“America’s Unknown Child” – The headstones read – a permanent reminder of the child who lies beneath it. The case of the boy in the box was one of Philadelphia’s most perplexing crimes, baffling police for over 60 years and still leaving hundreds of unanswered questions.
Who was the Boy in The Box?
On February 25th, 1957, the body of a boy was found in a box in an illegal dumping ground near Bury Road in Pennsylvania. The boy was supposed to be 4 to 6 years old and was found naked but wrapped in a blanket.
The boy was described as around 3 feet and 3 inches, with blue eyes, a fair complexion, and light brown crudely cut hair. Nails were neatly trimmed but he had deep bruises covering much of his body and face.
Experts speculate that due to the cold weather the child may have been living in the box ranging from 2 days to 2 to 3 weeks. The cause of death was supposed to be multiple blows to the head.
The boy was first found by a muskrat hunter who was out to check on the traps, he found a small cardboard box, lying discarded on the ground. The hunter had not contacted the police because he claimed he did not want to get involved.
A few days later a young boy found the boy in the box and contacted the police but he waited for an entire day before tipping off the police.
With winters and the delayed call from the young man, it was impossible to accurately estimate the time of death. In order to get some information the Police kept the boy’s body in a morgue and visitors from over 10 states tried to identify the body but no one could recognize him.
The police sent over 400,000 flyers to police stations, post offices, and courthouses all over the country, even the Medical association sent the description of the boy but it led to nowhere. Police even matched fingerprints in the hospital records and sadly, no one matched.
Cause of death
The first clue came from the box itself, the box contained a serial number that allowed investigators to trace it back to the JCP Penny store 15 miles away. The box was used to ship the bassinets.
There were over 12 boxes shipped and sadly no record of who purchased them ever existed as they all paid in cash. While eight of them contacted the police when they read about the story in newspapers to tell the police that either they still have the boxes or they dumped the box into the trash.
Police, however, managed to find that one box was shipped to Upper Darby Pennsylvania. The blanket in which the boy was found was examined but it led to a dead-end eventually.
Another clue included a hat found 15 feet away from the box, a blue-colored, Ivy League style cap of size seven and 1/8, and was labeled “Eagle Hat and Cap Company” which was made by a small company in South Philadelphia.
Hanna Robbins who sold the hat remembered the man as she customized the hat for him. Mrs. Robbins described the man as a blonde man at the age of 26 to 30, and the man requested a leather strap and buckle to be added. However, he paid in cash and was never seen again, detectives visited over 100 stores in the area but no one recognized the hat or the boy.
The boy’s hair was crudely cut and located throughout his body, indicating the hair was cut while he was deceased and naked or immediately after he died.
Theory #1 for The Boy in the Box case
This theory comes from the Medical Examiner, Remington Bristow who worked on the boy in the box case for 36 years, Bristow gathered newspaper clippings of the boy and spent thousands of his own money and time to find about the boy.
Bristow even went to a psychic with some staples of the bassinet, in hopes that she could gather some information from them. He even carried a mask of the boy’s face in his briefcase.
Bristow theorized that the boy died accidentally and his freshly cut hair and nails were an indication that he was properly taken care of. The boy’s family never came forward as they were afraid of being charged for murder. Based on the psychic’s clue Bristow looked into a foster family that lived nearby where the boy was found. The family had the same bassinet as was sold in the box the boy was found.
Bristow theorized that the boy had been born in the foster family and was an illegitimate child of the daughter of the foster family and was abandoned by the daughter. Detective Tom Augustine took the case after Bristow passed away in 1993.
The detective went to foster care and interviewed the family again and found out that the boy died accidentally, her son was electrocuted by the riding pony outside the mall. Tom was confirmed when she checked the records with the Morgue and this investigation also led to a dead-end.
Theory #2 for The Boy in the Box case
The most promising lead came in May 2002, when a businesswoman, known as “M” from Cincinnati claimed that her mother purchased the boy from his parents in 1954. The boy was named Jonathan and was regularly abused and housed in the basement, the boy was handicapped and also unable to speak.
“M” claimed that her mother killed him in February 1957 in rage by throwing him down the floor after he vomited in the bathtub. Investigators believed M and hoped that the case was about to solve but after corroborating her story it was determined that she had a history of mental problems and none of the information she provided could be proven.
The boy in the box — A cold case?
Several theories have been presented over the years, all of them have eventually been discounted. To this day the boy’s identity remains a mystery, his grave is marked as America’s unknown child at the Ivy Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia, people mystified as to why nobody had come to claim him. The case of the boy in the box either remains a cold case or is totally a dead case since one of the 2 theories could be a reasonable answer to the mystery behind the boy in the box.
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