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‘Boy in the Box,’ found dead in Philadelphia 65 years ago, is finally identified

NBC News 2022-12-08 David K. Li

Philadelphia police on Thursday identified a boy — found roadside 65 years ago after he was beaten to death — as a 4-year-old named Joseph Augustus Zarelli.

Detectives have located the family and know who the boy's parents are but stopped short of disclosing who they believe is responsible for the youngster's death, Philadelphia police said.

The break in one of America's oldest cold case investigations came via recent DNA technology breakthroughs and with the assistance of volunteer sleuths who helped police narrow down the victim's possible relatives.

The body of a little boy, then believed to be between 4 and 6, was found wrapped in a blanket and inside a cardboard box in Philadelphia’s Fox Chase neighborhood on Feb. 25, 1957.

For the past 6 1/2 decades, not only has no one ever been held to account for his slaying — before Thursday morning, the victim's name wasn't even known.

Depiction of the © National Center for Missing & Exploited Children Depiction of the

Generations of Philadelphians had come to know the young victim simply as the “Boy in the Box.”

The cold case warmed in recent years when volunteers with the Vidocq Society, a Philadelphia crime-solving club, extended a crucial helping hand to police.

Nonprofit Vidocq Society is made up of former law enforcement personnel and forensic professionals who share an interest in unsolved crimes.

After years of investigation and two exhumations of the boy’s body yielded DNA samples, that genetic material made its way to Vidocq Society member and famed forensic genealogist Colleen Fitzpatrick.

Her DNA analysis helped develop a list of the boy’s possible relatives, and police were able to locate the victim's family and even got ahold of his birth certificate.

The remains of the “Boy in the Box” rest at Ivy Hill Cemetery with a headstone identifying him as “America’s Unknown Child.”

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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