In almost every way, Pedro Hernandez has been an unremarkable presence in this working-class town outside Camden, N.J.

Neighbors said he lives quietly with his wife and daughter, joins them at church occasionally and rarely emerges from his small bungalow apartment except to smoke a cigarette now and then.

That changed on Thursday, when Hernandez was arrested in connection with the murder of six-year-old Etan Patz, who vanished while walking to school on May 25, 1979 -- one of the most famous unsolved crimes in modern New York City history.

New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said the 51-year-old Hernandez confessed under questioning this week to luring the boy into the basement of a Manhattan convenience store where he worked as a stock clerk, strangling him and discarding the body in the trash.

The extraordinary development in a decades-old cold case drew throngs of reporters to Hernandez's home, shattering the anonymity of the tree-lined neighborhood.

"He's the kind of neighbor everybody should have," next-door neighbor and retired police officer Chuck Diehn said.

"He doesn't make any noise. You never hear from him. That was it.

"You wouldn't even know he was here, other than he would come out and have a cigarette. A church mouse would be too loud."

The one indulgence the family seemed to enjoy was to hold parties of 10 to 15 people in the backyard during the warm weather and in the cellar when it was cooler.

Neighbors said Hernandez did not appear to be employed. Kelly said he has been on disability since 1993, when he was injured while working in construction.

Early Wednesday, Diehn noticed odd activity at his neighbor's house. He saw several local and unmarked police cars outside Hernandez's home.

An officer from the Maple Shade Police Department went to the door, and a few moments later Hernandez and his family walked with the officer to an unmarked police car.

"There wasn't any expression on his face," Diehn said.

Gilbert Lopez, who identified himself as a brother-in-law of Hernandez, said the suspect is one of about 12 children. Their mother died about seven years ago, and with her death, the family's large Thanksgiving gatherings came to an end.

Lopez, 45, said he was shaken by the news of his brother-in-law's arrest.

"A good family man. Quiet. Always nice," Lopez said. "I can't believe all this is happening."

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