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Identified after 65 years, ‘Boy in the Box’ gets new headstone on his 70th birthday

KYW Radio Philadelphia 1/13/2023 Kristen Johanson
The new gravestone unveiled Friday in East Mount Airy for Joseph Augustus Zarelli, the © Provided by KYW Radio Philadelphia The new gravestone unveiled Friday in East Mount Airy for Joseph Augustus Zarelli, the

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Friday would have been Joseph Augustus Zarelli’s 70th birthday.

He was the 4-year-old formerly known as the “Boy in the Box,” and members of both his self-proclaimed adopted family and his biological family gathered at the Ivy Hill Cemetery in East Mount Airy on Friday for the unveiling of his new headstone.

It took about five weeks to get the headstone bearing the name Joseph Augustus Zarelli, but more than six decades to find the name of the 4-year-old found beaten to death in 1957, discarded inside a cardboard box in Fox Chase.

In December, Philadelphia police announced that through using genealogy and birth records, they were able to identify Joseph.

Members of the Vidocq Society, a group of former investigators, prosecutors and officials dedicated to looking into cold cases, unwrapped two gray headstones — one which has memorialized “America’s Unknown Child” since 1998, and a new one with Joseph’s picture, name, birth and death date, and a prayer.

“Just going to visit the boy’s grave [was] part of our lives growing up,” said Patty Braxton. She and Kimberly Augustine are the daughters of the late Tom Augustine, the Philadelphia police detective who handled the case for decades.

“So meaningful to my dad to always recognize the boy. It would mean the world to my dad.”

His daughters flew north from Florida to honor the child, and said they were floored when they found out their father and the child shared similar names: Thomas Joseph Augustine and Joseph Augustus Zarelli.

“We feel like my dad had a hand in helping find him. He got to Heaven and he was up there, and said, ‘We’re going to do this and finish this out together,’” Kimberly Augustine said about her father, who died in October.

“It was devastating to us to find that six weeks after he passed, we got a name, but we are grateful for that. We are grateful for all the detectives, everybody that worked so hard.”

Members of a jolted, stunned and somber Zarelli family stood in the crowd, some tearful at times, feeling sorrow for the relative they never knew, and about whom they have so many questions.

They wish to remain unknown.

Detectives continue to investigate Joseph’s death, as a suspect has not been identified and a motive is still not clear.

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