Joseph Augustus Zarelli revealed by Investigators the identity of “The Boy In The Box” known as America’s unknown child
Investigators reveal the identity of “The Boy In The Box” known as America’s unknown child.
Philadelphia police on Thursday identified the ‘Boy in the Box,’ found beaten to death in 1957 — but said proving who killed 4-year-old Joseph Augustus Zarelli will be an “uphill battle.”
Detectives have located the family and know who the boy’s now-deceased parents are but stopped short of disclosing who they believe is responsible for the youngster’s death, authorities said.
The child lived in West Philadelphia, near Market and 61st Streets, according to Philadelphia police Capt. Jason Smith. The case remains open and police still hope to someday pin the murder on a suspect — but Smith tamped down those expectations.
“It’s going to be an uphill battle for us to definitively determine who caused this child’s death,” Smith told reporters.
“If this technology had been available to us 20 years ago, it might be a completely different story — because once you identify who the child is, you start (interviewing) family members. Well at this point of time, a lot of the family members who would have been old enough to have a memory of any incident that might have occurred are normally long gone.”
The break in one of America’s oldest cold case investigations came via recent DNA technology breakthroughs and with the assistance of volunteer sleuths who helped police narrow down the victim’s possible relatives.
The body of a little boy, then believed to be between 4 and 6, was found wrapped in a blanket and inside a cardboard box in Philadelphia’s Fox Chase neighborhood on Feb. 25, 1957.
For the past 6 1/2 decades, not only has no one ever been held to account for his slaying — before Thursday morning, the victim’s name wasn’t even known.
Bill Fleisher, a co-founder of the Vidocq Society, said he’s been giving great thought in recent days to police investigators who worked this case over the decades — but had died before Thursday’s announcement.
“I feel their souls are standing here at this moment with us,” said Fleisher, a former Philadelphia police officer and FBI agent.
“Now our lad is no longer that ‘Boy in the box.’ He has a name. I was raised to believe that when you say the name out loud … that person still lives in spirit amongst us.”
Remains of the “Boy in the Box” rest at Ivy Hill Cemetery with a headstone identifying him as “America’s Unknown Child.”
The headstone will soon be changed to add the boy’s name. “His entire identity and his rightful claim to own his existence was taken away,” Outlaw said. She added that she hopes no one will never again have to wait this long for justice, and honored the detectives who worked the case and did not live to see this development.
“This announcement only closes one chapter in this little boy’s story, while opening up a new one,” said Outlaw.
DNA investigation brought police to discovering the boy’s identity.
CBS3 has closely followed the investigation and kept the case on TV and online. Last week, CBS3 Investigations was first to break that police had finally identified the boy.
Police said they had suspicions as to who was responsible for Zarelli’s death, but no information on suspects to release at this time.
Zarelli has surviving relatives, police say.
William Fleisher of the Vidocq Society, which helped investigate the case, noted that “many of these men and women aren’t with us anymore,” but said he felt their presence in the room.
Police Capt. Jason Smith said investigators believe Zarelli was from West Philadelphia, in the area of 61st and Market streets, and was never reported missing.
He is hopeful that someone who knew Zarelli is out there and may have seen him. That could be a neighbor, Smith said.
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