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Thursday, 16 June 2011

Boy in the Box (Philadelphia)

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".

The crime

The boy's body, wrapped in a plaid blanket, was inside a cardboard box that once contained a baby's bassinet from J.C. Penney. The body was found first by a young man checking his muskrat traps. Fearing the police would take his traps away, 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 case engendered 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 publicity at the time of the body's discovery and sporadic re-interest throughout the years, the case remains unsolved to this day, and the boy's identity is still unknown.
The story has been profiled on the television series America's Most Wanted. The television series Cold Case[1], CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and Law & Order: SVU have all used fictionalized accounts of the story as the basis for episodes.


Like many unsolved murders, many tips and theories have been put forward regarding a solution to the case. Although most have been dismissed, two possible solutions to the case have been extensively investigated and engendered much focus by both the police and the media.

 The foster home

The first 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 which 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. Also, he discovered blankets hanging on the clothesline similar to the one 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 there was still a significant social stigma associated with single motherhood in 1957. 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.[2][3] 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.[4] According to a DNA test, the stepdaughter was ruled out as the boy's mother. [5]

 "M"'s story

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 slamming him to the floor after he vomited in the bathtub. "M"'s mother then cut the boy's long hair (accounting for the unprofessional haircut that police noted upon their initial observations of the crime scene), and dumped the boy's body in the then-secluded Fox Chase area. "M" went on to say, 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 samaritan, while being careful to obstruct the 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.[3][6] 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."[7]

 Current status

The case remains officially unsolved. Investigators were able to extract mitochondrial DNA from the boy's tooth. They are now attempting to link him to entries in a national mitochondrial DNA database.[8]


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