DNA analyzes and new investigations mean that the police have now finally managed to establish the identity of the boy who has been nicknamed “Boy in the Box” and “America’s unknown child”.
Police said at the news conference Thursday that the case was Philadelphia’s oldest unsolved homicide case in history.
– His identity and existence had been taken from him. This announcement closes one chapter in the boy’s story, but it also opens a new one, said Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw.
It was 25 February 1957 that the murdered boy was found in a cardboard box in a neighborhood north-east of Philadelphia.
He was naked, and his small body, which was full of scars and bruises, was wrapped in a blanket. He was malnourished and had been beaten to death, according to the police.
They estimated that he was between four and six years old.
The scars on his body looked like they came from surgical incisions, and were most evident on his ankles and groin, and he also had an L-shaped scar under his chin.
400,000 leaflets were made with a picture of the boy, which were hung up and distributed all over Philadelphia. But no one missed him or recognized him.
The police have worked with many theories about who the boy was and what happened to him.
One lead was that he was a Hungarian refugee, another that he was a missing boy who had been kidnapped outside a Long Island supermarket two years earlier.
Police were also investigating a couple who worked as traveling carnival workers, and a family who had a foster home near the discovery site.
All were checked out of the case.
Then, in 2002, a woman named “Martha” from Ohio claimed that her mother had bought the boy from his parents in 1954, and that his name was Jonathan.
“Martha” further said that the mother kept the boy confined in the basement of their home, where he was abused physically and sexually, and that she had killed the boy during a fit of rage.
The authorities believed that “Martha” appeared credible, but her psychiatric medical history made them a little skeptical at the same time. Nor were they ever able to find any evidence to corroborate her story.
Thus, the murder case remained unsolved.
In 1998, the body was exhumed, so that the police could extract DNA. After that, he was given a new burial site, with a tombstone with the inscription “America’s unknown child”.
In 2019, he was exhumed again, for further DNA analyses.
The analysis work that has now led to the identity of the “boy in the box” has been carried out by Identifinders International. They are based in California, and work on difficult, unsolved cases around the world.
The boy was identified as Joseph Augustus Zarelli. He was born on January 13, 1953 in West Philadelphia.
But even though it is now known who the boy is, it remains a mystery who abused and killed him.
The police continue the hunt for the perpetrator or persons, now helped by the new information.
A reward of 20,000 dollars has also been promised to the person or persons who provide information leading to an arrest and conviction in the case.