On February 25th, 1957, a young boy’s body was found naked and beaten. The discovery was made on the side of a road in Philadelphia. “The Boy in the Box” was found by a college student by the name of Frederick Benosis. He reported his finding and described the boy as being between ages 4-6, wrapped in a flannel blanket, then stuffed inside a JCPenney box.
Waiting to Report the ‘boy in the box’
Interestingly, the ‘boy in the box,’ sometimes referred to as ‘America’s Unknown Child’ was found 2 days before the official report. However, the first person to discover the boy’s body was out checking his illegal traps and was afraid to make the report. Oddly enough, Frederick was also involved in questionable behavior and waited an extra day to make the report. He was spying on the women at the Good Shepherd School. As a result, he was worried about the consequences if he went straight to the police.
Announcing a Missing Child
Not long after, the whole of Philadelphia was aware of this mysterious and tragic case. The city plastered pictures all over the city, including on the Gas bills that were received by residents. The ‘boy in the box’ was recounted as having blue eyes, a fair complexion, and light brown/dirty blond hair. Despite not knowing exactly how long the boy had been there, investigators believe it could have been anywhere from 2-3 days to 2-3 weeks.
Stumped and without Answers
Police initially thought it would be easy to identify the boy. They hoped someone would report their missing child, whose description would match the unidentified child. Despite his bruises, authorities noted that he had neatly manicured nails, leading them to believe someone would file a missing person report. Unfortunately, no report was ever made. As a result, police moved forward with their investigation.
Their next avenue was examining the box. The box was from a baby bassinet, in which only 12 were sold at the JCPenney store. However, they could not locate the 12th family, so they still had no answers. Although they ran fingerprints through the national data, the ‘boy in the box’ didn’t match anything in their system. Despite authorities having several leads, nothing ever came of them.
The true identity of the ‘boy in the box’
In 1996, the city erected his tombstone, simply reading, ‘America’s Unknown Child’. However, after 65 years of this cold case looming over the city of Philadelphia, authorities announced the true identity of the ‘boy in the box.’ Thanks to advancements in genetic testing, they could confirm his name was Joseph Augustus Zarelli.
How did they do it? In 2019, they obtained more DNA from the body and cross-referenced it with existing genealogy databases. From there, they were able to track down existing members of his family. They located a possible identity of the boy’s birth mother. Next, they examined birth records from that time, in which they found 3 possible options. Of these results, one was a male child born around the same time officials believe the ‘boy in the box’ to have been. The birth certificate listed a father, so detectives reached out to the paternal side of his family. They then were able to confirm Joseph’s identity and his birth date, Jan. 13, 1953.
Bill Kelly was fingerprint expert who initially person who took the boy’s fingerprints 65 years ago. He never forgot about the case and his granddaughter has been interviewed, commenting on the discovery. Jessica Greene told ABC, “He never forgot about that image. I mean how could you?” She continued, “Those fingerprints were ingrained in his mind his whole life, and when he closed his eyes in his mind that’s what he saw.”
- “Philadelphia police reveal identity of child found dead inside a box 65 years ago. CNN. Mark Morales and Dakin Andone. December 9, 2022.
- “Boy in the box: America’s unknown child – historic mysteries.” Historic Mysteries. Jim H. Retrieved December 9, 2022.
- “‘America’s unknown child’ identified solving mystery after 65 years.” Unilad. Daisy Phillipson December 2, 2022.