Boy in the Box (Philadelphia)

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"The Boy in the Box"
1957 poster
BornApprox. 1949 - 1954
StatusUnidentified for 62 years, 8 months and 18 days
DiedFebruary 1957 (aged 3-7)[1][2][3]
Cause of deathHomicide by blunt force trauma
Body discoveredFebruary 25, 1957
Fox Chase, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Resting placeIvy Hill Cemetery, Cedarbrook, Philadelphia
Other names"America's Unknown Child"
Known forUnidentified victim of homicide
Height3 ft 6 in (1.07 m)

The "Boy in the Box" is the name given to an unidentified murder victim, a 4 to 5-year-old boy, whose naked, battered body was found in a bassinet box in the Fox Chase section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on February 25, 1957. He is also commonly called "America's Unknown Child." His identity has never been discovered, and the case remains open.[4]

Discovery of the body[edit]

Crime scene where the body was found.

In February 1957, the boy's body, wrapped in a plaid blanket, was found in the woods off Susquehanna Road in Fox Chase, Philadelphia. The naked body was inside a cardboard box which had once contained a bassinet of the kind sold by J. C. Penney.[5][6] The boy's hair had been recently cropped, possibly after death, as clumps of hair clung to the body. There were signs of severe malnourishment, as well as surgical scars on the ankle and groin, and an L-shaped scar under the chin.[7]

The body was first discovered by a young man who was checking his muskrat traps. Fearing that the police would confiscate his traps, he did not report what he had found. A few days later, a college student spotted a rabbit running into the underbrush. Knowing that there were animal traps in the area, he stopped his car to investigate and discovered the body. He too was reluctant to have any contact with the police, but he did report what he had found the following day.


The police received the report and opened an investigation on February 26, 1957. The dead boy's fingerprints were taken, and police at first were optimistic that he would soon be identified. However, no one ever came forward with any useful information.[5]

The case attracted massive media attention in Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley. The Philadelphia Inquirer printed 400,000 flyers depicting the boy's likeness, which were sent out and posted across the area, and were included with every gas bill in Philadelphia.[7] The crime scene was combed over and over again by 270 police academy recruits, who discovered a man's blue corduroy cap, a child's scarf, and a man's white handkerchief with the letter "G" in the corner; all clues that led nowhere.[7][8] The police also distributed a post-mortem photograph of the boy fully dressed and in a seated position, as he may have looked in life, in the hopes it may lead to a clue.[7] Despite the publicity and sporadic interest throughout the years, the boy's identity is still unknown. The case remains unsolved to this day.

On March 21, 2016, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children released a forensic facial reconstruction of the victim and added him into their database.[1]

In August 2018 Barbara Rae-Venter, the genetic genealogist who helped to identify the Golden State Killer using a DNA profiling technique, said that she was using the same method to try to identify the Boy in the Box.[9] Amateur groups that use online databases, such as the Doe Network and Websleuths, have also tried to solve his identity.


Many tips and theories have been advanced in the case. Although most of these have been dismissed, two theories have generated considerable interest among the police and media. They have each been extensively investigated.

The foster home[edit]

Forensic facial reconstruction showing what the boy may have looked like when alive.

This theory concerns a foster home that was located approximately 1.5 miles (2.5 km) from the site of the body.

In 1960, Remington Bristow, an employee of the medical examiner's office who doggedly pursued the case until his death in 1993, contacted a New Jersey psychic, who told him to look for a house that matched the foster home. When the psychic was brought to the Philadelphia discovery site, she led Bristow directly to the foster home.[10]

Upon attending an estate sale at the foster home, Bristow discovered a bassinet similar to the one sold at J. C. Penney. He also discovered blankets hanging on the clothes line that were similar to the one in which the boy's body had been wrapped. Bristow believed that the boy belonged to the stepdaughter of the man who ran the foster home, and that they disposed of his body so the stepdaughter would not be exposed as an unwed mother.[6] He theorized that the boy's death had been an accident.[5]

Despite this circumstantial evidence, the police were not able to find many definite links between the Boy in the Box and the foster family.[6][8]

In 1998, Philadelphia police lieutenant Tom Augustine, who is in charge of the investigation, and several members of the Vidocq Society (a group of retired policemen and profilers), interviewed the foster father and the stepdaughter (whom he had married). The foster home investigation was closed.[10]

The woman known as "Martha" or "M"[edit]

Another theory was brought forward in February 2002 by a woman identified only as "Martha." Police considered "Martha"'s story to be plausible but were troubled by her testimony, as she had a history of mental illness.[8][11] "M" claimed that her abusive mother had "purchased" the unknown boy (whose name was Jonathan) from his birth parents in the summer of 1954.[6][12] Subsequently, the boy was subjected to extreme physical and sexual abuse for two and a half years. One evening at dinner, the boy vomited up his meal of baked beans and was given a severe beating, with his head slammed against the floor until he was semiconscious. He was given a bath, during which he died. These details matched information known only to the police, as the coroner had found that the boy's stomach contained the remains of baked beans and that his fingers were water-wrinkled.[6]

"M"'s mother cut the boy's distinctive long hair (accounting for the unprofessional haircut which police noted in their initial investigation) in an effort to conceal his identity. "M"'s mother forced "M" to assist her in dumping the boy's body in the Fox Chase area. "M" said that as they were preparing to remove the boy's body from the trunk of a car, a passing male motorist pulled alongside to inquire whether they needed help. "M" was ordered to stand in front of the car's license plate to shield it from view while the mother convinced the would-be Good Samaritan that there was no problem. The man eventually drove off. This story corroborated confidential testimony given by a male witness in 1957, who said that the body had been placed in a box previously discarded at the scene.[6]

In spite of the outward plausibility of "M"'s confession, police were unable to verify her story. Neighbors who had access to "M"'s house during the stated time period denied that there had been a young boy living there and dismissed "M"'s claims as "ridiculous."[13]

Other theories[edit]

Forensic artist Frank Bender developed a theory that the victim may have been raised as a girl. The child's unprofessional haircut, which appeared to have been performed in haste, was the basis for the scenario, as well as the appearance of the eyebrows having been styled. In 2008 Bender released a sketch of the unidentified child with long hair, reflecting the strands found on the body.[14]

In 2016, two writers, one from Los Angeles, California (Jim Hoffmann) and the other from New Jersey (Louis Romano), explained that they believed they had discovered a potential identity from Memphis, Tennessee and requested that DNA be compared between the family members and the child. The lead was originally discovered by a Philadelphia man (who introduced Romano and Hoffmann to each other) and was developed and presented, with the help of Hoffmann, to the Philadelphia Police Department and the Vidocq Society in early 2013. In December 2013, Romano became aware of the lead and agreed to help the man from Philadelphia and Hoffmann to obtain the DNA from this particular family member in January 2014 - which was sent quickly to the Philadelphia Police Department. Local authorities confirmed that they would investigate the lead, but said they would need to do more research on the circumstances surrounding the link to Memphis before comparing DNA. In December of 2017 Homicide Sgt. Bob Kuhlmeier confirmed that DNA taken from the Memphis man was compared to the Fox Chase boy, and there was no connection. [12]


The Boy in the Box was originally buried in a potter's field. In 1998, his body was exhumed for the purpose of extracting DNA, which was obtained from enamel on a tooth.[12] He was reburied at Ivy Hill Cemetery in Cedarbrook, Philadelphia, which donated a large plot. The coffin, headstone, and funeral service were donated by the son of the man who had buried the boy in 1957. There was significant public attendance and media coverage at the reburial. The grave has a large headstone bearing the words "America's Unknown Child." City residents keep the grave decorated with flowers and stuffed animals.[5]

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]


  • Evans, Colin (1996). The Casebook of Forensic Detection: How Science Solved 100 of the World's Most Baffling Crimes. New York: John Wiley & Sons Inc. ISBN 0-471-07650-3.
  • Hoffmann, Jim (2012). The Boy in the Box: America's Unknown Child (Revised Edition). Bloomington: Rooftop Publishing. ISBN 978-1-600-08034-0.
  • Newton, Michael (2004). The Encyclopedia of Unsolved Crimes. New York: Facts on File. ISBN 978-0-816-07818-9.
  • Stout, David (2008). Boy in the Box: The Unsolved Case of America's Unknown Child. United States of America: Lyons Press. ISBN 978-1-599-21269-2.
  • Thompson, Emily G. (2004). Unsolved Child Murders: Eighteen American Cases, 1956–1998. North Carolina: McFarland & Company Inc. ISBN 978-1-476-67000-3.


  1. ^ a b "John Doe 1957". National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. 21 March 2016. Retrieved 22 March 2016.
  2. ^ "4UMPA". The Doe Network. 23 July 2006. Retrieved 9 November 2019.
  3. ^ "NamUs UP# 13111". National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. 18 November 2014. Retrieved 9 November 2019.
  4. ^ "The Boy in the Box Mystery". Retrieved 26 June 2013.
  5. ^ a b c d "Boy Missing". Philadelphia City Paper. January 8, 2015. Archived from the original on January 17, 2015. Retrieved January 12, 2015.
  6. ^ a b c d e f "Boy in the Box". p. 2. Archived from the original on February 2, 2003. Retrieved 2012-04-27.
  7. ^ a b c d "Who Is The Boy In The Box?". Philadelphia Magazine. November 2003. Retrieved September 5, 2016.
  8. ^ a b c "". Retrieved 2012-04-27.
  9. ^ "Exclusive: The woman behind the scenes who helped capture the Golden State Killer". East Bay Times. 2018-08-24. Retrieved 2018-08-28.
  10. ^ a b "Topic: The Foster Family". Retrieved 2012-04-27.
  11. ^ "Boy in the Box". p. 4. Archived from the original on 2008-12-22. Retrieved 2012-04-27.
  12. ^ a b c Blacher, Mitch (2 March 2016). "New Theory in Decades-Old 'Boy in the Box' Cold Case". NBC 10 Investigates. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: NBC. Retrieved 4 March 2016.
  13. ^ "". Retrieved 2012-04-27.
  14. ^ Cuellar, Dann (21 May 2008). "NEW THEORY FOR "BOY IN THE BOX"". ABC Action News 6. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: ABC. Retrieved 4 March 2016.

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