City officials dug into old handwritten Department of Sanitation records dating to 1979 Tuesday to confirm a suspect's story in the Etan Patz case, while psychiatrists and other experts at Bellevue Medical Center delved into the mind of the man who confessed to killing the 6-year-old to determine whether he is fit to stand trial.
Tuesday, officials said they have begun looking through log books of city-owned garbage truck pickups for around the time of May 25, 1979, when Patz disappeared. But a Department of Sanitation spokeswoman said it wasn't known whether private carters were handling the addresses that are central to the investigation, something that could further complicate the search.
Suspect Pedro Hernandez, 51, told police last week that he killed Etan in the basement of a SoHo bodega at 448 W. Broadway and then put his body in a plastic bag and dumped it in an alley next to 113 Thompson St., about a block and a half away.
"We are talking to people both in [city] sanitation and in the private carting industry. Records going back that far would not be normally kept, but we are trying to determine the issue of whether private carting was involved or private sanitation was involved," NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly said Tuesday.
A Sanitation Department spokeswoman said some garbage collected in 1979 was taken to the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island, which closed in March 2001, while some was incinerated.
Meanwhile, Hernandez is being held on suicide watch at Bellevue Medical Center, where observations of him by medical and psychiatric staff will be used by two court-appointed psychiatrists to make a recommendation as to whether he is fit to stand trial, said a legal source familiar with the case who didn't want to be identified.
"The bar is pretty low, it is extremely low and it is a rare case indeed where somebody is found mentally incompetent to stand trial," said Manhattan defense attorney Ephraim Savitt, who isn't involved in the case.
But another psychological issue looming is Hernandez's mental status when he confessed to police, explained Savitt. During a brief court appearance Friday, defense attorney Harvey Fishbein said that Hernandez had a history of "auditory and visual hallucinations."
Fishbein and Hernandez's relatives have said the defendant has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
Fishbein declined to comment Tuesday.