The Boy in the Box

“America’s Unknown Child”

The Boy in the Box

Salu Lee

In late February 1957, in Philadelphia’s Fox Chase neighborhood, walking through a cold shrouded forest, a college student attending La Salle College hoped to catch a glimpse of the girls attending Sisters of Good Shepard. While he made his way through the brush, he found a box, which seemed to contain a human-like doll. He brushed it off and continued on his way, only to find out it was not a doll. This is the Sad Case of The Boy in the Box. This is only one of many cases that involve an unknown child that goes missing.

Trigger warning. This case speaks about child abuse, death, murder, and blood!! Don’t read this if any of these triggers you, read at your own risk.

When the police arrived at the scene where the Boy in The Box was found, he was naked, his body had bruises, his face seemed to be drained of blood, he was wrapped with a flannel blanket, and he was inside a box that used to contain a bassinet. They were unsure of his age and assumed he was between the age of four-six years old. They determined him to be malnourished because his ribs were visible through the skin located on his chest and that he had died from being beaten to death, specifically blunt force trauma to his head. Though, the big question that left everyone bothered was “who is the Boy in The Box?”

After analyzing the body, medical examiners found that before the boy died, he was clean, he had gotten got his nails trimmed, and had gotten a haircut by someone unknown. This led the public to believe that the killer had did this to hide his identity, but this theory could not be proved. They also found multiple scars and bruises on his body that were located on his foot, chin, and forehead. There were multiple healed scars on his ankle and groin that seemed to be surgical scars and the medical examiners also suggested that he had recently been inside a body of water because his right hand and feet were both wrinkled. They also found that he had thrown up prior to his death and found baked beans inside his stomach. The boy’s growth was also determined to be stunted because the analysis of the bones showed that he had been experiencing beatings, and malnourishment. This led to the idea that the boy was suffering abuse before his recent death, and that he possibly died a few days or weeks before his body was found, however the exact date could not be determined. Though these tributes were evidence, the investigators still could not find the identity of the boy…

Multiple detectives tried to pursue the case and identify the boy, but none of them could find any evidence to determine who he could be. There were also no missing people reports to help them determine who the boy could be, which led to even more questions that were left unanswered about the boy. After numerous dead-end leads, many theories started to arise about who the boy was, and what could’ve happened to him. An officer that went by Remington Bristow theorized that the boy could’ve been the child of someone who owned a local foster home. He had gone to a psychic who led him to the local foster home. Which there, he stated to have found an identical bassinet, and a blanket that seemed to be identical to the one that the boy had been wrapped in. This lead was briefly pursed but eventually thought to be a dead-end like the previous leads before. The officer would then go on to publish a fake story that stated the boy’s death had been accidental, and that his parents had dumped his body into the forest because they could not afford a funeral for the boy. This fake story was used to make the parents of the boy come forth, but it would eventually come to be false and Bristow plan would fail. The case would then continue to remain cold with more dead-end leads appearing for four long decades, until a woman that went by “M” claimed to know who the boy was.

The woman “M” claimed the boy was named “Jonathan” and that her abusive mother had purchased him from another family. The woman had claimed that “Jonathan” was beaten to death by her mother because he had vomited out his dinner of baked beans. Then, her mother tried to bathe him which caused the boy’s body to become wrinkly. This at first, was believed to be true because the autopsy did find baked beans inside the boy’s stomach, and his fingers and feet were determined to be wrinkled. But the police could not prove her claim due to the lack of evidence that was provided from her statement. This claim, yet again, would then eventually become another dead-end lead, leaving the boy’s identity to continue to remain an unsolved question…

In the next couple of decades, this sad case continued to remain cold, with even the world referring to the Boy in The Box as “America’s Unknown Child.” This reminder was set onto his gravestone, implying that possibly he would never be able to be identified. But when society thought all hope was lost, in December 2022, after 65 years, investigators finally figured out the long, unsolved mystery of “who is Boy in The Box?”

The identity of Boy in The Box is actually “Joseph Augustus Zarelli,” and he was born on Jan. 13, 1953, in Philadelphia Pennsylvania, United States. The investigators were able to discover Zarelli’s identity through genetic genealogy. They recorded his official age to be four when he departed and was found inside the box in the Fox Chase Neighborhood Woods. They also took his DNA and were able to detect his relatives on his mothers’ side and identify his father. They also found that he had three other living siblings, but the names of both the parents and living siblings will not be released due to privacy reasons. The killer of Zarelli was also not identified, but the possibility of the killer still being alive is very low. This fact is very upsetting, knowing that he may never get justice for his death. But now that his identity is finally solved, he will know that thousands of people will not have to worry about him being referred to as “America’s Unknown Child,” or as the mystery, “The Boy in The Box.” He can finally rest peacefully after 65 years of being a worldwide mystery. This was the Sad Case of Joseph Augustus Zarelli, and how he was discovered in Feb. 1957.