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Sixty-six years Later, Police Reveals Identity Of The Murdered “Boy in the Box”


Sixty-six years Later, Police Reveals Identity Of The Murdered “Boy in the Box”

Police in the US city of Philadelphia has identified the young child who was discovered with injuries inside a cardboard box nearly 66 years ago as Joseph Augustus Zarelli.

The police are hoping it will help them catch the boy’s killer and restore some respect to the victim, well known to Philadelphians as the “Boy in the Box.”

According to Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, the oldest unsolved murder in the city has “haunted this community, the Philadelphia police department, our nation, and the world.”

“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.

Police claim that detective work and DNA testing were key in helping them identify Joseph. Authorities said they believed that disclosing Joseph’s identity would generate new leads in the ongoing murder probe.

But they issued a warning that the effort becomes more difficult as time goes on.

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

Joseph has living siblings, according to the police, even though both of his parents are deceased. He claimed to have a family in west Philadelphia.

On February 25, 1957, a child’s naked, severely beaten body was discovered in a forested section of Philadelphia’s Fox Chase neighborhood. The four-year-old child was placed into a sizable JCPenney bassinet box after being covered in a blanket.

According to the police, he had been battered to death and was malnourished.

In 1998 and again in 2019, they were permitted to exhume his body for DNA testing, and it was that most recent round of testing, along with genetic ancestry, that provided police their huge break.

Genealogists were able to find a match on the mother’s side thanks to the test results being uploaded to DNA databases. Authorities discovered Joseph’s birth certificate, which also included the name of his father, after obtaining a court order for vital data of any children born to the lady they assumed was Joseph’s mother between 1944 and 1956.

A group called the Vidocq Society, which took on the Boy in the Box case 25 years ago, was co-founded by William Fleisher. He claimed that hundreds of investigators had devoted “hearts and souls” to figure out the boy’s identity and the circumstances surrounding his death since 1957.

At the news conference, Mr. Fleisher said, “Many of these men and women are no longer with us, but I feel their souls are standing here right now with us.”

Now that boy in the crate is not our lad. His name is known. Police put up posters with the boy’s picture all around the city to find him and find his killer.

Detectives followed and abandoned hundreds of leads, including the possibility that he was a refugee from Hungary, a boy abducted in 1955 from outside a Long Island grocery, and numerous other missing children. They looked into two traveling carnival employees and a family running a local foster home, but they were not considered suspects. An Ohio lady claimed that her mother killed the baby in a fit of rage after buying him from his biological parents in 1954, keeping him in the basement of their house in a suburb of Philadelphia. Authorities considered her trustworthy but were unable to verify her claims.

The boy was once interred in a pauper’s tomb; today, his remains are located close to the entrance to Ivy Hill Cemetery, and his gravestone bears the inscription “America’s Unknown Child.” Every year on the day of the boy’s discovery, services are held there.

During this time of year, people frequently leave toys and flowers.

According to the secretary-treasurer of the cemetery, Dave Drysdale, “The boy has always been important to all of us because we don’t know who it is.”

The boy’s name will now be inscribed on the stone, according to Mr. Drysdale.

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