Mysterious ‘kid in the box’ murder yields key clue, restoring child’s dignity

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By Creative Media News

The child’s nude, horribly battered, and the starved body was discovered in a Philadelphia forested area in February 1957, and his murderer has never been apprehended despite a complex investigation that captivated the nation.

Nearly seven decades after the battered remains of a young boy were discovered crammed into a cardboard box, US police have identified him.

Joseph Augustus Zarelli was the victim of one of the most infamous cold cases in Philadelphia.

The child’s naked, severely beaten body was discovered in Philadelphia’s Fox Chase neighborhood on February 25, 1957.

Now that authorities have established his identity, they hope it will bring them one step closer to locating the boy’s murderer and restore some amount of dignity to the victim, known to generations of Philadelphians as the “Boy in the Box.”

“When people think of the youngster in the box, they feel a great anguish, not just because a child was murdered, but also because his entire identity and his rightful claim to own his existence were stripped from him,” Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said during a news conference.

Mysterious 'kid in the box' murder yields key clue, restoring child's dignity
Mysterious 'kid in the box' murder yields key clue, restoring child's dignity

She stated that for nearly 66 years, the oldest unsolved homicide in the city has “haunted this community, the Philadelphia police force, our nation, and the world.

The homicide investigation continues, and investigators expressed hope that releasing Joseph’s name might generate new leads.

According to the police, Joseph’s parents are deceased, but he has living siblings.

The youngster was four years old and had been wrapped in a blanket and placed in a huge box when he was discovered.

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

The boy’s portrait was printed on a flyer that was distributed throughout the city while police attempted to identify and apprehend his murderer.

The indications, hints, and dead ends

Detectives pursued and disregarded hundreds of possibilities, including the possibility that he was a Hungarian immigrant, a boy who had been taken outside a Long Island store in 1955, and several other missing children.

They investigated a pair of traveling carnival employees and a local foster home family but ruled them out as suspects.

A woman from Ohio asserts her mother purchased the baby from his biological parents in 1954, hid him in the basement of their suburban Philadelphia house, and murdered him in a fit of wrath.

The authorities deemed her trustworthy but were unable to confirm her tale – another dead end.

Generations of police officers investigated the case.


In 1998 and again in 2019, they were granted permission to exhume his body for DNA testing, and it was this most recent round of testing, paired with genetic genealogy, that provided police their big break.

The victim’s DNA was so deteriorated, according to Dr. Colleen Fitzpatrick, head of Identifinders International, a business that employs forensic genetic genealogy to help law enforcement investigate cold cases, that it took two and a half years to recover enough data to run the genealogy.

The test results were submitted to DNA databases, resulting in a mother match.

Authorities got a court order for the birth records of any children born to the woman they believed to be Joseph’s mother between 1944 and 1956 and discovered Joseph’s birth certificate, which included his father’s name.

Finally, Headstone will have a name.

The boy’s bones were originally interred in a pauper’s tomb, but they now rest just inside the front gate of Ivy Hill Cemetery, behind a weeping cherry tree, with a headstone identifying him as “America’s Unknown Child.”

On the anniversary of the boy’s discovery inside the box, services have been held there annually.

People frequently leave flowers and Christmas decorations and toys at this time of year.

The cemetery’s secretary-treasurer, Dave Drysdale, stated, “The boy has always been important to us all since we do not know who he is.

Currently, they do. Now that he has a name – his actual name – it will be engraved on the stone.

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