Who was Joseph Augustus Zarelli? Police uncover the identity of “The Boy in the Box”


Who is Joseph Augustus Zarelli? Police uncover the identity of "The Boy in the Box"

During a news conference on Thursday, Philadelphia police identified the child known as the “boy in the box.” Learn more about Who is Joseph Augustus Zarelli and the unsolved homicide.



“Boy in the box” unsolved homicide

According to the Philadelphia Police Department, a small boy who was killed more than 60 years ago has been identified thanks to police investigation and DNA analysis. The “Boy in the box” case is Philadelphia’s oldest unsolved homicide.

On February 26, 1957, a youngster aged 4 to 6 was discovered dead in a box in a forested area in northeast Philadelphia. According to Philadelphia Police Capt. Jason Smith, the naked youngster had been severely battered. Commissioner Danielle Outlaw stated, no one ever came forward to claim him.


Who is Joseph Augustus Zarelli?

Smith recognized the boy as Joseph Augustus Zarelli, who was born on January 13, 1953. Genealogists used the boy’s DNA to seek prospective relatives and eventually established the identity of his birth parents, Smith said, adding that detectives discovered Joseph never received a Social Security number.

Smith stated that it is unclear who is to blame for Joseph’s death. “We have our suspicions about who might be responsible,” Smith added, citing the ongoing inquiry. Smith also did not reveal Joseph’s parents’ names.

“Joseph has a number of live siblings on both his mother’s and father’s sides. And it is out of respect for them that their parents’ information is kept private “He elaborated.

A memorial to the boy, who was believed to be between four and six years old.

A memorial to the boy, who was believed to be between four and six years old. 

A statement released by National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the “Boy in the Box” was discovered wrapped in a blanket inside a cardboard box in late February 1957 in a wooded area in northeast Philadelphia.

The youngster, who was thought to be between the ages of 4 and 6, had multiple scars on his body, according to the facility, and his hair had recently been roughly cropped and buzzed. He weighed only 30 pounds and appeared undernourished.

The boy’s name has remained unknown despite repeated attempts to identify him over the years, according to Philadelphia Police, who stated earlier this week that they have successfully identified the child through “detective work and DNA analysis.”

"Boy in the box"


Intensive quest for the suspect

According to police, he was emaciated and had been battered to death. A man’s newsboy cap in royal blue corduroy was discovered near the body, and investigators suspect it was worn by the killer. A freshly washed and patched flannel blanket also covered the body and provided another clue.

The boy’s picture was splashed all over the city as police attempted to identify him and find his killer. For the past six decades, the victim’s tombstone has simply read “America’s Unknown Child,” and investigators hope that with his identity in hand, criminal charges can still be filed.

Thousands of leads were followed and dismissed, including the possibility that he was a Hungarian immigrant, a boy taken outside a Long Island grocery in 1955, and several other missing children.

They looked into a couple of traveling circus workers and a family who ran a local foster home, but they were both ruled out as suspects.

An Ohio lady said her mother acquired the baby from his birth parents in 1954, kept him in their suburban Philadelphia home’s basement, and killed him in a fit of wrath.

Authorities considered her convincing but were unable to substantiate her story, resulting in yet another dead end.

The boy’s missing identity gnawed at police officers for generations, who took up the investigation.

Discovery of the body

The boy’s body, wrapped in a plaid blanket, was discovered in the woods off Susquehanna Road in Fox Chase, Philadelphia, in February 1957.

A young man was checking his muskrat traps when he discovered the body.

He did not report what he had discovered because he was afraid the authorities would seize his traps. A college student noticed a rabbit fleeing into the underbrush a few days later.

Knowing there were animal traps nearby, he pulled over to check and discovered the body.

He was likewise hesitant to inform the police, but he did report what he had discovered the next day, after learning of Mary Jane Barker’s abduction. On the side of Susquehanna Road, near where the body was discovered, there is a memorial sign.

The naked body was inside a cardboard box that had previously housed a J. C. Penney bassinet. As clumps of hair adhered to the body, the boy’s hair had been recently trimmed, possibly after death. Severe malnourishment was evident, as were surgical scars on the foot and groyne, as well as an L-shaped scar under the chin.




The body of the kid was unearthed twice, and DNA was retrieved on both occasions. Police are reported to have identified the youngster using genealogical DNA research, which involved searching for distant relatives in public databases and recreating the family tree.

Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, along with other law enforcement authorities, will testify Thursday, as will a genetic genealogist and the co-founder of the Vidocq Society, a group of professional sleuths who took up the ‘Boy in the Box’ case a quarter-century ago.

The boy’s remains were moved from Potter’s Field in Philadelphia to Ivy Hill Cemetery in 1998. Workers at Ivy Hill expressed delight this week that the victim’s gravestone will soon bear the boy’s real name. ‘I think it’s amazing,’ Ivy Hill Cemetery Secretary and Treasurer Dave Drysdale told KYW-TV.

‘Someday, there will be a name there, and it will be fantastic,’ Drysdale predicted. ‘I just wish the police officers and everyone else involved who died a long time ago were still here to witness it because that was one of their aspirations, and a couple of them stated “I hope they live long enough to have their name put on there.”



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