‘Boy In The Box’: Police Found Child’s Identity After 65 Years



(CTN NEWS) – Boy In The Box –  Joseph Augustus Zarelli was his name.

66 years after a young boy’s battered body was found stuffed inside a cardboard box, Philadelphia police say they have finally solved the city’s most notorious cold case: the victim’s identity.

It is hoped that revealing the name will lead authorities closer to finding the Boy’s killer and give dignity to the victim – known to generations of Philadelphians as the “Boy In The Box .”

“The Boy In The Box brought profound sadness to everyone, not just because he was murdered, but because of the loss of his identity and right to exist,” said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw.

'Boy In The Box': Police Found Child's Identity After 65 Years

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw speaks with members of the media during a news conference in Philadelphia, Thursday, Dec. 8,

This community, the Philadelphia police department, our nation, and the world have been “haunted by the city’s oldest unsolved homicide.”

The homicide investigation remains open, and authorities hope to publicize Joseph’s name will generate new leads. The passage of time complicates the process, they cautioned.

“It will be difficult to determine who killed this child, according to Capt. Jason Smith. It is possible that we will not make an arrest. We may never be able to identify the person. We’ll try our darndest.”

'Boy In The Box': Police Found Child's Identity After 65 Years

Philadelphia Police Captain Jason Smith speaks with members of the media during a news conference in Philadelphia, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022

Joseph’s parents are both deceased, but he has living siblings. His family lived in west Philadelphia, they said.

The child’s naked, badly bruised body was discovered in a wooded area of Philadelphia’s Fox Chase neighbourhood on Feb. 25, 1957.

In a large JCPenney bassinet box, the Boy, who was 4 years old, was wrapped in a blanket. He was malnourished, according to police. He had been beaten to death.

To identify and catch his killer, police plastered the Boy’s photo all over the city.

A 1957 police bulletin requesting information in the case of "America's Unknown Child," a body found February 25, 1957 in a box in a thicket in Fox Chase, Philadelphia, P.A. (AP Photo)

Detectives pursued and discarded hundreds of leads, including that he was a Hungarian refugee. He was also a kidnapped boy outside a Long Island supermarket in 1955 and with various other missing children.

A family who operated a nearby foster home and a pair of travelling carnival workers were also investigated but ruled out as suspects.

In 1954, her mother bought the Boy from his birth parents, kept him in the basement of their suburban Philadelphia home, and killed him. Despite finding her credible, authorities were unable to corroborate her story.

The Boy’s missing identity gnawed at police officials for generations.

'Boy In The Box': Police Found Child's Identity After 65 Years

William C. Fleisher, with the Vidocq Society, center, Philadelphia Police Captain Jason Smith, and Dr. Constance DiAngelo, Philadelphia Chief Medical Examiner, listen during a news conference in Philadelphia, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022.

He was exhumed for DNA testing in 1998 and again in 2019, and the latter test, coupled with genetic genealogy, gave police their big break.

Colleen Fitzpatrick, president of Identifinders International, which uses forensic genetic genealogy to help law enforcement investigate cold cases, said the DNA was so degraded that it took two and a half years to extract enough data to do the genealogy.

Using DNA databases, genealogists could find a match on the child’s maternal side.

They obtained a court order seeking vital records of any children born between 1944 and 1956 to the woman they suspected was Joseph’s mother. They found Joseph’s birth certificate, which also listed his father’s name.

According to William Fleisher, the co-founder of the Vidocq Society, which investigated the Boy In The Box case 25 years ago, hundreds of investigators have devoted their “hearts and souls” to determining the Boy’s identity.

“I feel their souls are now standing with us, even though many of them are no longer with us,” Fleisher said.

The Boy In The Box is no longer our lad. There is a name for him.”

Ivy Hill Cemetery’s headstone designates him as “America’s Unknown Child.”

'Boy In The Box': Police Found Child's Identity After 65 Years

The gravesite of a small boy whose battered body was found abandoned in a cardboard box decades ago is seen in Philadelphia, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022.

He lies inside the gate, under a weeping cherry tree, where his remains were originally buried in a pauper’s grave. On the anniversary of his discovery inside the box, services have been held yearly.

This time of year, people often leave Christmas decorations, toys, and flowers.

Dave Drysdale, the cemetery’s secretary-treasurer, said in a phone interview ahead of the news conference that “the Boy has always been special to all of us because we do not know who he is.”

They now do. His real name will be engraved on the stone now that he has a name.

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