Boy's Body Found in Box on Side of Road Remains Unsolved Since 1957
In 1957, the naked body of a 4-6-year-old boy was found discarded in a box on the side of the main road in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The case sparked a great deal of curiosity and wonderment but was ultimately left unsolved to this day.
What’s in the Box?
In Feb. 1957, the young boy’s body was found, wrapped in a blanket, in the woods in Fox Chase, Philadelphia. It lay inside of a cardboard box that once contained a bassinet like those sold by J. C. Penny. His hair was recently cropped and he showed signs of severe malnourishment as well as several surgical scars on his ankle, groin, and under the chin. He was found by a young man checking his muskrat traps. He did not report his findings, however, for fear that the police would confiscate his traps. A number of days later, a college student saw a rabbit running into the underbrush. Curious to see what animals he could spot, he took a page out of Alice’s book and followed it, only to discover the body. He was also reluctant to report his find until he heard about the disappearance of Mary Jane Barker the next day.
The police opened the investigation on Feb. 26. Fingerprints were taken, and the police were sure they would have an identification quickly, but nobody presented any useful information. The Philadelphia Inquirer printed 400,000 flyers with an image of the boy, which was posted around the Philadelphia area and included in all gas bills. Over 270 police academy recruits searched the area, yielding little but a man’s blue corduroy cap, a child’s scarf, and a handkerchief with a G embroidered into a corner. Police also released a post-mortem photo of the boy, seated and clothed, hoping to find any clues. This case has been returned sporadically over the decades, but the boy remains unidentified, and the case unsolved. In 2016, a forensic reconstruction of the boy’s face was released and added to their database.
We Have No Idea, But…
A number of theories surrounding the case have cropped up over the years. In 2002, a woman is known only as “Martha” brought one forward that the police found plausible, but were troubled by, given the woman’s history of mental illness. She claimed the boy – whose name was Jonathan – was purchased by her abusive mother in the summer of 1954. The boy was then subjected to extreme physical and sexual abuse for two and a half years. One night, he had vomited his dinner of baked beans and was beaten into semi-consciousness, before he was bathed. He died in the tub. Police think this testimony is plausible, given information only they knew from the coroner; the boy’s stomach contained remains of baked beans and his fingers were water-wrinkled. Martha’s mother then cut the boy’s long hair to hide the boy’s identity and had Martha help her dump the body. While doing that, a male motorist pulled over and asked if they needed help, and Martha’s mother had her obscure the license plate so he wouldn’t see it while she convinced him there was no trouble. The man drove off eventually. This testimony was corroborated by a male witness in 1957 who claimed that the body was deposited in a box that had been there. Despite the plausibility police saw, they could receive no confirmation of the story, and neighbors who had access to the apartment at the time said Martha was lying.
Another theory came from forensic artist Frank Bender. He theorized that the boy had been raised as a girl. The boy’s hasty unprofessional haircut, as well as signs of styled eyebrows, were the basis for the theory. In 2008, he released a sketch of the child with long hair, reflecting long strands of hair found on the body.
In 2016, a pair of writers believed they had found a lead to an identity in Memphis Tennessee, which was provided by the man that introduced them. They asked for a DNA sample from the family in question and for the boy to be compared. They compiled a case and brought it to the Philadelphia Police Department, who agreed to look into it but needed to do more research first. In 2017, Homicide Sergeant Bob Kuhlmeier confirmed that the DNA had been tested and that there was no match.
An Open-Ended Story:
The boy was originally buried in a potter’s field but was exhumed in 1998 in order to gather DNA samples. He was reburied at Ivy Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia, which donated a large plot for the burial. The coffin, headstone, and funeral service were funded by the son of the man who had originally buried the body in 1957. The funeral was attended by many people and received a great deal of media coverage. The grave is still kept by city residents, who bring flowers and stuffed animals to decorate it.