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'Boy in the Box': Philadelphia's oldest homicide case victim is finally identified

Randy Mancini 10 December 8, 2022
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw departs after a news conference in Philadelphia, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022. Nearly 66 years after the battered body of a young boy was found stuffed inside a cardboard box, Philadelphia police have revealed the identity of the victim in the city's most notorious cold case. Police identified the boy as Joseph Augustus Zarelli. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw departs after a news conference in Philadelphia, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022. Nearly 66 years after the battered body of a young boy was found stuffed inside a cardboard box, Philadelphia police have revealed the identity of the victim in the city’s most notorious cold case. Police identified the boy as Joseph Augustus Zarelli. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

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UPDATED 1:34 PM PT – Thursday, December 8, 2022

Nearly 66 years after the body of a young boy was found in Philadelphia, police have identified the child known as the “Boy in the box.”

During a press conference on Thursday, police identified the boy in the box to be Joseph Augustus Zarelli. Zarelli was born on January 13th,1953. On February 25th, 1957, his body was discovered on the side of Susquehanna Road in northwest Philadelphia. He was found nude, malnourished and wore the signs of recent and past trauma.

For over six decades the case was continuously investigated by countless police officers, medical examiners, detectives and forensic science officers. Additionally, the National Society for Missing and Exploited Children was trying to solve the incident. The child who was subjected to the investigation was referred to as “America’s unknown child.”

Philadelphia Captain John Smith coined this incident as one of Philadelphia’s oldest homicides. After the death, portions of the child’s remains were retained for future testing. DNA testing was preformed at the time; however, the technology wasn’t able to track who the DNA belonged to. Genealogists used the boy’s DNA to search for possible relatives and eventually were able to use it to establish the identity of his parents.

Captain John Smith confirmed that although his parents are dead, he does have some living relatives.

“Joseph has a number of siblings on both the mother and father side who are living and it’s out of respect for them that their parents’ information remain confidential,” Smith said.

It is not yet known who is responsible for the crime. Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw made it known that the case remains an active and ongoing criminal investigation.

“I want to thank all who have worked tirelessly since 1957 to give Joseph Augustus Zarelli his voice back,” she said. “However, the search for justice continues. If you have any information on his homicide, please call 215-686-TIPS (8477). As with all homicides, there is a standing $20k reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of a suspect. We will NEVER stop seeking justice for victims.”

…call 215-686-TIPS(8477). As with all homicides, there is a standing $20k reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of a suspect. We will NEVER stop seeking justice for victims. pic.twitter.com/KZZDDQixoB

— Danielle M. Outlaw (@PPDCommish) December 8, 2022