, Mr. Miller, 75, hired a criminal defense lawyer who, after meeting with Mr. Miller and his relatives for more than an hour, said that his client had had nothing to do with Etan’s disappearance. The lawyer, Michael C. Farkas, said his client did not deserve the scrutiny brought on by his long-ago connection to the basement of the building that investigators began searching on Thursday. “He had no involvement with what happened to this beautiful young boy,” Mr. Farkas said. “Mr. Miller has cooperated with this investigation for over 30 years, and he will continue to cooperate to the best of his ability.”
Mr. Farkas, who said he had not yet spoken with investigators, added: “We do not know at this time why he is now a suspect as opposed to sometime in the past.” After Etan disappeared, investigators focused on a pedophile, Jose A. Ramos, who has been the prime suspect since then, although he has never been charged. He is currently imprisoned for another crime. At the site of Mr. Miller’s old workshop, a phalanx of investigators, utility workers and others continued a painstaking excavation of the 806-square-foot basement below 127B Prince Street, at the corner of Wooster Street, just half a block west of the loft where Etan lived 33 years ago, and where his parents, Stan and Julie, still reside.
Using jackhammers and pickaxes, they split the 13-by-62-foot space into quadrants and began their work along the northern wall, breaking up separate sections of poured concrete flooring, between two and six inches thick, spread over a relatively flat area of dirt, officials said. Outfitted in ear muffs, dust masks, safety glasses and gloves, agents from an FBI evidence response team and New York City police officers formed a bucket brigade, handing larger chunks of concrete along an assembly line leading out of the basement, upstairs and into a large garbage bin on the street.
Smaller chunks of broken concrete and debris were put in pails and passed along in the same way, officials said. The investigators also planned to dig down four or five feet into the earth, or until it appeared undisturbed; shine sophisticated X-ray machines onto the cinder-block walls of the basement; and spray the area with a chemical that could expose bloodstains or other aberrations. Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, reopened the case in 2010, and the SoHo excavation represents the most extensive effort since then to find clues. But Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly warned against expecting a quick solution. “I think what it indicates is that a lot of careful work is going to be done,” Mr. Kelly said after an event at 1 Police Plaza on Friday. “Precise, detailed, deliberative work is going to be done, as opposed to characterizing it as being something that should lead to optimism.”
Stephen Kuzma, 78, the manager of the building on Prince Street, said he had lived on the fourth floor since the 1970s and recalled Mr. Miller pouring cement for a new bathroom on his floor as well as doing work in the basement. But he did not remember when that work was done. “He was a nice fellow,” Mr. Kuzma said of Mr. Miller, who now lives in Brooklyn, adding that he could not recall seeing Mr. Miller with any children and that he had never seen Etan.
Mr. Kuzma said that he was in the basement recently when an F.B.I. agent took a cadaver-sniffing dog there, and that he was told to restrict access to the space. The dog, which was in the basement about three weeks ago, indicated the possibility of remains. Before that, Mr. Kelly said, special odor-absorbing pads that had been placed in the basement for four days were sniffed by a dog, whose response indicated “some positive reaction.” Those developments led the authorities to seek a search warrant. A spokesman for the New York F.B.I. office, Timothy Flannelly, said the scent detected in the basement did not mean that evidence would be found. “There are no guarantees,” he said. “We’re cautiously optimistic that we’ll find evidence.”
It was during the initial investigation 33 years ago that investigators first focused on the Prince Street basement, Mr. Kelly said. “It’s along the route that Etan took to leave his house and go to the bus,” he said, “so it’s a logical place to look.” Mr. Kelly said he could not speculate on why the basement floor was not dug up soon after the boy vanished, and he declined to discuss “any people who we’re talking to or any possible suspects.” In the past, Mr. Miller had invited the police to examine the basement and had suggested they could tear up the floor if they paid to replace it, according to a person involved in the initial investigation.
According to a law enforcement official, as F.B.I. agents questioned Mr. Miller recently, they raised the possibility of Etan having been buried in the basement, and Mr. Miller blurted out, “What if the body was moved?” Outside Mr. Miller’s home in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, his lawyer, Mr. Farkas, said he came from a “wonderful family.” “Mr. Miller is as disturbed about all this as much as all of us New Yorkers are,” he said.
The search is an extraordinary show of manpower in the case, a barrage of tents and police trucks on the swank streets of SoHo. In 1979, the basement was the workshop for a handyman from the nearby building where Etan lived. Three decades have radically changed the streets above, with high-end jeans stores and moneyed tourists replacing the textured knit of 1970s SoHo. But what lies beneath is unchanged.
“They may come upon a historical site,” said Vernon J. Geberth, a retired New York City police lieutenant commander who wrote a procedural bible, “Practical Homicide Investigation.” “When you start digging in Lower Manhattan, you don’t know what you’re going to find.”
In this case, the discovery could be gruesome, especially when one considers pictures of the sunny little boy who vanished that day. But this is a simple fact of detective work; the means themselves are not for the squeamish. The concrete floor is now being broken open by jackhammers. The police have said a cadaver-sniffing dog recently taken there alerted investigators to the possible presence of cadaverine, the foul-smelling gas produced by decomposition. Some experts, including Dr. Michael Baden, the city’s chief medical examiner when the boy disappeared, warned against reading too much into the dog’s reaction. “Very unlikely,” he said, that gas produced by a body buried 33 years would still be detectable. But Mr. Geberth said the concrete might have served to cap the gas, preserving it.
The basement is 62 feet long, 13 feet wide. “That’s a big area,” Mr. Geberth said, with no obvious starting point to dig. “You’re not going to have the telltale signs of any recent disturbance.” To narrow the search, ground-penetrating radar equipment is typically used to identify a cavity underground. “A body would decompose and cause a defect in the earth,” Mr. Geberth said. “That area would be cordoned off. You’d begin digging with trowels, like an archaeological dig.” The scene would be meticulously mapped and marked with grids and stakes to measure the depth of any evidence recovered.
What may have survived after all these years and the effects of the moisture of the soil and the bacteria from decomposition? “There probably would still be bone,” Dr. Baden said. “The permanent teeth that we have, more so than baby teeth, last for decades. Longer than that. It’s easy to get DNA from teeth and long bones.” Squint and look at those teeth from the milk carton. “The eruption of teeth in the human body is a relatively predictable process during the early years of growth,” according to “Practical Homicide Investigation.” “The loss of these baby teeth and the eruption of the first permanent molars begins at approximately 5 years of age.” Etan was 6.
There could still be hair. “That definitely would provide DNA,” Dr. Baden said. Any blood spilled would have long decomposed, he said, but investigators will surely be looking for signs of insect activity. “Maggots can have the DNA of an individual,” from feeding on a body, Dr. Baden said. The pupae cases left behind from hatching flies could contain the body’s DNA, he said. Any DNA found could be compared to that of one or both of Etan’s parents to determine a match. Etan was last seen wearing white sneakers and a pilot’s cap. Most articles of clothing would have been lost to time. “Certain clothing will last longer than others,” Dr. Baden said. “Plastic can last a long time, suspenders or something. Nylon.”
Mr. Geberth said the stark statistics surrounding the murder of children offer some hope that Etan’s body was disposed of intact. “These guys want to get rid of the body as soon as possible,” he said of child killers. “They want to distance themselves from the body.” Burial would be an attractive choice, and not that difficult, he said. “A hell of a lot easier than burying an adult.” Where there was a child’s body in 1979, there almost surely is a telltale pocket of space today. “It’s going to leave a smaller cavity,” he said, “but there’ll still be a cavity.” Find that, and you find the boy, waiting, after all this time, for a pedestal.
NEW YORK, New York — (DMN) – There are two suspects at the center of the law enforcements renewed interest in the 1979 disappearance of then 6-year old Etan Patz. The FBI got a warrant to dig up a SoHo basement near Etan Patz’s home after a stunning claim by the new suspect’s ex-wife — that he raped his young niece a few years after the boy’s 1979 disappearance, The New York Post is reporting in today’s edition. The woman told authorities she divorced Othniel Miller — whose Prince Street wood shop was steps from the Patzes’ home — in the mid-1980s after learning of the attack in the 10-year-old girl’s New Jersey home, a source said.
Federal authorities cited that claim, the source said, to obtain a search warrant for the basement area of 127 Prince St., which Miller was using at the time that 6-year-old Etan vanished while walking alone for the first time to his school bus stop. A second source said the wife told authorities — referring to the Patz case — that Miller has been involved in “a similar incident involving a relative.” Etan’s May 25, 1979, disappearance sparked a massive manhunt and forever changed parents’ mindsets about letting children walk the city streets on their own. The Jamaican immigrant Miller, now 75 and living in Brooklyn, was never charged with raping his niece. His defense lawyer, Michael Farkas, told The Post he was unaware of such a claim by the ex-wife.
Sources say that the revelation of Miller as a suspect does not move Ramos off of law enforcements “short list.” The new suspect, Othneil Miller, insisted Friday that he was a cooperating witness in the cold case — and not the boy’s killer. “He is innocent,” the attorney said. “He is not involved in this terrible murder. He is going to continue to help authorities as best he can.” Miller joined Ramos on law enforcement’s very short list of suspects in the boy’s May 25, 1979, disappearance. A pair of law enforcement sources said Friday it was unclear if there was a connection between the two men, who were both regulars in the SoHo neighborhood where the Patz family still lives.
Ramos dated Etan’s baby-sitter, while Miller was the go-to guy for home repair in the neighborhood during the late 1970s — and Ramos may have done some work for Miller. The blue-eyed, blond-haired boy disappeared while walking alone for the first time to catch his school bus. Ramos, 68, is doing time in Pennsylvania for sexually assaulting two boys — although he could be released in November. Jamaica-born handyman Miller worked out of a basement office at 127B Prince St. On the night before Patz’s disappearance, Miller — who “hired” the small boy as a helper — paid him a $1 salary.
A joint FBI/NYPD squad descended on the subterranean space Friday morning, breaking up its concrete floor in hopes of finding the boy’s remains or any other clues in one of the NYPD’s most frustrating investigations. Workers dismantling the 800-square-foot basement floor started around 10 a.m. on the second day of the painstaking, inch-by-inch search. “What’s being done right now is they’re starting a very controlled and precise digging operation,” said NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly. “They’re actually starting at the back wall.”
A pair of Dumpsters arrived outside the building as workers began carrying rubble up from the underground spot where FBI cadaver dogs caught the scent of death earlier this month.
The dig at the building, just a short walk from the Patz home, began Thursday — about two weeks after the dogs were brought to the basement.
The missing boy’s father, Stan, was spotted Friday taking pictures of the hectic scene from his fire escape. Investigators in workman’s gloves gingerly placed basketball-sized chunks of concrete inside the Dumpsters as work began on the first of four quadrants in the basement. The law enforcement crew will sift through the rubble, which will then undergo additional forensic testing. Work at the site is expected to last through the weekend. Miller, 75, was most recently questioned by the FBI Thursday morning while the Prince St. dig began. He was earlier brought back to his old workspace during another session with the feds. He was dropped off at his basement apartment in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, as the investigators first arrived at his old basement business in SoHo — a space now broken into four rooms.
But the Miller clan was irate over the FBI’s focus on their patriarch, who walks with a cane after suffering a series of strokes — the most recent just two years ago. “This is a wonderful family that does not deserve what is happening to them,” said Farkas, of the law firm Silverman Sclar Shin & Byrne. SoHo residents recalled Miller with fondness. “He was a chubby fellow, jolly,” recalled Stephen Kuzma, the Prince St. building manager since 1970. “He was a very good craftsman. He could do anything. He did a lot of work for a lot of people.”
Miller was a regular in the tightly knit, artist-heavy neighborhood — “friendly, and everyone liked him,” said Kuzma. In the decades after the Patz disappearance, Miller bounced around the country, landing in East Orange, N.J., Colorado, Massachusetts and Florida, records show. He has no criminal record, although he was arrested in May 2004 for driving in Florida with a suspended license. Miller now lives with his daughter, Stephanie, and vacations in Tampa with his granddaughter. Lisa Cohen, author of a 2009 book on the Patz disappearance, recalled Miller as a marginal figure during the initial investigation.
His name appeared on a list of possible suspects with dozens of other names, but Miller was never seriously considered as the killer. “It never went past step one,” she told The News. “There were a handful of people who were bigger suspects.” The Patz family, after 33 years of unanswered questions about their son, maintained a wall of silence as investigators worked right down the street from their SoHo home. “To all hard-working and patient MEDIA PEOPLE: The answer to all your questions at this time is ‘No Comment,’” read a sign hung near the buzzer to their home.
Miller emerged as a suspect after Etan’s mom, Julie Patz, recently suggested that investigators take a close look at him. Farkas yesterday met with Miller for more than an hour at his Quincy Street home in Bed-Stuy. The livery-cab driver who drove Farkas there told The Post, “On the way here from downtown Brooklyn, he told me [Miller] was the last person to see the boy alive.” When asked about that claim, the lawyer said, “I’m not going to be answering any questions of a detailed nature because I’m new to the case.” Farkas yesterday revealed that on Thursday — as news of the FBI’s search of the basement broke — federal agents “brought him to the scene.” “We’re cautiously optimistic,” said Tim Flannelly, an FBI spokesman, who nonetheless noted, “This is one of many leads.”
Dr. Lawrence Koblinsky, a forensic scientist from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, visited the site yesterday, and said that while it is “questionable as to whether they will find anything, . . . with the dog alerting, the probability increases that this is a significant area.” “I think whoever did this, if that person buried the child, I don’t think they knew enough forensics to destroy the evidence,” Koblinsky said. “In addition to a body, there may be other trace evidence that still remains, even after 30 years.” And because of improvements in DNA technology, Koblinsky said, “identifying the bones of Etan Patz is certainly doable.”
The new focus on Miller came as a surprise, because investigators for decades had believed Etan was abducted by his employee Ramos, the pedophile who was dating the boy’s baby sitter at the time. Ramos, who is serving an unrelated prison sentence in Pennsylvania, was found civilly liable for Etan’s death in 2004 by a Manhattan Supreme Court judge. But he never was criminally charged. David Fisher, the author of the 1995 book “Hard Evidence,” about the FBI’s forensic laboratory, yesterday told The Post that when he visited that lab to do research he was shown an age-adjusted picture of what Etan may have looked like in the early 1990s if he were alive. “And they showed me a photo of a young person — a teenager — looking exactly like that [rendering] getting on a bus . . . somewhere in Florida,” Fisher said. “They said they went down there, and never found him.” “The FBI continued to look for him — they never stopped — and they were never convinced that he was dead,” Fisher said about the Patz mystery. “It’s a fascinating story,” he said.
The New York Daily News and the New York Post contributed to this report.