Boy in the Box: Philadelphia police reveal identity of child found dead inside box 65 years ago


“The Boy in the Box” finally has a name.

Police on Thursday publicly identified a boy was found dead in a box in Philadelphia 65 years ago as Joseph Augustus Zarelli, four years old, the victim of what police say is one of the city’s oldest unsolved murders.

The identification, made through DNA analysis, represents the biggest breakthrough for investigators in the decades-long cold case, which began in late February 1957, when the child was discovered wrapped in a blanket inside a cardboard box, displaying evidence “of the past and recent”. trauma,” said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw.

Outlaw told reporters on Thursday that the case had attracted “huge” public interest. But no one has come forward to claim Joseph as their son, and his identity remains a mystery despite many years of efforts to identify him.

That changed this week when police announced they had successfully identified the child through detective work and with the help of genetic genealogists – an area that in recent years has led to many breakthroughs in cold circumstances, including in it the infamous Golden State assassinand family reunion with missing loved ones.

“For sixty-five years, the story of America’s Unknown Child has haunted this community, the Philadelphia Police Department, our nation, and the world,” said Outlaw, who opened the news conference. on Thursday by praising generations of police officers who worked on the case, some of whom are no longer alive. “Despite the fact that Joseph Augustus Zarelli’s entire identity and legitimate claim to existence have been taken away, he has never been forgotten.”

Officials hope the techniques used to identify Joseph over the years will aid them in other and more chilling cases in the future; The breakthrough “gives hope that there will never be an unidentified murder victim in the City of Philadelphia,” Outlaw said.

However, while officials this week are celebrating Joseph’s identity, the investigation into who was responsible for his death is still ongoing.

“We have doubts about who might be responsible, but it would be irresponsible for me to share these suspicions as this is still an active and ongoing criminal investigation,” said Captain Jason. Smith of the Philadelphia Police homicide unit. He hopes the ID news will prompt a “rain of advice from the public,” but admits the age of the case leaves investigators facing an “uphill battle.”

“We might not make an arrest,” Smith said. “We may never be able to identify (of the killer). But we will do our best to try.”

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw speaks during a news conference about the cold-blooded murder case known as

It was February 25, 1957, when Joseph’s body was found in a box near Susquehanna Street, in a wooded area northeast of Philadelphia. At the time, Outlaw told reporters on Thursday that it was clear the child had “experienced horrors that no one, no one deserved.”

He was “brutally beaten,” Smith added, and multiple bruises could be seen on his body. His hair was “roughly cut close to the scalp.”

An autopsy confirmed the child was between the ages of 4 and 6 and found that he “had multiple abrasions, infections, subdural hemorrhages, and pleural effusions,” Smith said. Injuries are basically the same as trauma caused by strong force.

The public was very interested in the case, and police received and followed hundreds of tips from the local area and across the country. “However, nothing could lead them to identify the child,” Smith said, adding that solving a murder case and bringing the killer to justice becomes extremely difficult when the victim has not yet been identified.

While DNA was discovered in the 1800s, by the 1950s DNA technology had not advanced much, Dr. Constance D’Angelo, chief medical examiner, explained on Thursday. Instead, “visual recognition” is the main method of identifying people, she said, and so authorities have posted pictures of the child in newspapers, posted posters around the city and even attached photos of receipts. gasoline sent to the people.

However, there was no breakthrough in the case.

The boy was originally buried in a potter’s field in Philadelphia, where it lay until 1998 when his remains were unearthed before being reburied later at Ivy Hill Cemetery, where there is a plaque. Today’s beer has the words “Unknown Child of America”.

Smith said investigators have retained part of the child’s body for future testing. But DNA tests at the time yielded no new clues.

Smith said police exhumed the remains again in 2019 when it was determined that the case could benefit from more modern forensic techniques.

This time, the DNA test results have been uploaded to the DNA database, Smith said. And with the help of genetic genealogists at Identifinders International, a forensic genetic genealogy company, detectives were able to locate and contact the child’s maternal relatives.

Investigators identified his biological mother and obtained his birth records, which also included the father’s name. Further research led detectives to an individual later confirmed through additional testing as the child’s father.

Police declined to identify the child’s parents, but Smith said they were both dead. However, Joseph has siblings who are still alive.

In the meantime, the Vidocq Association, a Philadelphia crime-solving club that has been one of the advocates of the case for years, is preparing a name for the child’s grave.

“Joseph Augustus Zarelli will no longer be the boy in that box,” said Bill Fletcher of the Vidocq Association on Thursday, “and will no longer be a mystery.”


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