On Thursday, Philadelphia police announced the identity of the “Boy in the Box” – 66 years after a 4-year-old child was found dead inside a container in woods outside the city.
Joseph August Zarelli was the identity of the body found naked and badly bruised on Feb. 25, 1957 in a wooded portion of Philadelphia’s Fox Chase neighborhood, police announced.
The 4-year-old had been wrapped in a blanket and placed inside a large JCPenney bassinet box. He was severely malnourished, covered in bruises, and had been beaten to death, police said.
“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,” Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw stated.
“This announcement only closes one chapter in this little boy’s story while opening up a new one. This is still an active homicide investigation and we still need the public’s help in filling in this child’s life story.”
Philadelphia’s oldest unsolved homicide has finally been solved, according to Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw.
Joseph’s name has not been revealed to the public yet, but law enforcement officials are hoping that it will lead to new tips in the case. They also warned citizens that even though many years have passed, they still hope to bring Joseph justice.
“It’s going to be an uphill battle for us to definitively determine who caused this child’s death,” Captain Jason Smith, the commanding officer of the city’s homicide unit said.
“We may not make an arrest. We may never make an identification. But we’re going to do our darnedest to try.”
Smith mentioned that the police department has suspicions about who killed the child, but cannot share them openly as the investigation is still ongoing.
“If this technology had been available to us 20 years ago, it might be a completely different story — because once you identify who the child is, you start (interviewing) family members. Well at this point of time, a lot of the family members who would have been old enough to have a memory of any incident that might have occurred are normally long gone,” Smith stated.
According to officials, both of Joseph’s parents have passed away, but he has siblings who are still living. The family used to live in west Philadelphia. Out of respect for the family, police have not shared the names of the deceased parents.
Police put up his picture on a poster around town after finding his body, in an attempt to identify him and find his killer. Over the span of six decades, many different police officers have tried to solve this case.
After receiving permission to exhume his body for DNA testing in 1998 and again in 2019, police were able to upload the results to DNA databases. This allowed genealogists to make a match with him on the maternal side.
After obtaining a court order for records of children born to the woman they suspected was Joseph’s mother between 1944 and 1956, authorities found Joseph’s birth certificate, which also listed his father’s name.
His remains are at Ivy Hill Cemetery with a headstone that currently reads “America’s Unknown Child,” but will soon be changed to read his name: Joseph August Zarelli.