‘Boy in the Box’ Mysterious Murder Gets Vital Lead & Restores Child’s Dignity | US News

Nearly seventy years after the mangled body of a little boy was found stuffed in a cardboard box, US police have revealed his identity.

Joseph Augustus Zarelli was the victim of one of Philadelphia’s most famous cold cases.

The boy’s naked and badly bruised body was found on February 25, 1957, in a wooded area of ​​Philadelphia’s Fox Chase neighborhood.

Now police have finally discovered his identity and hope it will bring them one step closer to finding the boy’s killer and give the victim – known to generations of Philadelphians as the “boy in the box” – a measure of dignity.

“When people think of the boy in the box, there is deep sadness, not just that a child has been murdered, but that his entire identity and his rightful claim to own existence have been taken away,” said the Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw at a press conference.

He said the city’s oldest unsolved homicide “has haunted this community, the Philadelphia Police Department, our nation and the world” for nearly 66 years.

The murder investigation remains open, and authorities said they hoped publicizing Joseph’s name would spur a new round of leads.

Police said both of Joseph’s parents are dead, but that he has siblings alive.

When the boy was discovered, he was four years old and had been wrapped in a blanket and placed inside a large box.

Police say he was malnourished and had been beaten to death.

The boy’s photo was put up on a poster and hung around the city as police worked to identify him and catch his killer.

The leads, the clues and the dead ends

Investigators chased and dismissed hundreds of leads: whether he was a Hungarian refugee, a boy who had been kidnapped outside a Long Island supermarket in 1955, a variety of other missing children.

They investigated a pair of itinerant factory workers and a family who ran a nearby foster home, but ruled them out as suspects.

An Ohio woman claimed her mother bought the boy from his birth parents in 1954, kept him in the basement of their suburban Philadelphia home, and killed him in a fit of rage.

Authorities found her credible but could not confirm her story – another dead end.

Generations of police officers took over the case.


They got permission to exhume her body for DNA testing in 1998 and again in 2019, and it was that last round of testing, combined with genetic genealogy, that gave the police their big break.

Dr Colleen Fitzpatrick, president of Identifinders International, a company that uses forensic genetic genealogy to help law enforcement investigate cold cases, said the victim’s DNA was so degraded it took two years and means of work to be able to extract enough data to perform the genealogy.

The test results were uploaded into DNA databases, leading to a match on the baby’s maternal side.

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

The tombstone will finally have a name

Originally buried in a pauper’s grave, the boy’s remains now lie just beyond the main gate of Ivy Hill Cemetery, under a weeping cherry tree, and a headstone designates him as “America’s Unknown Child”.

Services were held there annually on the anniversary of the boy’s discovery inside the box.

People often leave flowers and, at this time of year, Christmas decorations and toys.

“The boy has always been special to all of us, because we don’t know who he is,” said Dave Drysdale, cemetery secretary-treasurer.

Now they do. And now that she has a name, his real name will be engraved in stone.


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