- Associated Press - Monday, April 23, 2012

NEW YORK (AP) — Authorities on Monday finished excavating a Manhattan basement in connection to the disappearance of a 6-year-old boy three decades ago without finding any obvious human remains, law enforcement officials said Monday.

FBI and police had been searching the former workspace of a handyman since Thursday, after a cadaver-sniffing dog detected the scent of possible human remains. The space is down the street from where Etan Patz lived and along the route he would have walked to reach his bus stop when he vanished on May 25, 1979.

“No obvious human remains were found, but it’s still a missing-person case,” said Paul Browne, spokesman for the New York Police Department.

Large brown steel containers full of rubble and sand from the basement were hauled away Monday morning to a landfill on Staten Island, where they will be preserved in case officials need to go back and take another look.

“The FBI has concluded the on-site portion of the search,” FBI spokesman J. Peter Donald said. “The street and local businesses will be re-opened.”

Though the search was over, investigators still were examining some of the material they gathered.

Investigators, for example, found a stain on a piece of wall that was tested on site and did not contain traces of blood, according to two law enforcement officials who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the search was ongoing. FBI officials sent the piece for further testing at a lab in Quantico, Va.

Some hairs also were collected, though it’s not clear if they were human, and they also will be tested, one of the officials said. Bones found early Monday quickly were identified as food, one official said.

An official with the city medical examiner’s office was on site the entire time and would have taken any shred of potential human remains, including clothing or bones, but the official left without taking anything, one of the officials said.

Etan’s disappearance touched off a massive search that continues still. His parents, Stan and Julie Patz, were briefed by authorities about the work there on Saturday, an official said.

Reticent to move or even change their phone number in case their son tried to reach out, the two still live in the same apartment, down the street from the building being examined.

The boy was declared legally dead in 2001 so that Mr. Patz could sue a man he believed to have caused his son’s death. The man, Jose Ramos, was declared responsible by a civil judge in 2004. He is serving time in Pennsylvania for molesting two children in separate incidents and has denied harming Etan.

The basement was used at the time as a workspace for a handyman named Othniel Miller. He was interviewed after the boy went missing.

The 75-year-old Mr. Miller hasn’t been named a suspect, and his lawyer, Michael C. Farkas, says he “has absolutely no responsibility for the terrible tragedy that befell young Etan Patz” and “decries these efforts to sully his good reputation and destroy his family.”

Associated Press reporter Tom Hays and Verena Dobnik contributed to this report.