US police identify boy found dead in box after 65 years

DNA helped Philadelphia police identify the boy — but the case remains the city’s oldest unsolved homicide.

9 dec
– 06:22

(updated at 07:44)

The boy's face was reconstructed by a forensic artist

The boy’s face was reconstructed by a forensic artist

Photo: National Center for Missing & Exploited Children / BBC News Brasil

Police have identified a boy found dead in a box in the city of Philadelphia, in the United States, more than 60 years ago.

The child, known for generations as the “box boy”, has been identified as Joseph Augustus Zarelli.

According to police, DNA technology and investigative work helped to finally identify the body.

But the case remains the oldest unsolved homicide in the city.

The mystery “haunts this community,” said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw.

At a press conference on Wednesday (07/12), the police reported that they would not disclose the name of the child’s parents – and refused to say who was responsible for his death.

The investigation remains open, according to the police, who asked for the public’s help to obtain more details about the boy’s life.

Detectives had tried to use DNA tests to identify the victim from her remains, but the sample was found insufficient.

Later, a forensic expert was able to use the same DNA sample to identify the boy’s relatives.

Authorities combed through birth and adoption records to link the boy to his parents. He was born on Jan. 13, 1953, according to the department.

In February 1957, the remains of a boy between the ages of four and six were found wrapped in a blanket inside a cardboard crib box in a wooded area in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Philadelphia.

The boy, who was naked and badly bruised, weighed just 30 pounds and had several small scars across his body, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. He was beaten to death, according to police.

Posters with the boy’s picture were distributed throughout the city.

Local police, medical detectives and DNA analysts have been trying to crack the case for decades, following hundreds of leads locally and nationally.

The case has also become a fascination for volunteer professional detectives, including a group called the Vidocq Society, which police thanked for their help during Wednesday’s news conference.

Detectives followed thousands of leads to no avail, including that the boy had been kidnapped from a supermarket on Long Island, New York, and that he was a Hungarian refugee.

The boy’s remains were interred in a local cemetery with a headstone that reads “America’s Unknown Child”.

No one should “have to wait this long” for their name and life story to be revealed, the police commissioner said on Wednesday.

– This text was published in

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