The “Boy in the Box” case is the oldest unsolved murder in Philadelphia and has haunted the community and the police department for decades.
PHILADELPHIA — His name is Joseph Augustus Zarelli.
Nearly 66 years after the battered body of a young boy was found stuffed in a cardboard box, Philadelphia police say they have finally solved the central mystery in the city’s most notorious cold case: identity of the victim.
Releasing the name to the public on Thursday, authorities hope it will bring them closer to the boy’s killer and bring back the victim — known to generations of Philadelphians as “The Boy in the Box.” ” — a little dignity.
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said at a news conference that the city’s oldest unsolved murder has “haunted this community, the Philadelphia police department, our nation and the world.
“When people think of the boy in the box, a deep sadness is felt, not just because a child has been murdered, but because of his entire identity and rightful ownership,” she said. to possess his existence was taken away.
The murder investigation remains open, and authorities say they hope making Joseph’s name public will prompt a new set of leads. But they warn that the passage of time will further complicate the task.
“It will be an uphill battle for us to definitively determine who caused this child’s death,” said Captain Jason Smith, commanding officer of the homicide unit. “We may not make arrests. We may never make an identification. But we will do our best to try.”
Police say both Joseph’s father and mother are dead, but he has surviving siblings. They said his family lived west of Philadelphia.
The child’s naked, bruised body was found on February 25, 1957, in a wooded area in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Philadelphia. The 4-year-old was wrapped in a blanket and placed inside a large JCPenney bassinet. Police said he was malnourished. He was beaten to death.
The boy’s photo was plastered on a poster and plastered across the city as police worked to identify him and catch his killer.
Detectives pursued and eliminated hundreds of clues – that he was a Hungarian refugee, a boy kidnapped outside a supermarket on Long Island in 1955, and many other missing children. They investigated a pair of tourist festival employees and a family that operated a foster home nearby, but ruled them out as suspects.
An Ohio woman said her mother bought the boy from his biological parents in 1954, kept him in the basement of her suburban Philadelphia home, and killed him in a fit of rage. Authorities found her credible but were unable to corroborate her story – another dead end.
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All the while, the boy’s missing identity has gnawed at police officials, generations of whom have taken over the case.
They were given permission to exhume his body for DNA testing in 1998 and again in 2019, and it is that latest round of testing, combined with genetic pedigree, that has given police a big breakthrough.
The test results were uploaded to a DNA database, allowing genealogists to find a maternal match. Authorities received a court order on the vital records of any children born to the woman they suspect to be Joseph’s mother between 1944 and 1956, and found Joseph’s birth certificate, which also contained his father’s name.
William Fleisher, co-founder of a professional investigative group called the Vidocq Association that solved the Boy in the Box case a quarter of a century ago, says hundreds of investigators have poured “hearts and hearts” their souls” into finding out the boy’s identity. and the circumstances of his death since 1957.
“Many of these men and women are no longer with us, but I feel their souls are standing here right now with us,” Fleisher said at the press conference.
“Our boy is no longer the boy in the box. He has a name.”
Originally buried in the grave of a poor man, the boy’s remains now lie just inside the front gate of Ivy Hill Cemetery, under a weeping cherry tree and a headstone that reads him as “The Innocent Child” the name of America”. Services were held there every year on the anniversary of the boy’s discovery inside the box.
People often leave flowers and, at this time of year, Christmas decorations and toys.
“He’s always been special to all of us, because we don’t know who he is,” Dave Drysdale, the cemetery’s secretary and treasurer, said in a phone interview ahead of the press conference. .
Now they do. And now he’s got a name – his real name – that will be carved in stone.
Associated Press photographer Matt Rourke in Philadelphia contributed to this story.
https://www.king5.com/article/news/nation-world/phillys-slain-boy-in-box-66-years-later-identity-revealed/507-d22d715c-7842-4aac-a412-640e06e926f2 ‘Boy in Box’ update: Identity revealed by Philly police