Today, at a news conference, the Philadelphia police identified “The Boy In the Box.” For those of you who haven’t heard of “The Boy in the Box,” also sometimes called “America’s Unknown Child,” he is a four year old boy who was found on February 25, 1957, murdered in a bassinet box in a wooded area in Northeast Philadelphia. He had bruises and was malnourished. Up until today (December 8, 2022) police have been unable to identify him or apprehend his killer. Using forensic DNA, the police were able to identify family members and eventually figure out who the little boy was. Unfortunately, after watching the news conference, there seems to be more questions than answers–it’s just that one of those questions is no longer his name–Joseph Augustus Zarelli.
As I watched the news conference, I felt a deep sense of sadness. I sincerely hope that his identification brought a sense of closure for his family but it did not bring a sense of relief or closure for the public. The police were unwilling to give the names of his family members as siblings on both his maternal and paternal side are still alive and they wanted to protect their privacy. We know, watching the conference, that their privacy is tenuous, at best. The press will find them and try to get answers from them. Plus, the investigation into the perpetrator of this heinous crime has not been named as the investigation is ongoing.
I am saddened that a little four year old boy lead a horrific life and met a violent end, most likely at the hands of someone who was supposed to protect him. I am saddened that Joseph never got to live a life. I am saddened that people who were not involved in this heinous crime may be finding out terrible secret information about family members and this information might be tearing everything they believed to be true to shreds. They may be trying to adjust to a “new normal.” I am saddened that the public will define their family by Joseph’s short life and violent end.
I have followed stories about “The Boy in the Box”, since I started writing about missing people in the early 2000s. I have even known people who submitted DNA to be compared with Joseph’s to only watch them be both relieved and disappointed when there was no match. Many people have followed this story for much longer than I have. According to police, many investigators worked on the case, retired, and passed away never knowing little Joseph’s identity. Many other have spent their entire career looking for answers. I hope that Joseph’s identity gives hopes to so many people who continue to search for their missing loved ones. This is not a happy ending. When a child is found murdered there is no happy ending. But that doesn’t mean that good hasn’t and will continue to come out of this horrible situation. We have witnessed the tenacity and stubbornness of the human spirit. No one gave up on this boy. More importantly, we were told at the news conference that the police learned how to use the new technology to solve this case and future cases. More families will be able to get closure in the future.
Rest in peace, Joseph, rest in peace.