The Mystery Behind One Of Philadelphia’s Oldest Cold Cases ‘The Boy In The Box’

(PCM) The mystery behind the murder of an unidentified 3 to 7 year old child, known only as “The Boy In The Box”, has baffled law enforcement agents in the Philadelphia area for the last several decades and to this very day his murder remains unsolved. The investigation into the murder of “The Boy In The Box” remains open and investigators still follow up on potential leads in hopes of closing one of the cities oldest and most mysterious cold cases. Many fear that eventually this case will become one that is known by name only and no longer currently investigated.

The boys naked and badly battered body was discovered in a cardboard box in the Foxchase section of the city of Philadelphia, PA on February 25, 1957. In addition to being referred to as “The Boy In the Box” the victim is sometimes also referred to as “America’s Unknown Child”.  When the body was discovered it was found wrapped in a plaid blanket in the woods off Susquehanna Road. The naked body was inside a cardboard box which had once contained a bassinet that was the same kind that was sold by J. C. Penney during that time period. The boy’s hair had been recently cropped, possibly after death, as clumps of hair clung to the body. There were signs of severe undernourishment, as well as surgical scars on the ankle and groin, and an L-shaped scar under the chin.

Things take an odd turn when it was reported that the body was first discovered by two different people who were both reluctant to go to the police with their findings. Initially a young man who was out checking his illegal muskrat traps, found the boys body, but did not report it to the police over fear that they would end up confiscating his animal traps. Several days later a college student was driving through the area and saw a rabbit running into the underbrush. He was aware that there were traps in the area, so when he got out to investigate the situation he stumbled upon the young boys body in the box. For some reason, this man did not want any contact with the police either, so he did not report his discovery right away, however he did end up coming forward and reporting what he found to police the next day.

The police received the report and opened an investigation on February 26, 1957. The dead boy’s fingerprints were taken, and police were initially optimistic that he would soon be identified. However, no one ever came forward with any useful information and the boy was not able to be identified. Like any unsolved murder case with strange circumstances, especially one involving a child, the case grew massive media attention throughout the Philadelphia and tri-state area. Over 400,000 flyers were created depicting the boys likeness and were included with every gas bill sent out in the city of Philadelphia.

Additional evidence was discovered upon further investigation of the crime scene which was a child’s blue corduroy cap, a child’s scarf, and handkerchief, but those items still did very little to lead police to the person responsible for the killing. The police even went as far as to release a postmortem photo of the boy fully dressed and sitting upright in hopes that someone would come forward and recognize the child, but again the ran into a dead end.

Many people over the years have come forward with various theories regarding the murder of the “The Boy In The Box” and some of the most intriguing include the theory that they boy may have been raised in a foster home that was located approximately 1.5 miles from the crime scene. In 1960, Remington Bristow, an employee of the medical examiner’s office who 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. 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.

It sounds like a good theory however when some of the boys DNA was tested against that of the stepdaughter, it ended up not being a match. According to Wikipedia, another theory surfaced in 2002 that was brought forward by a woman only known as “M”. Police considered “M”‘s story to be plausible but were troubled by her testimony, as she had a history of mental illness. “M” claimed that her abusive mother had “purchased” the unknown boy (whose name was Jonathan) from his birth parents in the summer of 1954. 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.

Another recent theory was brought forth by two writers following the 59th anniversary of the boy’s body back in 2016. They feel they may have a DNA link with a family member in the Memphis, TN area and they have a pending request for the boy’s DNA to compared with these individuals. They hope for a new break in the case, but thus far there has been no new information.

“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. He was reburied at Ivy Hill Cemetery in Cedarbrook, Philadelphia and the grave has a large headstone bearing the words “America’s Unknown Child.” City residents keep the grave decorated with flowers and stuffed animals to help keep the boy’s memory alive.

On March 21, 2016, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children released a facial reconstruction of the victim and added him onto their database. There is a website dedicated to “The Boy In the Box” mystery. The America’s Unknown Child web site contains virtually everything that has ever been made available to the general public regarding this intriguing case, plus additional materials that have never been published before. Definitely worth checking out for some additional information and insight.

Here’s to hoping this mysterious case can eventually one day be solved and “The Boy In The Box” can finally receive some closure and truly rest in peace.

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