PA THE BOY IN THE BOX: WM, 4-6, found in Philadelphia, PA - 25 February 1957

America's Unknown Child


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Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Tragic Story of One of America's Unsolved Mysteries

The most enduring mystery to ever perplex Philadelphia detectives came to light on the evening of February 23, 1957, when a La Salle College student parked his car off Susquehanna Road and began to hike across a vacant lot in the drizzling rain. The unnamed young man – various newspaper reports put his age between 18 and 26 – was a “Peeping Tom” and was en route to spy on the inmates of the nearby Good Shepherd Home, a Catholic residence for “wayward” girls. But what he found as he walked across the overgrown lot that night would destroy any interest that he had in looking in young girl’s windows.

It was a cardboard box, seemingly innocuous – until he looked inside and saw that a small corpse had been wedged into it. Terrified, he forgot about the undressed women that he had come to see. He turned and ran back to his car. Frightened and embarrassed, the man confessed his discovery to his priest the next day and he was told to call the police. He complied, after first concocting a tale that he found the box while chasing a rabbit through the weeds, and officers were sent to the lot to investigate.

This would be the beginning of a heartbreaking story to which the end has yet to be written.

The young boy was found dead in the woods in Philadelphia's Fox Chase area, his head poking from a cardboard box. It would become the city's -- and one of America's -- most baffling unsolved murders.

The patrolmen who arrived at the vacant lot on February 24 found a large cardboard carton lying on its side, open at one end. The box had once held a baby bassinet from J.C. Penney. Inside the box was a small boy, his pale white body wrapped in a cheap, imitation Indian blanket. They searched the lot and 17 feet from the box, discovered a man’s cap, made from royal blue corduroy with a leather strap and a buckle on the back. Coincidentally or otherwise, a beaten path through the weeds and the underbrush led directly from the cap to the cardboard coffin.

An autopsy was performed on the boy by Dr. Joseph Spelman, Philadelphia’s chief medical examiner. His report placed the boy between four and six years old. He had blue eyes and light blond hair that had been badly cut, closely shorn in some areas of his head, shaved almost to the skull in others. He was 41 inches tall and weighed only a pathetic 30 pounds at the time of his death. Dr. Spelman cited the cause of death was a savage beating that left the boy’s body and face covered in fresh bruises. Older marks included an L-shaped scar on his chin; a one-inch surgical scar on the left side of his chest; a round, irregular scar on his left elbow; a well-healed scar at the groin, apparently from hernia surgery, and a scar on the left ankle that resembled a “cut down” incision used to expose veins for a blood transfusion. The boy was circumcised but had no vaccination marks, suggesting that he had not been enrolled in public school.

Spelman’s report contained many other intriguing details. The victim’s right palm and the soles of both feet were rough and wrinkled, which suggested that they had been submerged in water, immediately before or after death. When exposed to ultraviolet light, the boy’s left eye fluoresced a bright shade of blue, indicating recent exposure to a diagnostic dye used in the treatment of chronic eye disease. Spelman attributed the boy’s death to head trauma, probably inflicted with a blunt instrument, but he could not rule out that damage had been done by “pressure” – which prompted some of the investigators to suggest that fatal damage had been inflicted by someone squeezing the boy’s head when he was given his last, botched haircut. Detectives clothed the boy and photographed his battered face, in hopes that they might be able to learn his name – but those hopes slowly died with the passing years.

Investigators initially focused on the box that had been used as the boy’s coffin. It had originally held a baby bassinet from J.C. Penney and was one of a dozen received on November 27, 1956 and sold for $7.50 between December 3, 1956 and February 16, 1957 from a store in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. The store, though, kept no record of individual sales, but the other 11 bassinets were eventually located by detectives. FBI fingerprint technicians found no usable prints on the carton recovered from the empty lot.

The examination of the blanket proved to be just as frustrating. It was made from cheap cotton flannel and had been recently washed and mended using poor-grade cotton thread. It had been cut into two separate, unequal pieces and then wrapped around the naked boy. Analysis at the Philadelphia Textile Institute determined that it had been manufactured either at Swannanoa, North Carolina, or Granby, Quebec. Identical blankets had been produced by the thousands, and the police were never able to figure out a likely place where it had been sold.


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A label inside of the blue cap led police to Robbins Eagle Hat & Cap Company in Philadelphia. Proprietor Hannah Robbins said that it was one of 12 that had been made from corduroy remnants at some point prior to May 1956. Robbins recalled the particular hat because it had been made without the leather strap, but the purchaser – a blond man in his late twenties – had returned a few months later to have a strap sewn on. Robbins told the detectives that her customer resembled photographs that she was shown of the “Boy in the Box,” but she had no record of his name or address.

Philadelphia police circulated more than 10,000 flyers with the child’s photograph on them to police departments throughout eastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey, but with no results. The Philadelphia Gas Works mailed out 200,000 flyers to its customers with their monthly gas bills, while more were circulated by the Philadelphia Electric Company, grocery stores, insurance agents, and a pharmacist’s association – about 300,000 flyers in all. An article about the case was written for the FBI’s Law Enforcement Bulletin, again without producing any worthwhile leads. Someone, somewhere, knew who the boy was and what had happened to him, but they were not talking.

Five months after the boy was found, the authorities buried him in Philadelphia’s potter’s field, near the Philadelphia State Hospital at Byberry, a mental institution. The beleaguered detectives who worked the case collected enough money to erect the grim graveyard’s only headstone. Its inscription read: “Heavenly Father, Bless this Unknown Boy.”

The case went cold, silent and deathly still until November 4, 1998, when the “Boy in the Box” was exhumed in order to extract DNA samples, collected for future comparison with any suspected relatives. A year passed before the authorities finally admitted that they had not been able to obtain a satisfactory DNA profile from the boy’s remains. Another attempt was made in 2000, this time from the boy’s teeth, but this attempt also failed. A second attempt, though, was reported as successful in April 2001. Although the discovery of any living relatives seems fairly hopeless at this point, some investigators have remained optimistic.

In 1999, Frank Bender, a forensic artist and a founding member of the Vidocq Society, came up with a new idea that he believed might help solve the case. The Vidocq Society is a crime-solving organization that is based out of Philadelphia. The group is named for Eugène François Vidocq, the ground-breaking nineteenth-century French detective who helped police by using criminal psychology to solve "cold case" homicides. At meetings, the members – forensic professionals, current and former FBI profilers, homicide investigators, scientists, psychologists, prosecutors and coroners -- listen to law enforcement officials who come from around the world to present unsolved cases for review. Bender sculpted a bust that he believed could bear a strong resemblance to the dead boy’s father. The case was profiled for a national television audience on America’s Most Wanted, but no leads were discovered. Regardless, efforts to identify the boy continue.

Like most unsolved murders, there have been a number of theories advanced toward a solution of the case. Most of the “Boy in the Box” theories were dismissed, but two possible solutions created interest in recent years.

The first, which was eventually ruled out, involved a foster home that was located a little more than a mile from the vacant lot where the boy’s body was found. 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 city, she led Bristow straight to the house. Bristow refused to let it go, investigating the case on his own. When he attended an estate sale at the foster home, Bristow discovered a bassinet similar to the one sold at J.C. Penney. He also saw 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. He believed that the stepfather was involved in a sexual relationship with the girl and she became pregnant. The boy was hidden away, but when he died accidentally, the man disposed of the boy so that the girl would not be exposed as an unwed mother, a significant social stigma in 1957.

Despite this circumstantial evidence, the police were unable to find any real links between the family and the Boy in the Box. In 1998, Philadelphia police lieutenant Tom Augustine, who remains in charge of the investigation, and several members of the Vidocq Society, interviewed the stepfather and the daughter, whom he had married. The interview seemed to confirm to them that the family was not involved in the case. After a DNA test, which ruled out the stepdaughter as the boy’s mother, the investigation of the foster home theory was closed.

The second theory emerged in February 2002, reported 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. The youngster was subjected to extreme physical and sexual abuse for two and a half years. Her mother then allegedly killed the boy in a fit of rage when he vomited in the bathtub. The woman then cut the boy’s long hair (accounting for the ragged haircut) and dumped the body in the secluded vacant lot. "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. They ignored him and he eventually drove away. This story corroborated confidential testimony given by a male witness in 1957. The police considered the story quite plausible, but were troubled by "M"'s testimony, because she had a history of mental illness. When interviewed, though, neighbors who had access to the house denied that there had been a young boy living there, and said that "M"'s claims were "ridiculous."

And so the case remains unsolved. Despite the huge amount of 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.



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Case Summary

Type of Case: Child Homicide

Date Body Discovered: February 25, 1957

Place of Discovery: Susquehanna Road, Philadelphia, PA. (Fox Chase section)

The Discovery Site:

In 1957, Susquehanna Road was a narrow country lane in the sparsely settled Fox Chase section of northeast Philadelphia. It was approximately a half-mile in length, linking Pine Road on the west with Verree Road on the east. The southern side of Susquehanna Road was wooded at that time, but the tree cover did not extend beyond a few yards from the road in most places. It quickly gave way to extensive stretches of open field and scrub growth. This provided a perfect habitat for rabbits, muskrats, and other small game. There were no houses on Susquehanna Road itself, but the compound of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, a religious order which operated a school for "wayward girls", adjoined the road on the north. A driveway providing access to this large, multiple building facility was located about 500 yards west of the intersection of Susquehanna and Verree roads. Almost directly across the street from the entrance to the Good Shepherd School was a wooded area choked with thick underbrush that was often used by local residents as a place to dump refuse. It was here, at the junction of two well-worn footpaths, that the victim's body was twice discovered during the final week of February 1957.

The Victim:

An unidentified Caucasian male, probable age 4 to 6 years, whose nude body, wrapped in a cheap flannel blanket, was found lying face up inside a large cardboard carton just a few feet from the edge of Susquehanna Road . The body was dry and clean. The boy's arms were carefully folded across his stomach. The finger and toenails had been recently trimmed short and neat. The child was 40 1/2 inches tall and weighed 30 pounds. He had blue eyes, pale skin, and appeared malnourished. His hair was described as medium to light brown, or blond in color. It had been cut recently - very close to the head, in a crude, hurried way, perhaps as a deliberate attempt to conceal the child's identity. Small clumps of cut hair clung to his entire body, suggesting that someone had groomed him while he was unclothed, probably either shortly before or immediately after death.

There were many bruises all over the child's body; particularly on the head and face. All of the bruises appeared to have been inflicted at the same time. There were also seven scars on the body, three of which could have resulted from surgical procedures. Two of these "surgical" scars were on the chest and groin. They had healed quite well, leaving only a hair-line trace. There was also a scar on the boy's left ankle, which looked like a "cut-down" incision. Such an incision is made to expose a vein so that a needle may be inserted to give an infusion or transfusion. There was a 1 1/2 - inch scar on the left side of the chest, and a round, irregular scar on the left elbow. On the chin was an L-shaped scar - a quarter of an inch long in each direction. There was no vaccination scar. The boy had been circumcised.

There were three small moles on the left side of the face, a tiny one below the right ear, three small ones on the right side of the chest, and a large one on the right arm two inches above the wrist, in line with the little finger. The boy had a full set of baby teeth, and was also slightly buck-toothed. The tonsils had not been removed.

The palm of his right hand and the soles of both his small feet were rough-skinned and wrinkled in what police called a "washerwoman" effect, indicating that just before or after death the one hand and both feet had been submerged in water for an extended period of time.

When an ultraviolet light was shone on the boy's left eye it fluoresced a brilliant blue, suggesting that a special diagnostic dye had been applied, possibly to treat a chronic eye ailment.

Examination of the boy's gastrointestinal tract indicated that he had not eaten for two or three hours before his death.

X-rays of the boy's body showed no evidence of current or prior bone fractures.

The cool weather made it difficult to tell how long the child had been dead. It may have been two or three days, or possibly as long as two or three weeks.

Evidence (found at the scene):

A large cardboard carton, (15" x 19" x 35"), stamped "fragile". It had originally contained a baby's bassinet sold by the J.C. Penney Co. The bassinet, one of a dozen received on 11/27/56, and which retailed for $7.50, was sold between 12/03/56 and 02/16/57 by the J.C. Penney store at 100 S. 69th St., Upper Darby, PA, with the customer taking it away in its original carton. Since J.C. Penney had a "cash only" policy at that time, there were no store records indicating the identity of the purchaser. Never the less, all but one of the twelve bassinets, and the cartons they came in, were eventually accounted for. The cardboard carton that contained the boy's body was in good condition. It was dry inside, but damp on the outside, and appeared slightly weathered. The inside of the carton had traces of white coloring, indicating the bassinet was painted white. The carton was sent to the FBI lab for analysis, but no distinct fingerprints were found.

A faded blanket made of cheap cotton flannel. The blanket was clean, appearing to have been washed recently. It had a plaid design with diamonds and blocks in green, rust, brown, and white. The blanket had been mended with poor grade cotton thread, probably on a home sewing machine. It had also been cut in half. One half of the blanket measured 33 by 76 inches, while the other, from which a piece was missing, was 31 by 51 inches. The Medical Examiner's office took the blanket to the Philadelphia Textile Institute, for testing. It was determined that the blanket had been made either at the Beacon Mills, Swannanoa, N.C., or the Esmond Mills at Granby, Quebec, Canada. However, it was not possible to identify likely points of sale, since thousands of such blankets had been manufactured and shipped to dozens of wholesalers throughout the country.

A man's cap, of royal blue corduroy with a leather strap and buckle in the back. It was size seven and one-eighth, and contained tissue paper placed there by the manufacturer to maintain its shape. The cap was found about 17 feet from the thicket where the boy's body was discovered. A pathway through the underbrush led directly from the cap to the cardboard carton. The cap was sent to the FBI lab for analysis, but nothing of significance was found. Through the cap's label, detectives learned it was made by the Robbins Bald Eagle Hat & Cap Co., 2603 S. 7th St., Philadelphia. Police interviewed Mrs. Hannah Robbins, owner of the firm, who said the cap was one of 12 made from corduroy remnants some time before May, 1956. She told detectives the cap was made without a strap, but the man she sold it to just a few months earlier asked her to sew a strap on it. She said the man resembled the photograph of the dead child on a police circular. Mrs. Robbins told detectives the man was alone, wore working clothes, did not speak with a foreign accent, and had blond hair. He appeared to be in his late twenties.

Possible Evidence (found in the Fox Chase area):

A man's white handkerchief with some short strands of hair clinging to it. It had the initial G in one corner. The handkerchief was relatively clean considering its exposure to the elements. It was sent to the police chemical laboratory for a comparison of its hair with the hair of the dead boy. The results of the test were negative.

A tan, child-size scarf and a boy's yellow flannel shirt, size four. This is the size of the clothes that would have been worn by the dead boy.

A pair of black children's shoes, size 1, was found near the spot where the body was first observed. The shoes, cheap but in good repair, were regarded as possibly significant because they were clean, while the area near the death scene was muddy. One shoe was found on the same side of Susquehanna road as the body, about 50 feet north of it, the other 10 feet south on the opposite side. But when detectives tried them on the boy in the morgue, they were considerably too large (his shoe size was 8-D.)

A torn, stained piece of blanket and a dead cat wrapped in a man's gray sweater were found lying together in a depression in the ground about a quarter mile from where the boy's nude body was found. Lying on top of the cat and blanket was a piece of crumpled, sodden brown wrapping paper. The blanket fragment was similar in type and quality to the blanket that was found with the boy's body. However, subsequent analysis at the police laboratory revealed that it was not part of the same blanket. Chemical analysis of the other items also had negative results.

Evidence Obtained From The Victim's Body (1957):

During autopsy, blood and other body fluids, hair, gastric contents, and tissue samples from vital organs including the heart, liver, and lungs were extracted for toxicologic analysis and microscopic examination. A mysterious dark brown residue coating the interior of the boy's esophagus could not be identified, but the presence of a brown substance in the esophagus could be consistent with vomiting shortly before death (Note: see testimony of the Ohio informant, below.) No other unusual findings were noted.

Fingerprints and footprints were obtained for subsequent comparison against hospital birth records and other medical files. Despite an exhaustive search of hospitals in the region, no matching prints were ever found.

Numerous hair strands found clinging to the body were sent to the FBI lab for analysis. They proved to be the victim's own hair.


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Evidence Obtained From The Victim's Body (1998):

DNA technology did not exist in 1957. Forty-one years later, after the long-dormant case was reactivated, the boy's remains were exhumed for the purpose of obtaining tissue samples for DNA analysis. Investigators hoped to compare the boy's nuclear DNA profile against the DNA profiles of current and future suspects & claimants. Unfortunately, by that time, the remains were far too degraded to permit extraction of viable nuclear DNA. However, after several failed attempts, tissue samples were sent to an independent DNA laboratory, which successfully extracted mitochondrial DNA from the boy's teeth. Although a mitochondrial DNA profile is a less useful forensic tool than a nuclear DNA profile in certain respects, it can never-the-less be used to confirm or rule out a genetic relationship through maternal lineage. The victim's mitochondrial DNA profile has already been used to rule out the possibility that he was Steven Damman, a missing New York boy who was kidnapped in 1955.

The Investigators - Then and Now:

America's Most Wanted - a popular television program hosted by John Walsh, which aired a segment about the "Boy in the Box" case on October 3,1998, in cooperation with the Philadelphia police department and the Vidocq Society (see below). The broadcast generated over 150 new "tips", and ultimately inspired a group of private citizens to create the America's Unknown Child web site.

Detective Tom Augustine, Philadelphia Police Department Homicide Division - the latest in a long line of investigators to handle the Boy in the Box case. Augustine first became interested in the Boy in the Box case in 1957 when, as an eleven-year-old boy, he saw the unknown boy's haunting image depicted on posters that were displayed throughout the Philadelphia area. At the time, the young Tom Augustine had no inkling that he would grow up to become a Philadelphia homicide detective and get the opportunity to investigate the mystery himself. Detective Augustine has been in charge of the Boy in the Box investigation since 1998.

Frank Bender, VSM, forensic sculptor - created a bust of how the boy's father may have looked. The bust is based on the facial features of the boy and drawn from Mr. Bender's decades of experience. Bender is the forensic sculptor behind the bust of John List - the infamous killer from New Jersey who took the lives of his entire family.

Remington Bristow, an investigator in the medical examiner's office - spent 36 years on the case, often following leads to distant parts of the country, mostly on his own time, and at his own expense. Solving the mystery became a personal, life-long obsession. Veteran investigators all agree that, but for Remington Bristow's personal crusade, the Boy in the Box case would have been completely abandoned and forgotten long ago. Bristow even tried investigating the case through the use of extrasensory perception (ESP). He elicited the help of an elderly New Jersey psychic named Florence Sternfeld. Her visions, supported by a considerable amount of circumstantial evidence, led him to suspect members of a certain foster family that lived near the place where the boy's body was found. Bristow went to his grave in 1993 believing he knew the answer to the mystery.

The FBI - was asked to help investigate the mystery of the murdered boy. All evidence gathered in the painstaking search for witnesses and clues was sent to the FBI's crime lab for testing. The FBI published a report of the case in its monthly bulletin, circulated throughout the country. In November 1998, the FBI's Philadelphia Division Evidence Recovery Team participated in the exhumation of the unknown boy's remains to obtain tissue samples for DNA testing.

William L. Fleisher, V.S.M.: Co-founder and Commissioner of the Vidocq Society (see below.) Bill is a former police officer, and FBI and Customs agent. Under his leadership and overall guidance, Vidocq Society investigators are aggressively pursuing the Boy in the Box mystery.

Thomas J. Gibbons, Philadelphia Police Commissioner - ordered the entire student complement of the Police Academy (270 police trainees) into a search for clues to the identity of the young boy. An exhaustive two-day search was conducted of a 12-square-mile area in the northeast part of the city, and extending beyond the city limits. Searchers were looking for anyone who might have known of a missing child about five years old, and for any trace of the clothing of the murdered boy. A total of 320 city police, detectives and Fairmount Park guards were thrown into the hunt.

John J. Kelly, Chief Inspector - Philadelphia Police Department (1957).

William H. Kelly, V.S.M., Supervisor of the Philadelphia Police Department Identification Unit - took aerial photographs of Susquehanna Road and its environs to aid in the investigation. For years, Mr. Kelly systematically toured area hospitals, checking the unknown boy's footprint against those in hospital nursery records. Thousands of prints were searched in Philadelphia, Delaware, Bucks and Montgomery counties, with negative results. Mr. Kelly and William McNasby of the crime lab also searched the files of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service on their own time. They checked 11,200 Passport photos on the theory that the unknown boy might have been an alien. Now retired, William Kelly is a co-director of the Vidocq Society's Boy in the Box investigation.

George R. Knowles: A private citizen, George is the founder and administrator of the America's Unknown Child website. His interest in the case dates back to 1957 when, as an 11-year-old New Jersey boy, he became intrigued by the original Boy in the Box poster. Since April 1999, George has been assisting the investigators by publicizing the case on the Internet and by gathering tips, theories, and other case-related information from the public.

Joseph Komarnicki: former head of the Philadelphia Detective Bureau's missing persons division - based on a hunch, he traveled to Thornton, Colorado in 1960 to question Mrs. Margaret Martinez, a 30-year-old woman who had admitted throwing her three-year-old daughter's body into a trash can. No connection to the "Boy in the Box" case could be established.

Dr. Wilton M. Krogman, professor of physical anthropology at the Graduate School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania - was called in by the Medical Examiner's office to study the dead boy's physical characteristics. Doctor Krogman found the boy to be forty inches tall: giving him a "height age" of about three years, eight months. But the boy's thirty-pound weight was equivalent to a "weight age" of only about two years and two months. This obviously suggested undernourishment, and the bones confirmed that. With x-rays Doctor Krogman discovered scars of arrested growth on the long bones of the legs. This, he reported to police, "may have been enough to have slowed him down six months to a year in his growth progress." Dr. Krogman estimated that the boy had been in chronic ill health - with accompanying malnutrition - for about a year. He described the boy as having "a long narrow head, a high narrow face, and a high narrow nose." That, to him, was enough to speculate on Northwest European ancestry - Scandinavia, West Germany, or England or Scotland.

Joseph McGillen, V.S.M., - an investigator with the Philadelphia Medical Examiner's Office since 1956. After his retirement, McGillen became a member of the Vidocq Society and participated in the investigation of the Boy in the Box case. He is now a co-director of that effort. McGillen was quick to recognize the potential of utilizing the Internet to help solve the case. To this end, he was instrumental in arranging a direct link between the Vidocq Society's home page and the America's Unknown Child web site. McGillen is aggressively pursuing other potential avenues for publicizing the case via this revolutionary communications medium.

Captain Joseph O'Neill, head of the Philadelphia homicide unit (1959).

Elmer Palmer - the first police officer to arrive at the scene when the boy's body was discovered. Deeply moved by that experience, Palmer has closely followed the progress of the case through the years and visits the boy's grave whenever he can.


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Captain David H. Roberts, head of the Philadelphia homicide squad (1957).

Dr. Joseph W. Spelman, City medical examiner - he performed a two-hour autopsy on the slain boy, establishing that he had been violently murdered by multiple blows on the head. Dr. Spelman also launched a plan to check hospital records, in co-operation with Philadelphia General Hospital officials. Women volunteers examined all the PGH records for the years 1953 through 1955. The hospital medical records were examined for a record of an operation or treatment of an illness that the unknown boy may have had.

Vidocq Society: An international organization of crime-solving experts based in Philadelphia, which adopted the case early in 1998. The society is a private, non-profit group whose 82 members possess varied investigative expertise ranging from forensics to law. The Vidocq Society was instrumental in helping obtain a court order granting permission to exhume the boy's body for the purpose of extracting tissue for DNA testing. The boy was subsequently reburied at another location as "America's Unknown Child."

Sam Weinstein, VSM - the second policeman to arrive at the scene when the boy's body was found. Weinstein later became a detective and participated in the investigation of the Boy in the Box case. He retired after serving 35 years on the police force and became a member of the Vidocq Society. In 1998, Weinstein was appointed to head the society's Boy in the Box investigation. At first, Weinstein was working alone, but he was later joined by two other retired crime fighters: Joseph McGillen, formerly an investigator with the Philadelphia Medical Examiner's office, and William H. Kelly, former Supervisor of the police department's Identification Unit. In February 2000, Sam Weinstein was compelled to discontinue active involvement in the case due to medical reasons. He passed away on May 16, 2004.

Randolph E. Wise, City Welfare Commissioner - his department conducted a direct check to account for 64 normal children in foster homes, and about 400 mentally retarded children. All children in foster homes were accounted for. The possibility of the boy having been in some institution was also eliminated.

Suspects, Informants, False Leads, and Dead Ends:

Frederick J. Benonis - a 26-year-old student at LaSalle College. He called police shortly after 10:00 a.m. on the morning of February 26, 1957, and informed them that he had discovered the body of a small child the previous day. Benonis said he was driving along Susquehanna road west of Verree road on Monday afternoon at around 3:15 p.m., when he saw a rabbit jump into the underbrush. He said that he stopped to chase it. While out of the car, Benonis saw some muskrat traps and then came upon a large cardboard box. He looked inside, and saw what he thought could possibly be a doll, or the body of a small child. Benonis decided not to report the incident. (Police subsequently learned that Benonis was in the habit of visiting Susquehanna Road to spy on the young women at the Good Shepherd School for Wayward Girls. This may explain his initial reluctance to reveal the discovery to authorities.) However, by the next morning, Benonis had second thoughts about keeping silent, especially after hearing a radio news report about a missing New Jersey child. Benonis confided in two LaSalle College faculty priests, who advised him to notify authorities immediately. Benonis was questioned extensively by detectives at Philadelphia police department headquarters. He also voluntarily submitted to a lie detector test, the results of which cleared him of any suspicion.

George Broomall, Marine Private First Class - told police that he believed the unknown boy might be his eight-year-old brother. He renewed the belief after viewing the body in the morgue. Broomall, who had recently returned from overseas, said he was one of 18 children. He last saw his family when they lived in Philadelphia. At that time, he said, the family was about to move to the West Coast, but two of the younger children were left with an older brother who lived in the northeast section of the city. Detectives eventually found the "missing" brother, alive and well in California.

Steven Craig Damman - The son of an airman stationed at Mitchel Air Force Base, N.Y., who was kidnapped outside a Long Island supermarket, October 31, 1955, when he was 34 months old. At the time of Steven's disappearance he was described as 38 inches tall, weighing 32 pounds and having blond hair. Since the unknown boy appeared to be about the age the Damman boy would have been if he were still alive, and because of some similarities of description, investigators thought that it was possible they could be the same person. They sent copies of the dead boy's footprints to the Nassau County, NY police department. They also X-rayed his body at Philadelphia General Hospital in a search for certain physical characteristics known to be possessed by the Damman boy when he disappeared. However, comparison of the dead boy's footprints with those of the missing Damman boy taken at his birth and the X-ray findings cast great doubt on whether they were the same person. The X-rays failed to reveal a healed fracture of the left arm, which the Damman child had. Also, a large freckle on the back of the right calf of the Damman boy did not exist on the body of the murdered boy. A comparison of the footprints did not indicate any similarity and a picture of the dead boy's face bore no resemblance to the missing Damman child. To clinch the matter, the autopsy conducted by Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Joseph W. Spelman had shown that the dead boy had normal kidneys. The Damman boy, his parents said, had been under treatment for a kidney growth at the time of his kidnapping. Two visiting Nassau County police officers said they were satisfied after viewing the body and conferring with Philadelphia investigators that the murdered boy was not the missing Damman child.

In 2003, investigators re-examined the still-unsolved Steven Damman case in order to determine if every potential link to the Boy in the Box case had been thoroughly explored. They found that nothing had been overlooked by the original investigators. Also, with the cooperation of the Nassau County police department and other law enforcement agencies, the sister of Steven Damman was located. She submitted a DNA sample for comparison with the DNA profile of "America's Unknown Child." Analysis of her DNA sample proved conclusively that the unknown boy discovered in Philadelphia was not Steven Damman.


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Kenneth E. and Irene Adelle Dudley - itinerant carnival workers, who were arrested and jailed in Lawrenceville, VA in 1961 for causing the death of their seven-year-old daughter through malnutrition, exposure and neglect. Under intense questioning, the Dudleys admitted that they had permitted six of their 10 children to die of malnutrition and neglect, disposing the bodies in various places in several southern states. Two of the bodies were tossed into a lake, and another was dumped at an abandoned phosphate mine. Detectives conducted a thorough investigation of the Dudleys and eventually disproved any possible connection to the Boy in the Box case.

Florida Claimants: In early 2004, Detective Tom Augustine was contacted by people in Florida who claimed that their mother was the unknown boy's birth parent. They submitted DNA samples for testing at their own expense. The DNA samples were analyzed, but they didn't match. When Detective Augustine informed them of this, the people in Florida insisted that the DNA lab must have made a mistake because they were absolutely certain that their mother was the boy's birth parent! Subsequently, they submitted a sample of their mother's DNA for analysis, again at their own expense. The mother's DNA sample also failed to match the unknown boy's DNA profile.

Foster Family - operated a foster home in a large stone house on Moredon Road, about 1.5 miles from where the boy's body was discovered. The family consisted of a middle-aged couple, Arthur and Catherine Nicoletti, and a 20-year-old female, Anna Marie Nagle, who was Catherine's daughter by a previous marriage. There was hearsay evidence that Anna Marie was retarded or at least "mentally challenged." She had previously given birth to four children out of wedlock. Three of the children were stillborn, while the fourth child, a boy, was tragically electrocuted in 1955 at the age of three in a department store amusement ride accident. The Nicoletti family took boys and girls from the state and city for a few weeks to a few years. They usually cared for five or six kids at a time, but sometimes as many as 25 were in residence. There were eight foster children living there at the time of the unknown boy's discovery (five girls and three boys.) All of the foster children were checked out by detectives and accounted for. The police did not suspect the foster family of having anything to do with the Boy in the Box case.

In 1960, Remington Bristow, an investigator in the medical examiner's office who was conducting his own inquiry into the Boy in the Box mystery, began to focus his attention on the foster home. He hadn't been making much progress up to that point, so in desperation, he turned to an elderly New Jersey psychic named Florence Sternfeld for help. Florence claimed that she could identify a person by holding a piece of metal that in some way was connected to him. Bristow went to see Florence at her home in Palisades Park, NJ, and took with him two staples from the J.C. Penney box the unknown boy was found in. Florence told Bristow to look for a large house with a wooden railing and a log cabin on the property that had children playing in it. Bristow spent months searching around the Fox Chase area for a large house that fit the psychic's description, and eventually found the foster home. There was a log cabin behind it. Bristow learned that the foster children slept on cots in the log cabin in the summer. Bristow then brought Florence to Philadelphia (she claimed to have never been there before), and took her to the discovery site on Susquehanna Road. She led him directly from there to the foster home. This impressive performance convinced Bristow that he was definitely on the right track. In 1961, the Nicoletti family got out of the foster care business and moved away. The home was closed and put up for sale. Bristow went to a preview of an auction of its furnishings and spotted a bassinet similar to the one sold by J.C. Penney. It was covered with dust, sitting in the basement. Outside, he found plaid blankets hanging on a clothesline. The blankets had been cut in half to fit the metal cots the children had slept on. There was also a duck pond on the property. Bristow theorized that this could have been the place where the boy's hand and foot had lain in water. Bristow said he always believed that the stone house was linked to the case because of what he found there. For years, Bristow tried repeatedly to persuade the Philadelphia police to re-investigate the foster family, but they refused. Finally, in 1984, two homicide detectives reluctantly agreed to interview Arthur Nicoletti at his home in Dublin, Bucks County, PA. The interview failed to turn up anything incriminating. Frustrated by this, Bristow telephoned Arthur Nicoletti and urged him to take a lie detector test. Nicoletti declined to do so. To Bristow, the man's lack of cooperation indicated that he probably had something to hide. Bristow was firmly convinced that the Nicoletti family had somehow been involved in the strange death of the Boy in the Box. He theorized that the boy may have actually been the illegitimate son of Anna Marie Nagle. His suspicions were reinforced some years later when Arthur Nicoletti, then a widower, married his stepdaughter. In 1988, after going through old police reports, Bristow realized that a doctor who had treated the children at the foster home had never been interviewed. Bristow hoped that the unknown boy's medical records would be among the doctor's files. He located the doctor's wife, who told him that she'd destroyed the records about five years earler, after her husband died. Until his own death in 1993, Bristow never wavered in his belief that the foster family had been involved in the unknown boy's demise. However, in the end, Bristow couldn't come up with any hard evidence to prove his theories.

When the Boy in the Box case was reopened early in 1998, Philadelphia Police Captain, Pat Dempsey, asked Homicide Detective Tom Augustine to follow up on the foster home angle where Remington Bristow left off in 1984. Detective Augustine, accompanied by a member of the Bucks County police department, interviewed Arthur Nicoletti and Anna Marie (now husband and wife) at their home on February 23, 1998. During the course of that interview, Detective Augustine was able to obtain the answers to many crucial questions about members of the foster family. In general, the interview tended to confirm that the foster family had no involvement in the unknown boy's death. Only a few months after the interview, Arthur Nicoletti died. Anna Marie was subsequently placed in a nursing home.

Shortly after the America's Most Wanted TV broadcast of October 3, 1998, seven persons who had watched the program and participated in the AMW Forum, decided to form an Internet chat group to discuss the Boy in the Box case. One member of that chat group was a woman postal worker from Virginia. She had been raised in the Philadelphia area during the 1950's and 60's, and said that she vividly recalled the original Boy in the Box investigation; particularly the flyers, which were posted everywhere. In early November, the woman began telling the other chat group members about a friend of hers named "Dianne", who had allegedly lived in the same neighborhood as the foster family and knew a lot about them, possibly even "incriminating stuff". "Dianne" had attended grammar school with two of the foster girls, she said. The woman stated that the foster family definitely had several relatives on the Philadelphia police force, and that they may have engineered a cover-up of the "Boy in the Box" case. This information was relayed to the Vidocq Society by George Knowles, the group's Vidocq liaison, and was brought to the attention of Vidocq Society Commissioner, William Fleisher. Fleisher requested that the woman contact him via telephone as soon as possible. After some initial reluctance, the woman called Fleisher, but declined to put him in touch with her friend, "Dianne." She told Fleisher that "Dianne's" abusive husband hated the police and wouldn't allow her to speak directly to anyone in law enforcement. The woman proposed that Fleisher funnel all of his questions through her, and she would act as an "intermediary" between "Dianne" and the Vidocq Society. Fleisher reluctantly agreed to this unusual arrangement initially, but in subsequent phone conversations, he insisted that he had to speak with "Dianne" directly about her knowledge of the foster family. The woman stalled Fleisher for awhile by announcing that "Dianne" was temporarily unavailable because she and her husband had left town for a two-week vacation in Florida. At the end of two weeks, Fleisher contacted the woman again and repeated his request to be put directly in touch with "Dianne." This time the woman told him that "Dianne's" husband had suffered a mild stroke in Florida, and needed time to recuperate! "Dianne" wouldn't be able to return to Philadelphia until the spring, she said. This weird "cat and mouse game" continued for a few more weeks, until the woman suddenly announced that "Dianne's" husband had suffered a second stroke and probably didn't have long to live! Therefore "Dianne" had decided to sell her home in Pennsylvania and remain in Florida permanently. Consequently, Bill Fleisher would never have the opportunity to speak with "Dianne" about the foster family. Of course, by this time, everyone was already convinced that "Dianne" didn't really exist. In all probability, she was an imaginary character that the woman had invented just to get attention. Eventually, the woman was expelled from the chat group.


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In May 2001, the CBS television program "48 Hours" broadcast a brief segment about the Boy in the Box investigation. The segment featured clips from home movies that were taken at the foster home in the 1950's. A man who had spent his summers at the foster home during that period, saw the program and recognized himself in one of the film clips. He contacted the America's Unknown Child website and offered to tell what he knew about the foster family. The man was immediately put in touch with the investigators, but he could provide little information that wasn't already known.

Horsham Suspects - a mass night raid on a farm near Horsham, PA in September 1957 netted four persons who were questioned about the murder of the unidentified boy. Carried out by State, Montgomery county and Philadelphia police, the raid was made as a result of confidential information given to the Montgomery County District Attorney by an unidentified woman. The exact location of the farm and the identities of the six persons living there were not disclosed. After questioning, all of the suspects were released.

Hungarian Refugee: In 1965, Bill Kelly decided to investigate the possibility that the unknown boy may have been a recent immigrant. If true, that would explain why he had no hospital birth record or footprints on file. Going through old newspapers, Kelly came across a 1956 article about the tide of Hungarian refugees that arrived in this country following the failed uprising of October 1956. In the accompanying photo, there was a little boy who looked exactly like the Boy in the Box. His approximate age, coloring, facial expression, and build were the same. With the assistance of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Kelly sifted through 11,200 passport photos before finding the Hungarian boy's picture, and then locating his family in North Carolina. State troopers found the family at home, the boy playing safely in the yard.

Mrs. Margaret Martinez of Thornton, CO - arrested in 1960 after she admitted throwing her three-year-old daughter's body into a trash can. Mrs. Martinez matched the description of a woman seen standing next to a parked car near the spot where the boy's body was found in Fox Chase. She was questioned by Joseph Komarnicki, former head of the Philadelphia Detective Bureau's missing persons division, but no connection to the Boy in the Box case could be established.

Missing Rhode Island Boy - The initial search for clues spread to Barrington, Rhode Island, where police learned a young mother and her six-year-old son had been reported missing since they left, ostensibly for Florida, on Feb. 19, 1957. Twenty-five prints of the dead boy's foot were sent to the Barrington police to be checked against those of the missing youngster there, along with a picture of the slain boy. The mother of the Barrington boy was estranged from her husband. Her son, though a blond and of about the same height as the dead boy, apparently was at least 10 pounds heavier. This potential lead turned out to be a dead end.

New York City Homicide Victim - Certain similarities between the Boy in the Box case and the mysterious homicide of a 5-year-old girl found in a New York City park in August 1957 prompted the Philadelphia and New York City police departments to launch a cooperative investigation to determine if both children could have been victimized by the same person. A link between the two crimes was never found.

Ohio Informant - In February 2002, a business woman from Cincinnati, Ohio (hereinafter referred to as "M") contacted investigators through her psychiatrist. "M" claimed that her abusive mother purchased the unknown boy from his birth parents in the summer of 1954, subjected him to extreme physical and sexual abuse for two and a half years, and then killed him in a fit of rage, by slamming him to the floor after he vomited in the bathtub. (Allegedly, the boy had eaten baked beans just a few minutes earlier.) "M" had originally recounted the story to her psychiatrist in 1989 but declined to come forward and speak with law enforcement officials until thirteen years later.

In May 2002, Philadelphia detective Tom Augustine, accompanied by Vidocq Society investigators, Joseph McGillen and William Kelly, traveled to Cincinnati and interviewed the woman at her psychiatrist's office for three hours. "M" told them that she had lived in Lower Merion, Pennsylvania (a well-to-do suburb of Philadelphia) in the 1950's. Her parents were both employed by the Lower Merion school district. Her mother was a librarian and her father was a science teacher. "M" told the investigators that the unknown boy's name was "Jonathan". She said that "Jonathan" was very frail, mentally handicapped, and could not speak. In August 1954, when she was 10, "M" told the investigators, her mother drove her to a home, where she picked the boy up in exchange for an envelope which she assumed contained money. "M" claimed that her mother regularly sexually abused her and purchased "Jonathan" so that she could sexually abuse him, as well.

For two and a half years, "Jonathan" was raised in squalor in the basement of the Lower Merion home. He slept in an empty refrigerator box amid dusty coal bins and used a floor drain as his toilet. "Jonathan" was never allowed to go outside or even be seen by visitors to the home.

According to "M", after her mother killed "Jonathan" in February 1957, she cut his long hair to conceal his identity. "M" trimmed the boy's nails. Then they wrapped the boy's nude body in an old blanket, placed it in the trunk of their car, and drove into Philadelphia, looking for a suitable place to dump the body. "M" said that they eventually arrived at Susquehanna Road, a narrow, secluded country lane in the sparsely-settled Fox Chase section of northern Philadelphia. It was ideally suited for their purpose. "M" recalled that, as she and her mother were preparing to remove the boy's body from the trunk, a male driver unexpectedly stopped and asked them if they were having car trouble. They quickly turned their backs to the man, and said nothing. They were careful to block the man's view of the license plate on their car. After a few anxious moments that must have seemed like an eternity, the man continued on his way. ("M's" account almost exactly matched the confidential testimony of the anonymous male witness who had originally reported this incident to the police in 1957.) After the man drove away, "M" and her mother removed the boy's body from the trunk and placed it in a large cardboard box that they found at the scene. What role, if any, "M's" father may have played in the whole macabre episode has not been revealed by the investigators.

The investigators were impressed by "M's" testimony, which seemed quite plausible, but they remained skeptical. At issue was whether "M", who has a history of mental problems, could have fabricated the entire story. After the investigative team returned to Philadelphia, the Philadelphia police department, the Vidocq Society, and the Montgomery County District Attorney's office launched an intensive follow-up investigation in order to verify "M's" account of the unknown boy's death. Unfortunately, six months later, having left "no stone unturned" in their relentless search for corroborating evidence, the investigators came up empty. Not a single one of "M's" allegations could be substantiated. Also, a search for trace evidence in the basement of the Lower Merion home where the boy allegedly resided turned up nothing. The investigators are still pursuing other clues in this phase of the Boy in the Box investigation.

Private Edward J. Posivak of Philadelphia, PA - detained and questioned in Nashville, TN regarding the mysterious disappearance of a young married woman whom he had been dating. In a car Posivak was driving, police found a clipping about the unidentified boy found in the Fox Chase area of Philadelphia. Posivak denied any involvement in the boy's death. He agreed to submit to a lie detector test. The results of the test were entirely negative, confirming Posivak's assertion that his relatives sent him news clippings as matters of general interest. Extensive questioning convinced detectives that Posivak was probably nowhere near Philadelphia at the time the boy was found dead.

John Powroznik - an 18-year-old youth who told police that he had discovered the body of the murdered boy in Fox Chase on the weekend of February 22-23, 1957, but was afraid to tell anyone about it. John Powroznik's home was located on Pine road near Susquehanna road, a short distance from the spot where police found the boy's body. Powroznik told detectives that on either Saturday, February 23, or Sunday, February 24, he sighted the box, with the body, while returning home from a basketball game. Powroznik was not sure of the day but said it was drizzling at the time (the Weather Bureau reported a light rain about 1 P.M. on Saturday.) Powroznik was so horrified and frightened by what he had seen that he ran home and said nothing about it to his parents. Powroznik claimed ownership of a number of muskrat traps in the vicinity.

Harold Sanders, of Dover, DE - reported that his wife and three children were missing. He said that he had a son, John, who was fair, thin, and about the age of the child found battered to death in Fox Chase. Mr. Sanders' wife and children were subsequently located - alive and well. The investigators learned that Mrs. Sanders had not really been "missing" after all, but had simply left her husband and taken the children with her.


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Terry Lee Speece - The dead boy was identified by six persons as Terry Lee Speece, eight, who had been living with his father, an itinerant roofer and laborer, in Camden, NJ for the six weeks preceding February 23, 1957. Police issued a 13 state alarm, requesting that the boy's father, Charles D. Speece, be detained for questioning. Speece's estranged wife, who had not seen the boy for a year, took a look at the dead boy in the morgue, and said he was not her son. The boy's maternal grandparents also viewed the body of the dead boy, and said they could not positively identify him as their grandson. Weeks later, Terry Lee Speece was found by state police in Ardmore, PA, living with his father. The father said he wasn't aware police had been looking for him.

Mrs. Cora Thompson of Tulsa, OK - telephoned Philadelphia detectives and said she thought the boy found beaten to death in Philadelphia might be her son who had been missing for two years. Pictures of the dead boy were sent to Tulsa police so that the woman could check them, but nothing came of it.

Unidentified Bus Passenger - In March 1957, a woman amateur artist identified the body in the morgue as the same boy she had seen sleeping in a man's arms on a bus running from Philadelphia to southern New Jersey. The pair had boarded the bus in Camden, she said. The woman submitted a sketch she'd made of the man, but the investigators weren't able to verify her story.

Unidentified Caller: In May 1999, an anonymous caller informed the Philadelphia police department about a woman who had lived only a few miles from the crime scene in early 1957. Allegedly, the woman had a little boy who was "about the same age" as the unknown Boy in the Box. According to the anonymous caller, shortly before the unknown boy's body was discovered, both the woman and her son mysteriously disappeared! The caller identified the missing woman by name, and said that she was "almost certain" that the woman had been the mother of the unknown boy. Detective Tom Augustine followed up on the anonymous tip, but he soon discovered that this information was not new. The story about the missing woman and her young son had originally been reported to the local police in 1957. They had checked out the story, and verified that the woman and her son had merely moved away. There was no connection between them and the Boy in the Box case. Augustine also discovered that the "missing" woman's son had subsequently died of injuries that he received in an automobile accident at the age of 21.

Unidentified Informant #1 - A tip was called in by a man who said he knew how to obtain a pre-mortem photograph of the unknown boy sitting on an Indian blanket. Detective Sam Weinstein received authorization from his commander to purchase the photo. The boy in the photo looked like the dead boy, and the blanket looked like the blanket found in the box. But after further investigation, Weinstein discovered that the boy in the photo was still alive and obviously not the one found in Fox Chase.

Unidentified Informant #2 - In 1982, the police got a call from someone who said they had new information on the case. The information turned out to be correct, but it concerned a different child - not the Boy in the Box. Police learned that the child, who had been sent to live in a Bucks County foster home in 1957, was still alive.

Unidentified Delaware Informant - In March 1957, a waitress in Wilmington, Delaware identified the child from a circular as one she had seen several months before walking past the place where she worked, hand in hand with a man who was talking about catching a train for Philadelphia. The woman's testimony could not be corroborated.

Unidentified Illinois Informant - In late 1998, investigators learned that in 1958, an Illinois woman who'd read about the Philadelphia mystery in The Saturday Evening Post told FBI agents that she knew the boy's mother - a "loose" woman who traveled a lot. Once the original report was located, Vidocq Society Commissioner William Fleisher tracked down a female member of the family by phone, who indicated that the boy he was asking about was now a man and very much alive.

Unidentified Michigan Informant - In September 2000, a Michigan woman notified police that she believed a young boy who moved into her Detroit neighborhood in the mid-1950's could have been the Boy in the Box. She said that he was a shy, withdrawn child, and he was thoroughly disliked and mistreated by his drunkard stepfather. In late 1956 or early 1957, the boy tried to cut his own hair and made a mess of it. This infuriated his stepfather. Shortly thereafter, the boy and his family departed on a two-week trip to Kentucky to visit relatives. When the parents returned to Detroit, the boy wasn't with them. The stepfather alleged that the boy had been "adopted" by a Tennessee doctor. Although the informant didn't accept the stepfather's explanation, she never reported the boy's mysterious disappearance to authorities.

The Michigan woman's tip was relayed to the Boy in the Box investigators in Philadelphia. Her story was exhaustively investigated but no connection to the Boy in the Box case could be found. The boy's two younger half-sisters were located and interviewed. One of the half-sisters said that she had always been told that her half-brother had been adopted by folks in Tennessee, but she knew nothing more than that. Another person who was interviewed said that he had been told that the boy had tracked down and visited his stepfather in the 1960's. He was allegedly wearing an Air Force uniform at that time. Photographs of the boy were sent to the investigators, but they determined that the Michigan boy bore no resemblance to "America's Unknown Child." Ultimately, the investigators decided to discontinue active pursuit of the Michigan lead because, in their collective judgment, the investigation had reached a dead end.

Unidentified Motorist - Shortly after the unknown boy's body was discovered, a man told police of a strange incident he witnessed about 200 feet from the spot where the boy's body was found, on Sunday, February 24, 1957. The witness said that he was driving along Verree road when he spotted a car that was stopped on the side of Susquehanna road with a woman and a boy standing by the car trunk. The woman appeared to be "groping" for something in the trunk. The woman, the witness said, was between 40 and 50, of medium height and heavyset, wearing a checked winter cloth coat. Her boy companion appeared to be between 12 and 14, and was of about the same height as the woman. The witness said he turned onto Susquehanna road and slowed his own car, thinking the woman had a flat tire, and asked if he could be of any assistance. He said that both the woman and boy turned their backs to him and remained absolutely mute. They seemed to be trying to conceal the license plate of their car from him. The man thought this was strange but decided they didn't want him interfering with whatever they were doing, so he drove off.

Unidentified New Jersey Informant - In March 1957, the woman night manager of a restaurant in Camden, N.J., directly across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, called to say she had seen the murder victim in the restaurant on two occasions in February. She said that the boy was accompanied by a man of about 40 . . . red-faced, sloppily dressed. The little boy said he wanted to talk to his 'Mommy' on the telephone, so the man placed a long distance call to Baltimore. Investigators could find no other witnesses who saw the unidentified man and boy at the Camden restaurant, and a check of telephone records disclosed that there had been no long distance calls to Baltimore made during the period mentioned by the woman in her report to police. The lead was eventually dismissed as unsubstantiated and unverifiable.

Unidentified New Jersey Man - On March 1, 1957, a Merchantville, New Jersey man was brought to City Hall for questioning about the slaying after he made five telephone calls to Sgt. John McBride of the Homicide Squad, saying he "knew about the case." The man told detectives he "had visions of killing the boy" and of being implicated in the murder. The man, father of five children, was released after it was discovered he had been a psychiatric patient at the Naval Hospital.


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Unidentified Pennsylvania Couple - In March 1957, a Manayunk, PA couple told detectives they thought the boy might be their 6-year-old son, whom they had last seen seven months earlier when he was placed in an orphanage by the Municipal Court. The mother said the boy "looks like him" and the father said he wasn't "too sure." A team of detectives later found the boy in a private orphanage in West Philadelphia.

Unidentified Pennsylvania Informant #1 - In December 1999, a Bucks County, PA man contacted the America's Unknown Child web site and the Vidocq Society. He declared that his family might be able to shed some light on the Boy in the Box case. The man said that he had been born and raised in Philadelphia. He recalled that his parents briefly rented a house in the Oxford Circle section of the city to an out-of-town family in 1956/57. Throughout their nine-month residency, the tenant family remained very secretive and aloof, and little was known about them. Allegedly, most of the neighbors didn't even know how many people actually lived in the house! At about the time the unknown boy's body was discovered, the tenant family moved away quite suddenly, perhaps in the middle of the night. The family departed in such a hurry that they left breakfast dishes and food on the kitchen table! Judging by some articles of clothing and other personal items that were left behind, it was evident that a young boy had lived in the house. The man's mother allegedly reported this incident to the Philadelphia police in March, 1957 but never received any feedback. In late December, the man and his sister personally met with Sam Weinstein and Bill Kelly of the Vidocq Society and discussed the details of this intriguing story.

In August 2000, while searching through the original case files, Vidocq Society investigators, Bill Kelly and Joseph McGillen, discovered an index card confirming that in March, 1957 the lead about the hasty overnight departure of a mysterious tenant family in the Oxford Circle area had been provided to the Philadelphia police. The card also bore the name of a female neighbor whom police had interviewed after getting that tip. The neighbor had babysat for the tenant family during the short time they lived in the neighborhood. She testified that there was a young boy in that family, but he was only 2-1/2 years old at the time (rather than the unknown boy's estimated age of 4 or 5), and that he bore no resemblance to the unknown boy in the box. There was a reference number on the index card to a page number in one of the master books containing the actual interview with the neighbor, but the Vidocq investigators were unable to locate the specific report. However, the brief information on the index card provided sufficient evidence that the lead was checked out in 1957 and found to be of no value in the case.

Unidentified Pennsylvania Informant #2 - In 2004, the investigators received a tip via the Internet about a large family of poor tenant farmers who lived in Bustleton, not far from the Fox Chase site where the unknown boy's body was discovered. The tenant farmers allegedly moved away quite suddenly in early 1957. The youngest child in the family was said to be about the same age as the Boy in the Box. Preliminary investigation revealed that the family had, in fact, moved to Virginia suddenly in 1957, but none of the children died during childhood. The eldest child was contacted and he agreed to submit a DNA sample for analysis. His DNA did not match the unknown boy’s DNA profile.

Leads Generated By the America's Most Wanted TV Broadcast of October 3, 1998:

In response to the special Boy in the Box segment shown on the America's Most Wanted program of October 3, 1998. approximately 150 tips were called into America's Most Wanted's toll-free hotline, and at least another eight tips were received by Philadelphia Homicide. Several tips originated from Philadelphia or its outlying areas, such as southern New Jersey and upstate Pennsylvania. Others came in from as far away as Southern California, Wyoming, British Columbia, Newfoundland, Maine, New York, Virginia, Alabama, Missouri and Indiana. Most of the calls were anonymous, without even a phone number to follow up on. Many callers simply had questions or offered theories about the case, and a few calls came from psychics and other people who had vague "dreams" or "visions." A small percentage of the respondents had "leads" or "tips" which warranted follow-up investigation, although in the end, none of them panned out. Here are four examples:

Modesto, California Lead - A woman reported that a man her aunt married many years ago fled Philadelphia under suspicious circumstances. Local authorities interviewed the woman at Detective Tom Augustine's request, and sent back a photograph of a boy that "could have been the unknown boy's half-brother." This lead eventually turned out to be a dead end.

Brazil, Indiana Lead - A young boy disappeared when a carnival came to town and was never seen again. This occurred less than a year before the Boy in the Box was discovered. Detective Tom Augustine contacted local law enforcement officials to learn more. Result: there was no connection between this incident and the Boy in the Box case.

Atlantic City, New Jersey lead - A woman described a news clipping she'd saved, about a missing Vineland, NJ, boy, who simply had to be the boy she saw on AMW. Detective Augustine called the newspaper, which dug the article out of its archives and faxed him a copy. He was happy to have been saved a trip to Atlantic City when he learned that the Vineland boy had gone missing five years after the Boy in the Box was found.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Lead - A man showed up at Philadelphia Homicide and reported that his half-brother, 14 months older than himself, had mysteriously disappeared around the time that the unknown boy's body was discovered. He said it was a secret among the family for years. He also said that forensic sculptor Frank Bender's hypothetical bust of the unknown boy's father looked exactly like his own deceased father. Detective Augustine tried to track down other relatives who might have been able to add to the man's story. Eventual result: another dead end.


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JULY 26, 1958



A year and a half after a shocking murder, these mute

pieces of evidence still hold the secret of Philadelphia's

most baffling crime. by EARL and ANNE SELBY

Spring sometimes comes early in Philadelphia, but by late February of 1957 there was still no sign of warm weather. In the last week of that month, the temperature ranged from the chilly twenties to the brisk forties. In Philadelphia's most incredible murder mystery, that tiny fact may be the most important clue of all. When the thermometer stays in that range, human bodies do not decompose rapidly. And, as a result, there was no telling how long the body of a little boy had lain in a box in a rubbish-strewn field.

The boy - perhaps four, maybe five years old - had been beaten to death, but the police have never determined when, where or by whom. In a big city, murder is commonplace and seldom an enduring puzzle. In the usual course of their investigation, police rapidly learn the name, home address and cronies of the murdered. Rarely do they lack a suspect. In this case the mystery is so complete that detectives have never been able to identify the body.

This is a mystery almost without parallel. How is it possible for a murderer not only to escape justice, but even to shroud the identity of the victim?

Somewhere in his life the boy must have been known, not just to his parents, but to their friends. Somewhere he must have had playmates. Somewhere there must have been neighbors who knew he was alive - and now around no more. Somewhere there must be a person who neatly trimmed the nails on his fingers and toes. Somewhere there must be a barber - professional or amateur - who gave him a bowl-like haircut shortly before his death. Somewhere the boy's fingerprints - or footprints - must be on file.

That is - all these people - and these things - "must be" in the logical course of events. It is, or so it would seem, impossible for a child to be murdered and have no persons come forward to claim him as their own or, at the very least, identify him.

But in this case, fact defies logic. The police sent out 400,000 circulars to be posted in police stations, post offices, and courthouses all over the nation. The FBI's Law Enforcement Bulletin alerted investigators; the American Medical Association circulated a complete medical description in the hope that some doctor, somewhere, might recognize the boy. In a dozen states, from California to Maine, leads have developed - and all proved futile.

More than a year has now gone by. The Philadelphia police have three filing cases bulging with reports of investigations. But nothing has happened to alter the simple statement of fact on the white marble slab over the boy's grave: HEAVENLY FATHER, BLESS THIS UNKNOWN BOY.

There is no telling how long the boy's body might have gone undiscovered in the community of Fox Chase, on the northern outskirts of Philadelphia, had it not been for a rabbit. On February 11, 1957, a LaSalle College student named Frederick Benonis was driving home from school on Susquehanna Road, west of Verree Road. On the north side of Susquehanna there is a girls' school; on the south, a country field with dense undergrowth stretching back from a line of trees and providing perfect cover for small game. When a rabbit scurried in front of Benonis' car, he stopped to follow it into the brush. He didn't catch the rabbit, but he did find two steel traps for small game. Benonis sprang the traps and then left.

Two weeks later, about 3:15 on the afternoon of Monday, February twenty-fifth, he again drove by and stopped to see if the traps were still there. He looked around for them and saw a three-foot-long cardboard box partially overlaid with vines and brush, about fifteen feet from Susquehanna Road - on a direct line with a footpath made by persons who'd dumped trash.

The box looked new, and Benonis went over to examine it. Inside he found what appeared to be a doll or a small child wrapped in an old blanket. But, as a police report puts it, "He did not notify the police or anyone else for fear of becoming involved in some tragedy."

The next morning, while driving to school, Benonis heard a radio broadcast about a little girl being missing from her home in New Jersey. Could her body be what he had seen in that box? When Benonis got to LaSalle, he didn't go to class. Instead he talked with two faculty counselors and also with his priest-brother. All advised him to tell the police his story. At ten A.M. he telephoned the Philadelphia homicide squad, commanded by Capt. David Roberts.

A routine police check was ordered; and, at the exact point Benonis had described, the officers found the cardboard box marked, FRAGILE, HANDLE WITH CARE. In it was the boy's body, wrapped in one piece of a cheap, well-worn blanket with a faded design of diamonds and blocks in green, rust-red, brown and white. In the box was another piece of the same blanket, smeared with what appeared to be grease. A third piece - to complete the 64-by-76-inch blanket was missing.

The boy was unclothed. His head was bruised with the injuries that killed him. But the body was dry - and clean. The nails had been recently trimmed short and neat. But the palm of his right hand and the soles of both his small feet were rough-skinned and wrinkled in what police called a "washerwoman" effect, indicating that just before or after death the one hand and both feet had been in water. His hair, a medium brown, had been crudely cut, with no sideburns, and short - only about a half inch on top. And on his body, police discovered a spattering of his hair, meaning that the cutting had been made with no sheet around his neck or when the boy was nude - and possibly dead. No man could fix the time of death. The boy could have died two days - or two weeks - earlier.

Those three clues - a box, a blanket and a body - were all the direct evidence the police had. But in the beginning hours of their investigation the detectives had no thought that this would be a crime without solution. The left hand yielded perfect fingerprints. That "washerwoman" wrinkling was not severe enough to obliterate the prints on the right hand nor on the feet. Further, there were scars on the child's body which could mark surgical incisions, on the left ankle, the chest and the groin. On the chin was an L-shaped scar - a quarter of an inch long in each direction. There were three small moles on the left side of the face, a tiny one below the right ear, three on the chest, and still another on the right arm two inches above the wrist. The boy had blue eyes and a full set of baby teeth.

No one believed that a homicide investigator's first job - identifying the victim - would be difficult. What was more, the box itself not only bore the name of the store it had come from - it also carried a manufacturer's serial number, so that it could be pinpointed to one specific shipment. And the stain on that torn piece of blanket could be chemically analyzed; if it turned out to be automobile grease it could be compared with smears that might be found in a suspect's car. Prosecutors like that kind of circumstantial evidence.

There was yet another hopeful item. Fifteen feet from the box, near the footpath leading in from the road, searchers found a distinctive cap, cut in Ivy League style from blue corduroy, with a leather strap and buckle across the back. It was easy to understand how someone who carried the box could have had the cap brushed off by a low-hanging branch - then been unable to find it in the darkness. And, best of all, the capmaker's name and address were clearly stamped on the sweatband.

Detectives took the cap to Mrs. Hannah Robbins, in whose South Philadelphia shop it had been made. Certainly, said Mrs. Robbins, she remembered the cap. Several months earlier a man between twenty-six and thirty years old had bought it. She recalled him because he'd asked her to add the leather strap and buckle. He was in working clothes, spoke without an accent and was alone. What was his name? lt was, said Mrs. Robbins, a cash sale, so she hadn't taken his name. Had she ever seen him before or since? Never, she said. With the cap and a picture of the boy, detectives then painstakingly visited 143 stores and businesses in the area. Not one person recalled either boy or cap.

Meanwhile the fingerprints were checked. Neither the Philadelphia Police, the Pennsylvania State Police, nor the FBI files in Washington produced any match for the youngster's prints. Four thousand doctors in the Philadelphia area were sent special circulars: none remembered seeing the boy. Nothing of consequence developed after the same information appeared in the nationally-circulated Journal of the American Medical Association.

And what of the cardboard box? Printed on it was the name of the J.C. Penney chain's store in suburban Upper Darby - at least fifteen miles from where the boy's body was found. The store officials immediately recognized the box as one used for a $7.95 white bassinet. But Penney's practice is "Cash"-- and although a dozen were sold from that shipment, the store had no records of the purchaser. With the help of newspaper publicity, the detectives got calls from eight buyers, all of who said they had either put the box out for trash or still had it in their homes. The police talked to the trash collectors--they said they had long since burned their loads of refuse. The four other purchasers of the white bassinets were never found.

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