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Joseph Augustus Zarelli – NBC10 Philadelphia


What to Know

  • More than six decades since a child was found dead and abandoned in Philadelphia, police have identified the “Boy in the Box” as Joseph Augustus Zarelli.
  • On February 25, 1957, Joseph Augustus Zarelli was found dead, naked and severely beaten in a cardboard box on the side of Susquehanna Road in Philadelphia’s Fox Chase neighborhood.
  • Police were able to finally identify the boy and found the child’s birth certificate through DNA evidence. 

More than six decades since a child was found dead and abandoned in Philadelphia, police have identified the “Boy in the Box.”

During a press conference late Thursday morning, officials identified the child as Joseph Augustus Zarelli.

On February 25, 1957, Zarelli was found dead, naked and severely beaten in a cardboard box on the side of Susquehanna Road in Philadelphia’s Fox Chase neighborhood.

He was unidentified for decades and was known as “the Boy in the Box.”

“The longest continuously investigated homicide in the history of the Philadelphia Police Department,” Bill Fleisher, of the Vidocq Society, a volunteer organization, told NBC10. 

The Vidocq Society is made up of retired law enforcement and forensic professionals who examine cold cases. 

“A lot of people took up interest in this,” Fleisher said. 

The area where the boy was found is now developed with homes. 

“He was one of these throwaway, forgotten children,” Fleisher said. 

On November 30, sources confirmed with NBC10 police had finally identified the boy and found his birth certificate through DNA evidence. 

Retired Philadelphia Police Detective Greg Santamala confirmed with NBC10 that he and his partner Bob Hesser made the discovery.

“It was truly rewarding when Bob and I were finally able to put the proper name to this young boy,” Santamala said. “There were many years of hard work by many detectives and officers who sadly are no longer alive to see this day. I give extreme thanks to Captain Smith and Lieutenant Marshmond who supported Bob and I throughout this process and believed in us and provided us with whatever we needed. I thank the Vidocq Society and Bill Fleisher for their hard work, support and financial support over all these years. And I thank Sergeant Khulmier (now retired) who really along with Vidocq was the catalyst in Bob and I getting this case, exhuming the victim for additional DNA using the new technology which in the end, after many long hours by everyone involved, resulted in a positive identification.”

Fleisher, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, Philadelphia Police Captain John Smith, Philadelphia Medical Examiner Dr. Constance DiAngelo, Office of Forensic Science Assistant Director Ryan Gallagher and Colleen Fitzpatrick, a genealogist from Identifiers International, all attended Thursday’s press conference when the reveal was made.

More than six decades after a child was found dead and abandoned in Philadelphia, police have identified the “Boy in the Box” and are expected to reveal his name next week, sources confirmed with the NBC10 Investigators. NBC10’s Claudia Vargas has the details.

The NBC10 Investigators had spoken with Capt. Smith last year just as detectives were on the verge of breaking the case.

“There have been rapid developments as it pertains to that investigation,” Smith said.

Smith had previously said that identifying the boy was just the beginning.

“The investigation will start all over again and then we’ll start searching for a suspect,” he said.

Throughout the years, numerous leads and theories have emerged regarding who the boy was and what happened to him.

“We thought maybe he was a Hungarian kid who came over in ’56 when they had the Hungarian Revolution,” Fleisher said. “We had all these theories. Thought maybe he was in the military.”

Most of the tips and theories have been debunked however.

The boy’s body has been exhumed twice and DNA was extracted each time.

Sources told NBC10 the most recent DNA sample finally led investigators to the child’s identity.

The boy’s headstone at Ivy Hill Cemetery reads, “America’s Unknown Child.” Now, however, that headstone will finally have a name.

After more than 60 years, Philadelphia police will reveal a major breakthrough in the infamous “Boy in the Box” cold case. Police plan to reveal the identity of the child who was found dead in a box in the city’s Fox Chase neighborhood back in 1957. NBC10 investigative reporter Claudia Vargas tells us more about how police made the breakthrough.

This story is developing. Check back for updates.