Born: Approx. 1950 - 1953
Status: Unidentified for 60 years (2017)
Died: February 1957
Cause of Death: Homicide
Body Discovered: Fox Chase, Philadelphia
Resting Place: Ivy Hill Cemetery, Cedarbrook, Philadelphia
Names: "America's Unknown Child"; 'Boy In The Box'
Ethnicity: Nordic, Northern Europe
Known for: Unidentified victim of homicide
Height: 3 ft 6 in (1.07 m)
Weight: 30 lb (14 kg)
A Little About The Case
The "Boy in the Box" is the name given to an unidentified murder victim, approximately 4 to 6 years old, whose naked, battered body was found in a cardboard box in the Fox Chase section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on February 25, 1957. He is also commonly called "America's Unknown Child." His identity has never been confirmed and the case remains open.
The boy's body, wrapped in a plaid blanket, was found in the woods off Susquehanna Road in Fox Chase, Philadelphia. He was naked inside a cardboard box that once contained a baby's bassinet from J.C. Penney. The body was first found by a young man checking his muskrat traps. Fearing that the police would confiscate his traps, he did not report the matter. A few days later, a college student spotted a rabbit running into the underbrush. Knowing there were animal traps in the area, he stopped his car to investigate and discovered the body. He too was reluctant to have any contact with the police, but did report his find the following day.
The deceased boy's fingerprints were taken, and police originally were optimistic that his identity would be discovered quickly. However, nobody ever came forward with any useful information.
The case attracted massive media attention in Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley, with pictures of the boy even being placed in every gas bill in Philadelphia. However, despite the huge publicity at the time and sporadic re-interest throughout the years, the case remains unsolved to this day, and the boy's identity is still unknown.
He was initially buried in a potter's field. In 1998, his body was exhumed with the hope of extracting DNA. He was reburied at Ivy Hill Cemetery in Cedarbrook, Philadelphia, which donated a large plot. The coffin, headstone and funeral service were also donated by the son of the man who had originally buried him in 1957. There was significant turnout and media coverage when he was reburied.
He has a large headstone that is simply marked, "America's Unknown Child." City residents keep the grave decorated with flowers and stuffed animals.
'The Foster Home'
The first theory involves a foster home that was located approximately 1.5 miles from the discovery site. In 1960, Remington Bristow, an employee of the medical examiner's office who doggedly pursued the case until his death in 1993, contacted a New Jersey psychic, who told him to look for a house that seemed to match the foster home. When the psychic was brought to the Philadelphia discovery site, she led Bristow straight 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 clothesline similar to that in which the boy's body had been wrapped. Bristow believed that the child belonged to the stepdaughter of the man who ran the foster home; they disposed of the boy's body so that she wouldn't be exposed as an unwed mother, as in 1957 single motherhood attracted significant social stigma. Bristow theorized that the boy's death was accidental. Despite this circumstantial evidence, the police were unable to find any concrete links between the Boy in the Box and the foster family.
In 1998, Philadelphia police lieutenant Tom Augustine, who is in charge of the investigation, and several members of the Vidocq Society, a group of retired policemen and profilers investigating the crime, interviewed the foster father and the daughter, whom he had married. The interview seemed to confirm to them that the family was not involved in the case, and the foster home investigation is considered closed. According to a DNA test, the stepdaughter was ruled out as the boy's mother.
The second major theory is one brought forward in February 2002 by a woman identified only as "M". She claimed that her abusive mother purchased the unknown boy, named "Jonathan", from his birth parents in the summer of 1954. Subsequently, the youngster was subjected to extreme physical and sexual abuse for two and a half years, then killed in a fit of rage by being slammed to the floor after he vomited in the bathtub. "M"'s mother then cut the boy's long hair (accounting for the unprofessional cut that police noted upon their initial observations of the crime scene and bruises around the victim's hairline), and dumped the boy's body in the then-secluded Fox Chase area. "M" went on to say that as they were preparing to remove the boy's body from the trunk, a passing male motorist pulled alongside to inquire whether they needed assistance. As the pair ignored the would-be Good Samaritan, while being careful to obstruct their own car's license plate from his view, the man eventually drove off. This story corroborated confidential testimony given by a male witness in 1957, which alleged the body was placed in a box previously discarded at the scene. Police considered the story quite plausible, but were troubled by "M"'s testimony, as she had a history of mental illness. When interviewed, neighbors who had access to the house denied that there had been a young boy living in the house, and said that "M"'s claims were "ridiculous."
The story was profiled on the television series America's Most Wanted on October 3, 1998 and on July 12, 2008. The television series Cold Case, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and Law & Order: SVU have all used fictionalized accounts of the story as the basis for episodes.