Child In ‘Boy In The Box’ Cold Case Killing Identified By Philadelphia Police

His name was Joseph Augustus Zarelli.

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

Revealing the name to the public Thursday, authorities hope it will bring them a step closer to the boy’s killer and give the victim — known to generations of Philadelphians as the “Boy in the Box” — a small measure of dignity.

The city’s oldest unsolved homicide has “haunted this community, the Philadelphia police department, our nation, and the world,” Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said at a news conference.

“When people think about the boy in the box, a profound sadness is felt, not just because a child was murdered, but because his entire identity and his rightful claim to own his existence was taken away,” she said.

The child's grave marker in a Philadelphia cemetery is seen. His name will be etched on the stone.
The child’s grave marker in a Philadelphia cemetery is seen. His name will be etched on the stone.

The homicide investigation remains open, and authorities said they hoped publicizing Joseph’s name would spur a fresh round of leads. But they cautioned the passage of time complicates the task.

“It’s going to be an uphill battle for us to definitively determine who caused this child’s death,” said Capt. Jason Smith, commanding officer of the homicide unit. “We may not make an arrest. We may never make an identification. But we’re going to do our darndest to try.”

Police said both of Joseph’s parents are dead, but that he has living siblings. They said his family lived in west Philadelphia.

The child’s naked, badly bruised body was found on Feb. 25, 1957, in a wooded area of Philadelphia’s Fox Chase neighborhood. The boy, who was 4 years old, had been wrapped in a blanket and placed inside a large JCPenney bassinet box. Police say he was malnourished. He’d been beaten to death.

The boy’s photo was put on a poster and plastered all over the city as police worked to identify him and catch his killer.

Officials, seen at a news conference in Philadelphia on Thursday, said the boy's parents are dead but that he has some siblings still alive.
Officials, seen at a news conference in Philadelphia on Thursday, said the boy’s parents are dead but that he has some siblings still alive.

Detectives pursued and discarded hundreds of leads — that he was a Hungarian refugee, a boy who’d been kidnapped outside a Long Island supermarket in 1955, a variety of other missing children. They investigated a pair of traveling carnival workers and a family who operated 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 couldn’t corroborate her story — another dead end.

All the while, the boy’s missing identity gnawed at police officials, generations of whom took up the case.

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

The test results were uploaded to DNA databases, allowing genealogists to make a match on the maternal side. Authorities obtained a court order for vital records of any children born to the woman they suspected was Joseph’s mother between 1944 and 1956, and found Joseph’s birth certificate, which also listed the name of his father.

William Fleisher, the co-founder of a group of professional sleuths called the Vidocq Society that took up the Boy in the Box case a quarter-century ago, said that hundreds of investigators had poured their “hearts and souls” into learning the boy’s identity and the circumstances of his death since 1957.

“Many of these men and women aren’t with us anymore, but I feel their souls are standing here at this moment with us,” Fleisher said at the news conference.

“Now our lad is no longer that boy is in the box. He has a name.”

Originally buried in a pauper’s grave, the boy’s remains now lie just inside the front gate at Ivy Hill Cemetery, under a weeping cherry tree, and a headstone designates him as “America’s Unknown Child.” Services have been held there each year on the anniversary of the boy’s discovery inside the box.

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

“The boy has always been special to all of us, because we don’t know who it is,” Dave Drysdale, the cemetery’s secretary-treasurer, said in a phone interview ahead of the news conference.

Now they do. And now that he has a name — his real name — it will be etched on the stone.

fbq('init', '1621685564716533'); fbq('track', "PageView");

var _fbPartnerID = null; if (_fbPartnerID !== null) { fbq('init', _fbPartnerID + ''); fbq('track', "PageView"); }

(function () { 'use strict'; document.addEventListener('DOMContentLoaded', function () { document.body.addEventListener('click', function(event) { fbq('track', "Click"); }); }); })();

You May Also Like

Man shot, killed at house used as illegal gambling location, SAPD says

SAN ANTONIO – A man in his 30s was shot and killed…

Iliman Ndiaye's Sheffield United state of play as Everton talks held amid report of £20m bid

A report claims the Toffees have made an offer for the Blades…

Oregon Authorities Warn Violent Fugitive Is Using Dating Apps to Find Help

Authorities in Oregon are searching for a man who was convicted in…

Warning from Europe’s defence chief as more nations line up to send more tanks to help Ukraine

Russia is now engaged in ‘a war against Nato and the West’,…

Eastman Earnings Report 2022

KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) — Eastman Chemical Co. reported fourth-quarter and full-year earnings…

Eva Green made ‘crazy’ hiring suggestions including Christopher Nolan for her doomed sci-fi movie

Hollywood star Eva Green made ‘crazy’ suggestions about hiring elite staff including Batman…

'Tastes like promotion' – Sheffield Wednesday supporters react to Aden Flint signing

The giant defender has sealed a return to Hillsborough, joining on loan…

Traffic stop leads to arrest for MDPV trafficking and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon

BY JENNIFER CABRERA GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Matthew Quion Antonio Lindsey, 30, was…

Marilyn Mosby’s Legal Team Wants to Leave Perjury Case

Marilyn Mosby speaks about a federal indictment filed against her. (Image via…

Predatory Drug Dealers Targeting Vulnerable Single Moms – Scioto County Daily News

Predatory Drug Dealers Targeting Vulnerable Single Moms Drug dealers, often ruthless and…

A frosty start for some, sunshine for all

Clear skies with areas of frost this morning.  Becoming sunny with less…

Man arrested after shining laser at Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office helicopter: deputies

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — A man was arrested Thursday after deputies…