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

America's Unknown Child


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But Homicide Captain Roberts and his superior, Chief Inspector of Detectives John Kelly, still had hopes for clues from the box. For example, how long had the box been in the field? When the officers had first arrived in that thicket-filled field, the box was dry and without rain stains. This might be a clue - the Weather Bureau said there had been rain on Saturday, the twenty-third, just three days before the investigation started. Yet, here again, the investigators ran into another of those baffling frustrations that have marked this whole case. There is no Weather Bureau station for recording rainfall in the area where the body was found. The meteorologists have no way of telling how much--if any-rain fell in Fox Chase that day. But one thing is certain: The box was there at 1:30 on the afternoon of Sunday, the twenty-fourth, one full day before student Benonis first saw it.

That fact, however, did not come out until two weeks later. A detective, specially assigned by Chief Kelly to make a door-to-door survey of the homes in the immediate area of the field, found the owner of the traps that Benonis had spotted in early February. He was eighteen-year-old John Powroznik, whose family had settled in the Fox Chase community after leaving Poland in 1949. John, a high-school junior, said he had nineteen traps around the death field, but had been checking them only spasmodically because it was close to the trapping season's end. And he told detectives that on Sunday the twenty-fourth, he was bicycling to play basketball in a nearby church gymnasium when he saw the box in the field.

A police report says, "He thought it looked suspicious, got off his bicycle and walked to the box. Approaching it from the rear, he reached down with his right hand, lifting the top of the box up toward him, at which time he saw the body of a baby and a blanket. He immediately dropped the box, got on his bicycle and went back home and never mentioned this to anyone." Why? Many people who have come from behind the iron curtain do not quickly involve themselves with the police of any land.

There was yet another reason for John's silence. Some months before, in another deserted Fox Chase field, John's brother had come upon the body of a suicide hanging from a tree: the mere questioning of him by the police had upset the whole family.

John's admission meant that the boy in the box had been dead at least forty-eight hours before the police arrived at the field. Could the box have been there for a week or even longer? If it had gone unscathed for forty-eight hours, couldn't it have been unmolested for ninety-six hours, or for an entire week? The answer is: possibly.

This is a mystery for which everyone may logically advance his own theory. Could it have been a kidnapping? It could have. But then, wouldn't the boy's parents have reported him missing? In fact, there was a sensational - and unsolved - missing-child case on the books. In the June 9, 1956 issue of The Saturday Evening Post, Mrs. Marilyn Damman told the story of how her thirty-four-month-old son, Steven, had been kidnapped on Long Island the previous October. Hundreds of police officials, reading the newspaper and wire-service stories of Philadelphia's unknown boy, immediately thought this might be the body of the Damman child. At first, so did the Philadelphia police. But Nassau County Detective Inspector James Farrell came to Philadelphia and after carefully examining the unknown boy's body said it was not that of the Damman child: "Completely different in facial appearance, coloration and build."

This was not the only kidnapping lead. Page after page in the Philadelphia files is filled with the suspicions of deserted wives and husbands. From the South came a lawyer's letter saying a client thought the unknown boy might be one of his children taken by his wife when she left. The wife, found in New Jersey, produced the children - alive. She explained she simply had no desire to live with her husband. In Cleveland a wife was positive the Philadelphia mystery explained what had happened to the son her husband had taken when he left town. Grandmothers wrote of their no-good sons-in-law; in one case, a young serviceman told police he was sure the body was that of his younger brother. That is, he was sure until the police checked out every one of his fourteen brothers and sisters and found all well. In police files, there are nearly 300 letters and reports in which one member of a family suspects foul play by another; some of these letters are shot through with sad and pathetic stories of marital discord; some are mean and malicious. ("I know my sister must have had an illegitimate baby, and she's the kind that would kill it.") But all had this in common - not one produced a single worthwhile lead to solve Philadelphia's baffling murder.

The possibility of kidnapping was raised also by Dr. Wilton M. Krogman, noted University of Pennsylvania anthropologist, known to police throughout the country as "the bone detective." His specialty is human growth; he reads bones as accurately as certified public accountants read balance sheets. Examining the body of the unknown boy, Doctor Krogman found him to be forty inches tall: in the technical phrase this gave the youngster a "height age" of about three years, eight months. But the boy weighed only thirty pounds, a "weight age" of 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."

Doctor Krogman estimated that the boy had been in chronic ill health - with the accompanying malnutrition - for about a year. Under what circumstances is a child exposed to that condition? Doctor Krogman said it might be typical of a family on the move. A family of itinerant workers, perhaps; always following the sun and the crops. Or perhaps kidnappers had taken the boy and just kept moving, in constant fear of the police.

But do kidnappers keep a boy's fingernails and toenails neatly trimmed? Not in the police view. So they turned back to Doctor Krogman for other possible leads they could investigate. For example, could he give them any clue to the boy's ancestry? The scientist 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. But, as Doctor Krogman pointed out, that racial stock had pretty well spread over Europe, especially during and after the Second World War.

Was it possible that the unknown boy was the child of a Hungarian refugee couple admitted to the United States after the great freedom riots of 1956? For a time, Homicide's Captain Roberts and his men thought they had a real possibility in that question. But, once again, the blank wall. From lmmigration authorities came the word that everyone who came during the Hungarian refugee program had been vaccinated. And the boy's body bore no mark of vaccination.

The haircut and the wrinkled "washerwoman" skin on the right palm and the soles of the feet presented another puzzle. That wrinkling comes only from immersion in water. Maybe just before death the little boy had been playing in his bath. But, if that were true, wouldn't the left hand be affected too? And if he had been taking a bath, then why hadn't the water washed away the strands of hair the police found on his body? Why, the detectives asked themselves - why the wrinkling on the soles of the feet?

One possible answer: Whoever killed the boy knew the footprints were on file in some hospital, and was attempting to blur the skin ridges so that the prints could never be traced. But, if that's so, then why is the right hand also wrinkled? Detectives speculate - with no real evidence to support their theory - that this right hand might have been put in water to throw the investigators off the trail, by adding a deliberately misleading clue. And yet all that speculation founders on this point: If the purpose was to conceal the footprints, then why weren't the feet kept in water long enough to achieve that goal. As it turned out, detectives checking sole prints in hospital files found that the hospital prints in a number of cases were too fuzzy to use for comparison. That didn't surprise them, for as most topnotch investigators know, footprints are not always an accurate means of identification.

The peculiar cropping of the hair also attracted close attention. Why was it cut so high on the sides, almost as if it had been shaped with a bowl, then flattened on top in a half-inch-high crew style? And did the strands on his chest indicate that the hair was clipped while the boy was nude - and dead? Captain Robert's men followed this thinking to another strange possibility - that the boy was the son of an unbalanced mother who had raised him as a girl; then, after his death, had cut the hair short to block recognition of the "girl". Certainly the cropping had the appearance of an amateur's work, and the strands on the chest could mean that the cut was made in such a hurry - or panic - that the barber had no time to brush them away.


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The "unbalanced mother" thought flowed directly into another theory that perhaps the boy, too, had been mentally incompetent - was, in fact, a retarded child. Doctor Krogman recalls that after the newspaper disclosed his entry into the case, he got a telephone call from a woman with a calm, almost deliberately ridged voice. "Can you tell whether that boy was weak-minded?" she asked. Doctor Krogman asked her name. "Do you know what it is to take care of an idiot?" she answered, the calmness suddenly gone. "Sometimes you get so sick of their crying you can kill them in a fit of anger." Now her voice was loud and angry. "That," she said, "might be your explanation." Abruptly she hung up. She never called again.

Actually, there was no way after death to determine the boy's mental competency. But one thing the investigators could - and did - do. This was to make a head count of children who had been placed in nearby institutions for the retarded. But, in institution after institution, in home after home, the story was the same. All the children could be accounted for. And in not one place was there a blanket even resembling the torn and faded one the boy's body was wrapped in. But there was still something compelling about the retarded child theory. Was it possible that this was a case of unintentional killing, not premeditated murder? Suppose the boy was retarded and his family had a new baby. That new baby could account for the bassinet box. Suppose further that the defective child tried to harm his infant brother or sister. Would either parent, in a burst of rage, strike the retarded one - again, again, and again? This is a mad and frightening picture, but homicide is rarely otherwise.

The retarded child theory has never been disproved - or proved. But, whatever this child might have been - normal, retarded, healthy or ill - it would be only logical that he, or "she," would be known to some neighborhood. Young policemen were assigned to wear the casual clothes of playground instructors and mingle with youngsters of all ages in schoolyards, parks, and recreation centers. They kept asking one question. Did any of them remember a thin little boy - or girl - who'd been seen around, and now was seen no more? Some did, and each lead was traced out. In every case the children were alive. The detectives wondered if perhaps the unknown boy's family had moved from their own neighborhood or were newcomers to Philadelphia. From every moving company in the city they got a list of the customers in the weeks before and after the body had been found. Interstate movers were asked to supply the names of families they had moved into the city. Painstakingly the detectives searched out every white customer. Net result - another statistic for the files: 763 white families had hired movers. Period. Not one of those 763 investigations led to the tiniest clue about the boy.

All the while the police were investigating, the body of the unknown boy lay in the city morgue. Periodically the homicide squad got calls from men and women who thought they recognized the boy from pictures they had seen in newspapers. One by one they were taken to the morgue to view the body; one by one they said no, this was not the boy they had in mind. Early in the investigation there had come a call from a woman in Camden, New Jersey, across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. The boy's picture, she said, reminded her of a small boy traveling with an itinerant roofer she had hired at her home. She was brought to the morgue - and instantly she said this was the child she had seen. Armed with pictures of the boy, detectives rushed to her neighborhood. They found three other persons who, on viewing the body in the morgue, definitely identified this as a boy they had seen with a stranger in the area. Two others were not so positive, but said there was a real resemblance. With the help of these witnesses, the detectives identified the itinerant roofer as one Charles D. Speece, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. A year earlier, Speece had left Lancaster, taking with him his eight-year-old son. It was established that Speece and the boy had lived for a time in Camden, and then left town. Police sent out a thirteen-state alarm asking that Speece be picked up. But abruptly the investigation collapsed. Speece's estranged wife, located in Lancaster, came to the Philadelphia morgue to see if the unknown boy was her son. Emphatically she said, "It's not him." And in Newark, New Jersey, Speece heard of the alarm for him and came to Philadelphia. With him was his son.

Despite the calls that continued to come into the homicide squad's city hall headquarters, that was the last time anyone definitely identified the boy. And police knew, as each clue collapsed, they were: "back where we started from."

But Philadelphia police - like police everywhere - are patient people. Even though the case is now more than a year old, the dogged investigation goes on. As both Chief Inspector Kelly and Captain Roberts put it, "Somewhere in one of our files, there may be one little sentence that will give us a clue. All we want is a toe-hold on this case."

And there's a young civilian in the police department - a fingerprint clerk - who, on his own time, still goes out to check footprints in "just one more country hospital." While he goes from hospital to hospital in the outlying counties, detectives check back over those bulky files time after time. Every possible lead that trickles in from police in other states is investigated, but the clues remain the same - a box, a blanket and a small body.

As they were back on July 24, 1957, when, with city detectives standing at stiff attention, the body was buried in a small white casket in the city cemetery. The tombstone was inscribed: FEB 25, 1957. HEAVENLY FATHER, BLESS THIS UNKNOWN BOY....


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A. Susquehanna Rd., Fox Chase - where the unknown boy's nude body was discovered lying inside a large cardboard carton on 02/25/57. The carton had originally contained a white J.C. Penney's bassinet. Nearby, a blue corduroy cap with a leather strap was found.

B. #100 South 69th St., Upper Darby - site of the J.C. Penney store where the white bassinet was purchased some time between 12/03/56 and 02/16/57. It was one of twelve bassinets purchased at the store during that period.

C. #2603 South 7th St., Philadelphia - site of the Robbins Hat Co., where the blue corduroy cap with leather strap was purchased by a blond-haired man in his late twenties. According to the owner of the hat company, the man's features resembled those of the dead child.

1. The Philadelphia city cemetery (potter's field), where the unknown boy was originally laid to rest on July 24, 1957. Pursuant to a court order, the body was exhumed in November 1998, to obtain tissue for DNA analysis.

2. Ivy Hill Cemetery, where the boy was reburied on November 11, 1998 as "America's Unknown Child".


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M's Story

David Stout. The Boy in the Box: The Unsolved Case of America's Unknown Child (Kindle Locations 1907-1909). Kindle Edition.

Then Mary's face hardens. Her eyes seem to be looking far, far away. "My parents were educators. He was a high school teacher, and she was a librarian. The students liked them very much. I bet my parents autographed a thousand yearbooks.

"No one outside our house could have imagined what went on inside those walls. All these years later, I can hardly imagine it. My parents ... my parents did not have normal sexual desires. My father molested me. Oh, I know it's more common than people used to realize, especially back then. What was different with us is that my mother didn't just silently let it happen, which is the usual scenario. She was enthusiastic about it. Even joined in. The agreement was that my father let her indulge her taste in little boys. She preferred them to adult men because she thought them purer, somehow. I think that was it. Anyhow, one night a little boy came into our home, into our lives." The cops listen, mesmerized, as Mary tells her story. "I was thirteen when my mother took me in the car to get him... "

I didn't know the neighborhood. My mother drove for quite a while, but we were still in Philadelphia. I'm pretty sure. The houses were close together, and close to the street. Close enough so I could hear after my mother parked the car in front of this one house. My mother went up and rang the bell. The door opened, and I saw a woman standing there. She was holding a baby in diapers. She and my mother talked, just for a second. Then there was a man's voice, from inside. "Did you get the money?" the man said.

I thought he was talking to the woman standing in the doorway. But right then my mother took an envelope from her purse and handed it to the woman. Oh, I thought. The man was talking to my mother. And very quickly the woman handed the baby to my mother and almost slammed the door in her face, as though she never wanted to see her or the baby again. My mother carried him down to the car. I didn't know it was a boy then. It was a warm August night-hot, even-so there was no need for a blanket. "Here," my mother said, handing the baby to me. Because she had to drive. But I didn't know anything about holding a baby. And his diaper was wet. It smelled like pee, I remember that. But I didn't mind holding him, I really didn't. I felt sorry for him, because I remembered how the woman had slammed the door. As though she was throwing the baby out. "He'll be okay," my mother said. As though she could read my thoughts. So I held him as we drove home. All these years later, I remember how he felt against me. It got so I didn't even mind the diaper. I just felt that this baby, this little human being, needed me. Needed somebody. I hadn't put everything together yet, about my mother and father and how dysfunctional we all were as a family, but I wanted this little baby to be happy. Did I say "dysfunctional"? Sick, is what I meant. "Mom, how come we're taking this baby home?" I remember asking. "Because he needs a place," my mother said. She sounded cheerful and kind. "Can he be my brother?" I asked. "Sure," my mother said. "Only, we can't keep him upstairs." I wanted to ask, Why not? But I was afraid. I don't really remember how he got his name-maybe my mother chose it, in the car, I can't recall-but from then on, he was Jonathan.

As soon as we got home, my mother took him down to the basement and put him in this little room that used to be a coal bin. That was going to be his place, my mother said. I don't remember where my father was at the time. I remember thinking, it's like we just got a new puppy. Only, we never had a dog when I was growing up. My mother took some blankets and some heavy dishes, like dog dishes, down to the basement. "Don't you go down there," I remember her saying. I was afraid to, anyhow. That first night, I lay awake for a long time, worrying about Jonathan. I listened for crying, but I never heard anything. I knew it was warm enough down there, especially with the blankets. And there was a big cardboard box in the coal bin from the time we got a refrigerator. The cardboard was real thick, like it could be a mattress. But I felt sorry for him, down there in the dark. I didn't want him to be afraid. My mother would take food down to him. I don't ever remember my father doing it, for some reason. Sometimes I'd go down there with my mother. We didn't talk to him much. When I would say something, he wouldn't answer. After the first few times, I thought he might be retarded. I'm not sure I even knew that word then. But looking back, yes, I think he was. Oh, God! This poor child. All the time he was with us, he never said a word. Not a word.

After a while, I used to sneak down to the basement to see him. The smell. It was the first thing I noticed when I got to the bottom of the basement stairs. It was so strong. But of course it was; I mean, the little drain near the coal bin was his toilet. Sometimes when my mother took food down to him, she'd stay longer than other times. For whatever, I suppose. She'd bring him upstairs maybe once a week and put him in the bathtub. He'd splash a lot and make funny noises, but not real words. I don't remember Jonathan ever saying any real words. Ever talking.

I think he was hungry all the time. I know I was hungry a lot. See, upstairs we didn't have meals like normal people. Sitting down, talking and all. Once in a while, enough to eat, yes. But most of the time, when I was awake, I was a little bit hungry. Or a lot hungry. And when I'd ask my parents why the dinners were so small, they'd get all upset. They'd talk about the Depression, and how when they were younger, millions of families didn't have enough to eat. All right, I remember thinking. That was then. And this is now, when both of you, my parents, have decent jobs. Sure, nobody got rich being teachers or librarians, but they weren't poor either. I know my classmates weren't hungry most of the time. And my father, he'd just stick his nose in the newspaper when he didn't want to answer me. Time went by. Two and a half years, I realize now. Jonathan never did talk. Well, how could he learn, being down there all the time? Never going outside. No playmates, except me. It got so I liked to take his food down to him. The water we'd get from the sink near the washing machine. Sometimes I'd stay with him for a while. I'd sit on the cardboard with him. He always had coal dust on himself,• my mother would get mad when she brought him up for a bath, and his hair would be full of this black dust. But it wasn't his fault. They kept him down there.


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I'm sorry. Just give me a minute.... He'd sit there, rocking back and forth. Making these sounds that you'd expect from a little baby. I'd talk to him, call him Jonathan. Sometimes he'd look into my eyes, like he almost understood. I even got him to smile. Oh! Here it comes again. I'm sorry.... His hair grew real long. They never cut it. Why, I don't know. Time went by, and I'd go to school each day thinking, I know a big secret. Of course, I could never tell anybody. Not that I had any friends to speak of Or that Jonathan was the only secret. The night it happened, it was late February 1957. I was fifteen. Anyhow, my mother hadmade baked beans-they weren't very good-and she took some down to Jonathan. When she came back up, she said Jonathan was going to get a bath that night. And I remember there was no work or school the next day.

After a while, she went down to get Jonathan. Next thing, I heard her stomping up the stairs, cursing Jonathan all the way, his feet going thump, thump on the steps as she dragged him along. When she got him upstairs, I saw from her face that she was really unhappy with him, for some reason. God, his eyes looked so scared. She made him sit on the bathroom floor as the tub was filling. Back and forth, he rocked, making that little moaning sound. He looked so pathetic. Too old for a diaper. All these years later ... I'm sorry. Sorry. "Cut his fingernails," she told me. So I did. They were pretty dirty. I tried to be gentle. When the tub was full, she picked him up, took off his diaper, and put it in the wastebasket. I was embarrassed to look. Then she picked him up under his arms and lowered him into the water. He let out a little scream. The water was too hot. He kicked and splashed; my mother got wet. She lifted him back out and held him up on his feet. He was still complaining. You know, whimpering. And dripping water.

"That's enough," my mother said. "That's enough!" Still, he kept complaining. Stomping his feet and crying. Pretty soon he had tears and stuff from his nose running down his front. "I said, enough!" my mother said. Now I knew she was really angry with him. Back into the tub he went. He didn't scream this time. Maybe the water was cool enough. Or maybe he was afraid. And then he threw up. Out came this brown mess-the baked beans-into the bathwater. My mother let out a shriek like I'd never heard before. She yanked him out of the tub and slapped him. I mean hard. So, of course, he started to cry real hard. And when he wouldn't quit, she slapped him some more. On the face. So, of course, his crying only got worse. And that was when my mother lost it entirely. She slapped him so hard, he fell and hit his head on the floor with a loud sound. She kept hitting him with both hands, on his head and around his body. My mother's head was shaking from side to side, she was swinging so fast. Then she wasn't slapping anymore, but punching as hard as she could. Jonathan was just lying on the floor. He'd tried to curl up. I don't think he was making any sounds by then. And then my mother looked at me. "Get out!" she screamed. "Get out!"

So I ran to my room. Only, I stood in the doorway, because I wanted to hear. I heard splashing noises, and a loud thud. I knew she'd thrown him back into the tub. "Wake up!" my mother hollered. "Wake up!" Nothing. Just silence. It seemed like the longest time, but it was probably only a few seconds. "Jonathan? I want you to wake up right now. Come on!" Again, nothing. Then I heard the other bedroom door start to open. I knew it was my father, coming to check on the commotion after hiding through it all. Right then I ducked into my room and pulled my door shut. I heard the two of them talking, very nervous. Finally I got tired of standing there, so I got into bed. I lay there a long, long time, my eyes open. I was afraid, so afraid. And sad, because I thought Jonathan- Oh. Here it comes. Here it comes .... I'm sorry. Where was I? In bed, lying awake. I know I fell asleep eventually. Then there were times when I didn't know if I was dreaming or not. But some of it must have been real. I heard water draining out of the tub, my parents talking in the hallway. The sound of scissors. I know that was real, because the next morning when I snuck out to look into the bathroom, Jonathan's hair was much shorter.

I could tell he was dead. His eyes were open but not seeing. There was sadness on his face. If I live to be a hundred, I will never feel as sorry for a human being as I did for Jonathan right then. Something made me turn. My mother was there. I could tell she'd been crying. I felt sorry for her too. "Jonathan didn't wake up," she said. "But you should go back to bed. It's too early for you to get up." Was that an odd thing for her to say? But then, what's the appropriate thing to say in a situation like that? Listen to me, trying to apply logic to insanity.

I went back to bed and slept some more. I think I was in some kind of shock, because waking up and having breakfast, getting dressed-I don't remember any of it. Don't remember where my father was. What I do remember is my mother lifting Jonathan out of the tub, where he'd been all night, and wrapping him in a blanket. "He'll be safe," she said, almost tenderly. "We're going to put him somewhere safe." She carried him down to the basement, with me right behind her. We had this side door in the basement that opened onto the driveway. Nobody could see from the street, and there was a hedge that blocked the neighbors' view. The car was right there.

I was shivering. My mother made me run inside and get my warm raincoat and a cap. It was a cold day, but I felt all nervous and sad inside, too. I felt this deep, awful sadness. Because I belonged to a family where such a thing could happen. That my mother could do it, and my father ... I didn't know where we were going at first. Then we came to this circle where there was a big church. And pretty soon we turned down this road-almost a country road, although it was just a little stretch. There was a patch of woods alongside. My mother stopped the car. We sat there for a few minutes. I remember her looking into the woods. Then she said we were getting out. We went to the back of the car. I was shivering hard. My mother looked up and down the road before opening the trunk. And then along came this car. "Don't open your mouth!" my mother said.

After he drove away, and we were sure no one else was coming, we opened the trunk and took Jonathan out. He was wrapped in a little blanket. We went into this patch of woods, not that far from the road. Then my mother saw this box sitting there. "Oh, good," my mother said. "Tilt it." So I did, standing it up enough for her to lay Jonathan inside. She made sure he was out of the rain. Did it matter? Then we hurried back to the car, going back the same way we'd just come. On the way my mother stopped at a little diner so I could get something to eat. Imagine! I guess I was hungry. I think I had a donut. But before we'd gone too far, I begged my mother to pull over. Then I opened the car door and threw up. My mother was angry about that, but I couldn't help it.

Then we went home and tried to act like everything was normal. Like we were normal. My father died of a heart attack some years ago. My mother went to live in Florida for a while. Then she got sick, so I brought her up to Ohio and put her in a nursing home. She didn't know me for a long time before she died.

David Stout. The Boy in the Box: The Unsolved Case of America's Unknown Child (Kindle Locations 2026-2029). Kindle Edition.


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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.


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In the late 1600s, Lawndale was a remote settlement of devout Quakers. In the early 1700s, what is now Frankford Avenue was an Indian trail. It later became a toll road, Bristol Pike, then in Revolutionary War times it was Kings Highway, the main Philadelphia-New York route.

Ten years ago, Gaupp watched with distress as Fox Chase landmarks were destroyed and apartment buildings were put up in their place. Finally, her anger over the destruction of the Ury house on Pine Road motivated her to preserve some of Fox Chase's rapidly disappearing history in a book.

"It was the original block house that the Swedes built to protect themselves from the Indians," said Gaupp. "When the Ury house was destroyed, a very significant piece of American history was destroyed."

The Ury House in Fox Chase was an equally tragic loss. It was believed that the earliest part of the mansion was built by the Swedes in 1645, making it the oldest house in Pennsylvania. It was later converted to a country mansion where lawyer Meirs Fisher entertained John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

Ury House was destroyed by a developer without protest or fanfare sometime in the 1970s.


Well-known member
Both of these books are excellent. Both books were written with the cooperation of the Philadelphia Police Department. The information is very accurate.

The Boy in the Box: The Unsolved Case of America's Unknown Child
by David Stout


The Boy in the Box: America's Unknown Child (Revised Edition)
by Jim Hoffmann



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September 2004: During the past year, Vidocq Society investigators located and interviewed additional people who used to live in the Lower Merion neighborhorhood where, according to the unsubstantiated testimony of an Ohio woman, the unknown boy was secretly confined in a basement and subjected to physical and sexual abuse for two years prior to his death. Two of the former neighbors had been frequent visitors to the home, and they had access to all areas, including the basement. They flatly denied that a young boy lived there. A female neighbor who had been a close friend of the family and attended the same church, said that she was astonished to learn of the false accusations being made against them. She stated that the Ohio woman's allegations are "preposterous." The Vidocq Society investigators believe they have now exhausted all investigative options relative to the Ohio lead. Sadly, what had initially appeared to be the most significant breakthrough in the long history of this investigation, has ultimately turned out to be just another frustrating dead end.

There are many who do believe the information provided by M. There has been friction between the Montgomery County DA and the Philadelphia DA as to which jurisdiction will have the responsibility for a trial and the investigation costs to identify the boy's biological mother. M feels that her uncle could have been the biological father of the boy, who is believed to have had a severe cognitive impairment. The Montgomery County DA who does not want to pursue M's case, is the same DA who made the initial decisions involving the original charges against Bill Cosby. M has alleged that the boy resided in the Merion Station section of Lower Merion, a Montgomery County community. His remains were found in the Philadelphia County section of Fox Chase.

M was a graduate of Lower Merion High School. Both of her parents were employed at various times with the Lower Merion township schools. Her mother also held other library positions in Montgomery County.


Well-known member
Remington Bristow, an investigator from the medical examiner's office, had a death mask made.


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