The ‘Boy In The Box’ Finally Identified 65 Years After His Body Was Discovered

Over six decades after a little boy’s remains were found in a box in Philadelphia in February 1957, he has been identified as Joseph Augustus Zarelli.

January 25, 2023
A rendering of Joseph Augustus Zarelli, whose body was found in Feb. 1957.

Over six decades after a little boy’s remains were found in a box in Philadelphia in February 1957, he has been identified as Joseph Augustus Zarelli.

Photo by: Philadelphia Police Department

Philadelphia Police Department

On Feb. 25, 1957, a college student was wandering in a wooded area of Philadelphia’s Fox Chase neighborhood when he found the dead body of a little boy in a box. The child had been beaten to death and wrapped in a blanket before being left in a JC Penney box he was found in. He was malnourished and had seven scars, three of which may have been surgical scars, according to The Doe Network which is part of the International Center for Unidentified & Missing Persons.

For years, this unknown child was mostly known as “The Boy In The Box”, although his gravestone referred to him as "America's Unknown Child". His death was ruled a homicide by blunt-force trauma, but police knew little else about his life or death. A poster with the boy’s photo was plastered all over the city, but the unsolved murder of the unidentified child haunted the police department and the Philadelphia community for decades.

Then, after nearly 66 years, on Dec. 6, 2022, Philadelphia police held a news conference to reveal they had used the latest DNA and genetic genealogy techniques to identify the boy, according to The New York Times. His name was Joseph Augustus Zarelli. He’d been born on Jan. 13, 1953, and he was only 4 years old when he died.

“When people think about the boy in the box, a profound sadness is felt, not just because a child was murdered, but because his entire identity and his rightful claim to own his existence was taken away," Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said, reported WTHR.

According to ABC6, Philadelphia Police Captain Jason Smith shared that the boy’s biological parents are dead, but he has living siblings. He said, "Joseph has a number of siblings on both the mother and father side who are living and it's out of respect for them that their parents' information remain confidential.”

Smith added, "We have our suspicions as to who may be responsible, but it would be irresponsible of me to share these suspicions as this remains an ongoing and active criminal investigation."

Police hope that Joseph’s newly released identity will lead to fresh leads in the case. Outlaw tweeted that “the search for justice continues. If you have any information on his homicide, please call 215-686-TIPS (8477). As with all homicides, there is a standing $20k reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of a suspect.”

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