Boy in the Box (Philadelphia)

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"The Boy in the Box"
BoyInBoxPoster.jpg
1957 poster
Born approx. 1950 - 1953
Status Unidentified for 60 years, 3 months and 27 days
Died February 1957 (aged 3-7)
Cause of death Homicide by blunt force trauma
Body discovered February 25, 1957
Fox Chase, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Resting place Ivy Hill Cemetery, Cedarbrook, Philadelphia
Other names "America's Unknown Child"
Known for Unidentified victim of homicide
Height 3 ft 6 in (1.07 m)
Weight 30 lb (14 kg)

The "Boy in the Box" is the name given to an unidentified murder victim, 3 to 7 years old, whose naked, battered body was found in a cardboard 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.[2]

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.[3][4] 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.[5]

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 his find the following day.

Investigation[edit]

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.[3]

The case attracted massive media attention in Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley. The Philadelphia Inquirer pressed 400,000 flyers depicting the boy's likeness, which flooded the area, and were included with every gas bill in Philadelphia.[5] The crime scene was combed over and over again by 270 police academy recruits, who discovered a child's blue corduroy cap, a child's scarf, and handkerchief; all clues that lead nowhere.[5] The police even went so far as to distribute a postmortem 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.[5] 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 facial reconstruction of the victim and added him onto their database.[6]

Theories[edit]

Many tips and theories have been advanced in the case. Although most of these have been dismissed, two theories have excited considerable interest among the police and media, and they have 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.[7]

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.[4] He theorized that the boy's death had been an accident.[3]

Despite this circumstantial evidence, the police were not able to find any definite links between the Boy in the Box and the foster family.[4][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 interview seemed to confirm that the family was not involved in the murder. The foster home investigation was closed.[7] A DNA test showed that the stepdaughter was not the boy's mother.[1]

The woman known as "M"[edit]

Another theory was brought forward in February 2002 by a woman identified only as "M." Police considered "M"'s story to be plausible but were troubled by her testimony, as she had a history of mental illness.[8][9] When interviewed, neighbors who had access to "M"'s house denied that there had been a young boy living in the house. They said that "M"'s claims were "ridiculous."[10]

"M" claimed that her abusive mother had "purchased" the unknown boy (whose name was Jonathan) from his birth parents in the summer of 1954.[4][11] Subsequently, the boy was subjected to extreme physical and sexual abuse for two and a half years. He was then killed in a fit of rage by being slammed to the floor after vomiting in the bathtub. "M"'s mother then cut the boy's long hair (accounting for the unprofessional haircut which police noted in their initial investigation). The boy's body was then dumped in the Fox Chase area.[4]

"M" went on to say 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. The two women ignored the would-be Good Samaritan (while being careful to shield their car's license plate from his view). 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.[4]

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. Bender later released a sketch of the unidentified child with long hair, reflecting the strands found on the body.[12]

Following the 59th anniversary of the discovery of the boy's body in 2016, two writers, one from Los Angeles, California (Jim Hoffmann) the other from New York, New York (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 then 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 personally 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, yet they stated that they would need to do more research on the circumstances surrounding the link to Memphis before comparing DNA.[11]

Burial[edit]

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.[11] 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.[3]

Recent media coverage[edit]

The story was profiled in the television series America's Most Wanted on October 3, 1998, and on July 12, 2008. The television series Cold Case, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit have all used fictionalized accounts of the Boy in the Box case. Reporter Mitch Blacher of NBC 10 Philadelphia aired an investigative piece on NBC 10 Investigators on March 2, 2016 entitled, "New Theory on Decades-Old 'Boy in the Box' Cold Case."

See also[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

  • The Boy in the Box: America's Unknown Child (revised edition) by Jim Hoffmann, Susquehanna Road Publishing, 2012, 284 pages
  • Boy in the Box: The Unsolved Case of America's Unknown Child By David Stout
  • You Think I'm Dead: Based on the True Story of the Boy in the Box (Detective Vic Gonnella series) by Louis Romano, Vecchia Publishing, 2015, 364 pages

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b David Stout (2008). Boy in the Box: The Unsolved Case of America's Unknown Child. Lion's Press. pp. 26; 231–232; 238. 
  2. ^ "The Boy in the Box Mystery". americasunknownchild.net. Retrieved 26 June 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Boy Missing". Philadelphia City Paper. January 8, 2015. Retrieved January 12, 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Boy in the Box". courttv.com. p. 2. Archived from the original on February 2, 2003. Retrieved 2012-04-27. 
  5. ^ a b c d "Who Is The Boy In The Box?". Philadelphia Magazine. November 2003. Retrieved September 5, 2016. 
  6. ^ "John Doe 1957". missingkids.org. National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. 21 March 2016. Retrieved 22 March 2016. 
  7. ^ a b "Topic: The Foster Family". americasunknownchild.net. Retrieved 2012-04-27. 
  8. ^ a b "americasunknownchild.net". Retrieved 2012-04-27. 
  9. ^ "Boy in the Box". courttv.com. p. 4. Retrieved 2012-04-27. 
  10. ^ "americasunknownchild.net". americasunknownchild.net. Retrieved 2012-04-27. 
  11. ^ 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. 
  12. ^ Cuellar, Dann (21 May 2008). "NEW THEORY FOR "BOY IN THE BOX"". ABC Action News 6. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: ABC. Retrieved 4 March 2016. 

External links[edit]