The "Boy In The Box" Victim Who Was Found Dead In 1957 Has Finally Been Identified

Citing new DNA analysis, authorities in Philadelphia on Thursday identified the "Boy in the Box" victim who had become one of the country’s oldest unsolved murder cases.

The child, who has simply been known as the “Boy in the Box” for more than six decades, was identified on Thursday by the Philadelphia police as Joseph Augustus Zarelli, who was born Jan. 13, 1953.

On Feb. 25, 1957, the remains of a boy believed to be between the ages of 4 and 6 were found in a wooded area of Philadelphia’s Fox Chase neighborhood, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

A facial reconstruction of a young white boy
The National Center For Missing and Exploited Children / Via

The dead boy was severely beaten, wrapped in a blanket, and found in a large JCPenney bassinet box. The child had only been dead for a few days.

“In his very short life, it was apparent that this child experienced horrors that no one, no one should ever be subjected to,” Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said at a news conference.

“When people think about the Boy in the Box, a profound sadness is felt, not just because the child was murdered, but because his entire identity and his rightful claim to own his existence was taken away,” Outlaw added. “For 65 years, the story of who would come to be known as America's unknown child has haunted this community.”

Authorities said that improved science and new DNA technology we instrumental in the identification process, and that it gives them hope that they can continue to identify unknown crime victims.

Though Joseph's name is now known, the investigation into his death remains ongoing.

“This announcement only closes one chapter in this little boy's story by opening up a new one. This is still an active homicide investigation,” Outlaw said.

Philadelphia Police Capt. Jason Smith said that through DNA testing, detectives had been able to identify Joseph's birth parents, adding that they had been in contact with the boy’s maternal family.

Authorities have refused to release the names of the birth mother and father out of respect for Joseph's siblings who are still living.

“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,” Smith added.

Over the years, thousands of leads and hundreds of theories emerged regarding who the boy was and what happened to him.

There is still a $20,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest or conviction in this case.

Joseph Augustus Zarelli’s gravestone in Philadelphia, Dec. 1, 2022.

Joseph Augustus Zarelli’s gravestone in Philadelphia, Dec. 1, 2022.

Matt Rourke / AP

Last week, retired Philadelphia Police Detective Greg Santamala confirmed to NBC10 Philadelphia that he and his colleague Bob Hesser had made the discovery.

“It was truly rewarding when Bob and I were finally able to put the proper name to this young boy," Santamala told NBC10. "There were many years of hard work by many detectives and officers who sadly are no longer alive to see this day.

Santamala explained that he and his partner exhumed the victim’s body for additional DNA using new technology, which after many hours resulted in a positive identification.