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Philadelphia Police Identify 'Boy In The Box' Found Dead 65 Years Ago

Philadelphia police identified Joseph Augustus Zarelli as the homicide victim in its oldest cold case, dating back to 1957.
Posted at 8:20 PM, Dec 08, 2022

Philadelphia police have revealed the identity of the victim in one of the city's most notorious unsolved homicides. The previously unknown "boy in the box" was Joseph Augustus Zarelli.

"Without the hard work, dedication and passion and the doggedness of the many, we would not be here today to give America's formerly unknown child, Joseph Augustus Zarelli, a voice," said Danielle Outlaw, Philadelphia police commissioner.

In late February of 1957, the boy's badly bruised, naked body was found in a wooded area of the city. He had been wrapped in a blanket and placed in a large JCPenney bassinet box. 

Zarelli, who was around 4 years old, was malnourished and beaten to death, according to police.

AP / The grave of the unknown "boy in the box" is shown.

The boy's photo was put on a poster and plastered all over the city back then as police worked to find his name and his killer.

"We have our suspicions as to who may be responsible, but it would be irresponsible of me to share these suspicions as this remains an active and ongoing criminal investigation," Philadelphia Police Department Captain Jason Smith said.

Policy say they identified the boy through a painstaking process of DNA and genealogy mapping. They concede solving the case is an uphill battle because many of the boy's direct relations are dead.

"I'm hopeful that there's somebody who is in their in their mid-to-late 70s, possibly 80s, who remembers that child," Smith said. "The child did live until a little over the age of 4 years old."