Back to Text Article Index
Back to Graphic Article Index
Packing It In
March 14, 2001
Was Frederick J. Benonis, a 26-year-old LaSalle College student, chasing after a rabbit or spying on women from the Good Shepherd Home for Wayward Girls? That's what police wanted to know when, on Feb. 26, 1957, he told them he'd made a gruesome discovery off Susquehanna Road in the Fox Chase section of Philadelphia: a young boy's dead body in a cardboard J.C. Penney bassinet box.
The boy was found with his arms folded across his small frame. He was thought to be 4 or 5 years old. He was 40.5 inches tall and weighed 30 pounds. He had blue eyes and a fair complexion. His hair was medium to light blond or brown and had been crudely cut, as if in haste.
His body had clumps of hair on it, which suggested the haircut had been given either right before his death or immediately thereafter. He had a full set of baby teeth. His tonsils had not been removed and he had no vaccination mark. He had several scars, three of which seemed to indicate surgery. His fingernails and toenails had been recently and neatly clipped.
He had multiple dark bruises covering his body and his eyes were tightly shut. Medical examiners determined he had been beaten to death. His right hand and both feet were wrinkled in a "washerwoman" fashion, meaning that just before or after his death, his limbs were submerged in water for an extended period of time.
The case understandably compelled investigators and captured the public's imagination. But Remington Bristow, an investigator in the Medical Examiner's office in 1957, became obsessed. He spent his own money on the case, traveling across the country to meet people based on the slimmest of leads. He also employed psychics.
On July 24, 1957, Bristow and other detectives gave the boy a dignified burial and purchased the only tombstone in a potter's field for him: "Heavenly Father, Bless This Unknown Boy."
Unlike his colleagues, Bristow tended to think the child died accidentally and was originally laid to rest by someone who loved him. Why else the clean corpse, the clipped nails, the haircut? Why wrap the boy in a blanket with his arms crossed? Until Bristow's death in 1993, he held to this theory.
The Police Department, the FBI, the Missing Persons Division, physical anthropologists ... so many organizations and individuals working on the case, and still, it went unsolved.
Stubborn cases like this one often end up in the hands of the Philadelphia-based Vidocq Society, an international nonprofit organization of crime-solving experts ranging from lawyers to forensic psychologists.
In 1998, Vidocq appointed Sam Weinstein, who was the second policeman to arrive at the scene where the boy's body was found, to head the investigation. He was forced to discontinue his involvement last year for medical reasons. His Vidocq cohorts (and retired cops) Joseph McGillen and William Kelly continue the search. Vidocq's Frank Bender, a forensic sculptor, made a bust of what the boy's father might look like, and America's Most Wanted showed it in October 1998. For the Philadelphia police, Detective Tom Augustine of the Homicide Division has been in charge of the case since 1998. They all keep looking.
Richard Walter, a member of the Vidocq Society and head of Omega Crime Assessment in Virginia, will tell you very little about the case. Not because there's little to say, but because it's too risky to say more. The perp, as Walter calls him, is close to being caught.
Over the years, many people were tracked down, interrogated and then released. Clues that seemed to hold promise proved unimportant or circumstantial. Remington Bristow wasn't the only one following threads of hope only to find them frayed.
For example, near the scene, a man's corduroy cap was found. Using the label, detectives went to the store where the hat had been purchased, Robbins Bald Eagle Hat & Cap Co. on South Seventh Street. The owner of the shop remembered the man who bought the cap because he had specifically requested she sew a leather strap onto the back of the cap. She gave his description to the police. She told them the man did, in fact, resemble the police photo of the dead boy.
But nothing ever came of the lead. Has it taken all this time to track down a man who wanted a strap on his hat? Or was he disqualified from the start?
Other past suspects read like a Jerry Springer guest list.
Kenneth and Irene Dudley were traveling carnival workers who were known to be careless about their children. After getting arrested in 1961, the Dudleys told authorities they allowed six of their 10 children to die from malnutrition and neglect as they traveled through the South and that they disposed of the bodies as they went--two in a lake, another in a mine, etc. Though the so-called "carnie couple" caused societal outrage, they were cleared in connection with the boy.
In 1960, Margaret Martinez of Colorado was arrested after she admitted she threw her three-year-old daughter's body into a trash can. A woman had been reported standing next to a car near where the boy was found, and Martinez matched the description of that woman. But Martinez was cleared.
Edward J. Posivak, a Philadelphia native, was questioned in Nashville, Tenn., about the disappearance of a married woman he'd been dating. In Posivak's car, there was a clipping about the boy. He told authorities relatives had sent him the article. He agreed to a lie detector test, which he passed.
The "Foster Family" lived about a mile and a half from where the boy's body was discovered. The family relations were confusing. There was a middle-aged couple. The wife had a 20-year-old daughter from a previous marriage living with them, who some said was retarded. The daughter had four children out of wedlock, three of whom were stillborn, and the fourth of whom was electrocuted at age three on a department store amusement ride. The couple took in foster children and had anywhere from five to 25 living with them at any given time. When the boy was discovered, five children were living with them. All five were accounted for at the time, and the "Foster Family" was ruled out.
But Remington Bristow was never completely convinced, mainly because several years later, a psychic led him back to the "Foster Family" house, which was put up for sale in 1961. Bristow went to the preview of an auction of its furnishings and saw a bassinet like the kind sold by J.C. Penney. He also saw plaid blankets like the kind the boy was wrapped in that were cut in half. Bristow believed the boy could've been the son of the daughter. In a made-for-TV moment, when the foster father became a widower, he married his stepdaughter.
Other tips would prove futile. A barber, Max Schellinger, told police he thought he cut the boy's hair and that the boy was from Strawberry Mansion. They searched house to house, but no luck. Six different people ID'd the boy as Terry Lee Speece, which occupied police, family members and friends for weeks, until the child was located in Ardmore, alive and well, living with his father.
In 1998, the Boy in the Box was exhumed for DNA evidence, but it had been too long to get a proper sample. He was reburied in a new grave, under a black granite marker with the words "America's Unknown Child." Tips and updates are faithfully relayed by the Vidocq Society to the "America's Unknown Child" Web site, which is a remarkable clearinghouse for information on this case.
But Richard Walter asserts that they are closing in. "The damage done to the boy was purposeful and deliberate. The perp was an intentionally mean-spirited person who used the boy for his own gratification pre- and postmortem." Which makes Walter wonder, "Why don't we have follow-up crimes that are similar?" The answer, he says, could lie in the perp's psychology. "Since the boy hasn't been identified, the boy is the perp's forever."
Why must we solve this crime?
"It leaves that haunting vacant spot in most civilized peoples' minds. The issue is different for different people. We want to give the boy a name; it's part of being human. Then there's people like myself: unabashedly revengeful. I want the perp. He's had 40-some years of undeserved freedom."
And, Walters says, "If I were the perp, I wouldn't buy any green bananas. He won't have time for them to ripen."
New leads may solve "boy in the box" murder mystery
Philadelphia Inquirer Online - June 25, 2002
by Thomas J. Gibbons and Marc Schogol - Inquirer Staff Writers
New information may finally solve one of Philadelphia's most famous unsolved mysteries - the "Boy in the Box" murder of a young boy whose nude, battered body was found in a carboard carton in the city's Fox Chase section in 1957.
Despite 45 years of investigation by Philadelphia Police, retired Philadelphia detectives and a private group of investigators, the boy, believed to have been 4-6 years old, has never been identified and his murderer never caught.
But sources said Philadelphia Police are examining new leads in the case, which resulted in investigators going to Ohio to conduct interviews.
And a spokesman for the Vidocq Society, a private group of forensic professionals who work on unsolved cases said: "Positive developments may be bringing us closer to the day that Philadelphia and millions of others across the country get answers to a mystery death that has frightened and transfixed generations."
Police wouldn't immediately comment today on broadcast news reports that new evidence indicates the boy may have been killed in a home in a prominent Main Line neighborhood by a female caretaker who may have been a relative and who is now dead.
According to those reports, the boy's body may have been taken from a home in Lower Merion and driven to Fox Chase. Before being killed, the boy, whose name reportedly was Jonathan, may have been imprisoned and at times caged inside the house, according to the news reports.
Four years ago, the boy, who initially was buried in a potter's field in the Far Northeast - where his tombstone read "Heavenly Father, Bless This Unknown Boy - was reburied at Ivy Hill cemetery in Mount Airy.
About 100 people attended a graveside service. A new, black granite marker, with a carving of a lamb, said: "America's Unknown Child."
"Today, we are re-interring him and calling him America's Unknown Child as a symbol of our nation's abused children, missing children, and murdered children," said William Fleisher, head of the Vidocq Society, which had donated the burial plot. "We are validating this little boy's life. Our mission is to go forward from this day and put a name on that tombstone."
The Boy in the Box is a murder mystery that has riveted the city since the body was found on Feb. 25, 1957.
A college student stumbled across the boy in a brown cardboard box left on top of a trash pile in a wooded area off of Susquehanna Road in Fox Chase. There were few clues to his identity. He was clean, and his fine, blond hair had been crudely cut. Authorities believe he was 3 to 5 years old. Bruises covered his body, and the Medical Examiner ruled that he had died of blunt-force trauma.
The investigation was reopened in 1998 by Homicide Detective Tom Augustine, assisted by retired Philadelphia Police Detective Sam Weinstein, who was among the first police at the scene when the body was found; and by and Fleisher of the Vidocq Society. At that time, a story on the boy aired on America's Most Wanted, generating hundreds of new leads.
The boy was reburied after his remains were dug up so authorities could take DNA samples that might lead to his identification.
Weinstein, who was the second patrol officer on the scene when the boy's body was found, recalled looking at the child's face as he lay in the box.
"I saw all his pain and his suffering and his anguish," Weinstein said. "It was as though he was speaking to me: `What happened?' `Why?' And that was an answer I couldn't give."
New Information in "Boy in the Box" Case
KYW-3 Eyewitness News - June 25, 2002
· Investigators Traveled to Ohio
· Sources: Boy's Name was Jonathan
(KYW)-(Philadelphia)-The case known as "The Boy in the Box" has tormented Philadelphia police for more than four decades. Now, Eyewitness News Investigative Reporter Walt Hunter has learned police have new information that may help them close this unsolved murder case.
The so-called "Boy in the Box" has haunted Philadelphians for 45 years - the bruised body of a child was found wrapped in a blanket in February, 1957, in a cardboard carton along Susquehanna Road in Fox Chase.
The killer had combed the child's hair, neatly clipped his nails, but the identity of the murderer and the victim, as well as details of the case had not been known.
This has been the longest and most investigated murder mystery in the city's history.
In 1998, the three or four-year-old boy, now known as "America's Unknown Child," was exhumed from an unmarked grave so DNA samples could be taken. He was later reburied in the Ivy Hill cemetery with a special ceremony.
Now, sources tell Hunter that detectives have new information that may finally solve this mystery.
Sources say the new information may reveal the murder suspect's identity and provides a motive and details of the killing. Sources say the boy was brought to Fox Chase after being murdered inside a home in a wealthy Main Line neighborhood in Lower Merion, Montgomery County.
Confidential sources say the new information identifies the murder suspect as a female caregiver, a family member, who has since died. Sources tell Hunter the woman allegedly slammed the boy onto the floor, angry that he threw up.
Sources say the new information also indicates the child allegedly had been previously abused and was even kept in a cage and that he was rarely seen by Main Line neighbors.
To crack the case, two detectives from the Homicide unit, sources say, along with a former investigator with the medical examiner's office traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio, to interview two key witnesses, who sources say provided new details about information that had first surfaced in 1989. Hunter reports that the lead could not be followed until now because there was an issue of patient-doctor confidentiality 13 years ago.
Former lead investigator Ken Coluzzi hopes the new information will help solve this case: "We gave every possible opportunity a shot and now hopefully the information will come true."
And while the new information may help investigators finally solve this mystery, they now have a key piece of information - the child's name. His name was Jonathan.
Tuesday evening Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor, who would have jurisdiction if the murder happened in Lower Merion, issued a statement, calling the new information "sketchy" and "unreliable," saying the county is proceeding with caution in an effort not to raise false hope.
Castor said "there's too many 'if's' associated with this - and I don't want to raise hopes falsely."
No word yet from officials on when they will decide if their new information is valid or on whether they will file charges in a case where the suspected killer is already dead.
New clues fueling hope in a 45-year mystery
Philadelphia Inquirer Online - June 26, 2002
By Thomas J. Gibbons Jr. and Marc Schogol - Inquirer Staff Writers
"The Boy in the Box" has stymied investigators since 1957, when the body of a boy was found in Fox Chase. The case was never closed.
For 45 years, it has been a mystery that has haunted homicide detectives - troubling some long after they have left their jobs.
It is the case of "The Boy in the Box," the puzzle of the unidentified young boy, age 4 to 6, whose nude and battered body was found in a cardboard carton in the Fox Chase section of the city's Northeast.
Now, countless unsolved Philadelphia murders later, a band of sleuths - a city homicide officer and two retired investigators - is hot on a new trail, intent on cracking a very cold case.
In the last several weeks, the team flew to Cincinnati to conduct interviews with at least two people who reportedly have information about the murder of the boy. One is said to be a woman now living in that area who resided with the boy before his murder.
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson and other top officials cautioned yesterday that the investigation could lead to a dead end.
But they stopped short of discounting the new leads. And the investigators working the case are said to believe the fresh leads are worth a hard look.
The trio returned from the Midwest with the strong belief that they had found critical information that the boy died in a home in Lower Merion Township when a female "step-relative" threw him to the bathroom floor after he vomited in the home, in a wealthy section of the township.
They also returned with the name of that boy: Jonathan.
The step-relative, also referred to as a "care-giver" by investigators, is now dead.
After the body was removed from the house, so the lead suggests, it was driven to a lonely section off Susquehanna Road in the Northeast and left behind in a brown cardboard box.
If the boy was killed in Lower Merion Township, the case would draw in investigators from Montgomery County. The district attorney there, Bruce L. Castor Jr., conferred yesterday with senior Philadelphia police after KYW-TV (Channel 3) first broke news of the new inquiry.
Castor said that county detectives and Lower Merion police would work with city investigators to try to verify the new information. But he made it clear he viewed the development with caution.
"The information is sketchy, and there is every possibility that it is unreliable," Castor said in a statement. "Philadelphia police were right not to go public and perhaps raise false hopes with this because it might turn out to be nothing."
Police Commissioner Johnson struck a similar note.
"It's a good, strong lead, but nothing is confirmed," Johnson said yesterday. "Nothing is concrete."
Pursuing the latest tip was Philadelphia Homicide Detective Thomas Augustine, the lead investigator. He was accompanied to Ohio by William Kelly, a retired city police fingerprint expert, and Joseph McGillen, a retired investigator with the Philadelphia Medical Examiner's Office.
All three are active in the Vidocq Society, a group of crime and forensic experts who try to solve long-unsolved cases. Augustine and McGillen would not comment yesterday. Kelly could not be reached.
If the investigation stalls out, it will be only the last of many futile leads investigators have run down since Feb. 25, 1957, when a college student stumbled across the boy in the box.
The carton was found on top of a trash pile in a wooded area off what was then a lonely country lane between Verree and Pine Roads.
There were few clues to his identity. He was clean, and his fine blond hair had been crudely cut. Bruises covered his body, which was wrapped in a cheap flannel blanket. The medical examiner ruled that he had died of blunt-force trauma.
There were indications that someone had groomed him while he was undressed, probably before or just after death.
The cardboard carton, stamped "fragile," originally contained a baby's bassinet, sold by the J.C. Penney Co. on 69th Street in Upper Darby.
The boy was buried in a potter's field near the city limits in the Far Northeast, a graveyard for executed prisoners, unidentified bodies and body parts.
In 1998, the body was exhumed from its resting place near Mechanicsville and Dunks Ferry Roads so investigators could try to get DNA samples. It was then reburied in Ivy Hill Cemetery off Easton Road in Northwest Philadelphia.
The idea was to obtain forensic evidence that someday could be checked against any new DNA evidence that might surface. It is unclear whether the effort to obtain a DNA sample succeeded, given the many years that had passed since the death.
The cost of the burial was borne by the Vidocq Society.
About that time, the probe took on new life as Augustine; retired Philadelphia Police Detective Sam Weinstein, who was among the first police at the scene when the body was found; and William L. Fleisher, a polygraph expert and Vidocq official, lent their talents.
A story on the boy aired on the popular TV show America's Most Wanted, generating hundreds of new leads. The boy was renamed "America's Unknown Child," and his tombstone bears that title.
Dick Lavinthal, a spokesman for the Vidocq Society, said this week:
"Positive developments may be bringing us closer to the day that Philadelphians and millions of others across the country get answers to a mystery death that has frightened and transfixed generations.
"We all look forward to the day when the Vidocq Society can engrave a name onto the tombstone that marks the final resting place of America's Unknown Child," Lavinthal said.
Ken Coluzzi, a retired Philadelphia police Homicide Division lieutenant who is now now chief of police in Lower Makefield Township, Bucks County, is one of the numerous investigators who worked the case in the past. He's hoping the Ohio angle pans out.
"If this comes to fruition, it will be the result of all the hard work of the detectives throughout the years who have handed this case down to one another," Coluzzi said. "They refused to give up."
Some hope in solving "Boy in Box"
Philadelphia Daily News - June 26, 2002
By JIM NOLAN
His name could be "Jonathan."
A child's first name may not seem significant to most people. But to generations of police investigators, it could mark the grave of a little boy who was found dead in a cardboard box in Northeast Philadelphia 45 years ago - and be a clue to a killer who was never caught.
KYW-TV (Channel 3) yesterday reported that police may be close to solving the infamous "Boy in the Box" murder, in addition to identifying the boy, whose corpse was discovered wrapped in a blanket inside a box on Susquehanna Road in the city's Fox Chase section in 1957.
The body was buried - with a marker that said "Heavenly Father, Bless This Unknown Boy" - in a Potter's Field in the Northeast.
In November, 1998, he was reinterred in Ivy Hill Cemetery in Cedarbrook.
A new black granite marker read: "America's Unknown Child."
Citing sources, the report explains that investigators have developed information pointing to a "female caregiver" and "family member" of the toddler.
That person allegedly threw the boy, 3 to 5 years old, down on the bathroom floor of his Main Line home in Lower Merion after he threw up in the tub, fatally injuring him.
The report also said that the caregiver dumped the boy's body in Fox Chase, combing his hair and clipping his nails before disposing of it.
Both the caregiver, as well as her husband, are deceased.
Philadelphia police officials yesterday declined to comment on the report, expressing skepticism over some of the details and saying the investigation was still in its preliminary stages.
A statement issued by the Montgomery County District Attorney's office also downplayed the report, saying there was no corroboration for the crime occurring in Lower Merion.
"The information is sketchy and there is every possibility that it is unreliable," Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr. said in a statement.
"The Philadelphia police were right not to go public and raise false hopes of this because it might turn out to be nothing."
Still, the possibility that investigators have come closer to solving the mystery of the boy's murder was encouraging to the law enforcement officials who spent much of their careers - and even their retirement years - looking for answers to the unsolved homicide.
"It sounds like a very viable story, a viable theory," said Lower Makefield Township Police Chief Ken Coluzzi, a former Philadelphia homicide detective who was the lead investigator on the case for a number of years.
"Then again, many have been proven untrue over the years."
That has not kept cops from trying.
"I think it was the fact that somebody could do this to a little boy and nobody knows who this is," said Coluzzi, explaining the interest of the case.
"How is it possible for a human to be here and be gone from this life and nobody knew him?
"This really hit home and I don't think people forgot it.
"Not only for the sake of solving the crime, but for being able to put a name on a little boy."
13-year-old confession gave 'Boy in Box' a name
Philadelphia Daily News - June 27, 2002
By JIM NOLAN
A woman's agonizing revelation to her doctor after 32 years is at the heart of newly disclosed information that could help Philadelphia homicide investigators solve the infamous 1957 "Boy in the Box" murder, sources told the Daily News yesterday.
Earlier this week, sources disclosed that detectives had been told that the toddler was killed when an abusive caregiver slammed him to the bathroom floor of a Lower Merion home after he threw up in the bathtub.
His battered and bruised body was later found naked and wrapped in a blanket in a cardboard box on the side of a rural road in the Fox Chase section of Philadelphia.
Yesterday, sources explained how the information first came to light - and why, 13 years later - it is being given another, serious look as a possible answer to an unknown child's short life and horrible death.
Sources said that in 1989, a doctor told police that a female patient of his claimed to have lived with the boy - and that a relative was the killer caregiver.
Over the years, the doctor maintained client confidentiality as police continued to investigate. Meanwhile, the guilt-wracked woman - who reportedly was 12 or 13 at the time of the boy's killing - worked up the courage to speak to authorities, the sources said.
The break came about a month ago. The woman agreed to meet with detectives along with her doctor.
And early this month, Detective Thomas Augustine, the lead homicide investigator on the case, flew to Cincinnati with two other retired investigators, William Kelly and Joseph McGillen.
They interviewed the doctor and the woman over three hours. She told them the boy's first name was "Jonathan."
"It wasn't totally new information, it had been kind of out there for a number of years," said a source familiar with the case.
"But now the individuals involved were willing to open up a little bit more. They were willing to be a little more forthright. Even now, it's a very delicate situation."
Police officials said yesterday they were taking an additional look at the 45-year-old case, which they said has always been an "active" investigation.
"It's still inconclusive," said Capt. Thomas Lippo, of the Homicide Division, when asked about reports of the new information.
"But it's the best information we have right now and we're looking at it. We're retracing our steps.
"Is this one going to break the case? Right now, we don't want to make that leap of faith."
The biggest issue confronting investigators now is finding independent corroboration of the woman's tale of what happened. The caregiver and her husband died years ago, according to sources.
Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr. yesterday assigned a detective to assist Philadelphia homicide investigators in trying to corroborate a tale of murder in Lower Merion.
The trail is already 45 years cold. But help in identifying relatives could come from DNA samples taken from the boy's body when it was exhumed for reburial in 1998.
Despite the woman's statements, police still do not know the boy's last name or any of his relatives. They also cannot confirm how he allegedly came to be in the care of someone who was not his natural mother.
These are the things that keep homicide investigators up late at night, even when they retire. It also gets them out of bed in the morning.
"We're hoping that perhaps somebody will see something or read something or hear it again and it will jog a memory," said Lippo. "Maybe today - or 15 years from today - we'll get a relative who could tell us who this little boy was.
"To put a name to a face. This is what it's all about."
'Boy in Box' given to couple in '50s
Philadelphia Daily News - June 28, 2002
By JIM NOLAN
Source: Money exchanged for child
"Jonathan," the so-called "Boy in the Box" found murdered in 1957, was handed over to his killer caregiver two years before his death in a mysterious transaction that was not an official adoption but involved the payment of money, sources told the Daily News yesterday.
According to the sources, a woman who claims to have lived with the boy told investigators that the exchange allegedly took place at a home in the Philadelphia area.
She said a man and a woman handed the child over to the Main Line caregiver and her husband, who gave the couple an undetermined amount of cash before leaving with the boy.
Sources said police have not been able to determine the relationship of the couple to the boy, though investigators are probing whether handing the boy over could have been arranged by relatives.
The purpose of the cash transaction also is not clear.
"Money exchanged hands," a source told the Daily News. "But it could have been reimbursement of expenses, it could have been a stipend of some sort. We don't know if it's a quid pro quo [for the boy]."
While investigators seeking to solve the 45-year-old murder are still trying to determine where the boy came from, it's hard to imagine the parents who gave him up being worse than the ones who took him in.
According to sources familiar with the case, the woman, interviewed in Cincinnati roughly a month ago, told police the boy was physically and sexually abused and malnourished in the months leading up to his death.
The sources said the boy was rarely seen outside on the leafy street of single-family homes where the family lived. Instead, he was kept inside and often relegated to the basement, with nothing but a drain to use as a bathroom and a cardboard refrigerator box as a bed.
The cruel treatment described by the woman struck some investigators as similar to the manner in which the mentally disabled were treated decades ago. Sources said investigators have considered the possibility that the boy may have had some mental handicap.
"Back then it was God's punishment for a sin," said one source familiar with the case. "You weren't hiding an unhealthy kid. You were hiding away a sin."
His death, however, was decidedly brutal and physical. The woman told investigators the boy was fatally wounded when the female caregiver slammed him down on the bathroom floor after he threw up in the bathtub.
Sources said the woman claimed she had accompanied the female caregiver on the ride from their home in Lower Merion to a rural stretch of Susquehanna Road in Fox Chase, where the dead child was dumped, nameless to the world.
Sources said police have found no official records of adoption of the boy by the Lower Merion couple.
They theorized that his disappearance from the area back in 1957 likely passed without attracting the attention of neighbors, the suspicion of police and perhaps even the knowledge of his natural parents because there was no official record of where he came from - or knowledge that he was living full time with the Lower Merion couple.
Instead, the "Boy in the Box" was adopted by Philadelphia homicide detectives, desperate to catch a killer and to give a brutalized child the dignity of a name on his gravestone.
Sources said the woman who allegedly lived with the boy hid the painful memories of what happened for 32 years, before confiding the story to her doctor in 1989.
The doctor contacted police, and they worked together over 13 years until the woman felt strong enough last month to confront the demons of her past and speak with homicide investigators.
Now, armed with some fresh information and more background on previous investigations, Philly homicide detectives are retracing their steps and pushing in new directions to try to corroborate the woman's horrible account.
Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr. has also assigned detectives from his county squad and Lower Merion police to help prove or disprove the Main Line connection.
And investigators of the Vidoq Society, a group of retired law enforcement super sleuths who specialize in unsolved crimes, have already spent years on the case and continue to play a role.
The strength - and by some estimates the potential weakness - of the murder theory is the information provided by the woman, a successful corporate executive now in her mid-50s.
Officially, police have been reluctant to embrace the woman's story, characterizing the information she provided as promising but not the definitive end to their search for answers.
"It's still inconclusive," Homicide Capt. Thomas Lippo told the Daily News on Wednesday. "But it's the best information we have right now and we're looking at it."
Citing a lack of corroboration and considering the way in which her memory of what happened first came to light - through her doctor - others have privately expressed the concern that the story may be wholly unreliable.
"Some of the details are so incredible that the thing begins to sound a little bit nuts," said one source.
But others close to the probe believe the story rings true.
"A lot of what we've been told has to be filtered by the perception of the witness, by memory, time, and emotion," said one source familiar with the case.
"But I think we're dealing with a functional person who is cognizant of what happened. I think it was a relief - I think it was a torture this person bore their entire life.
"It's either the biggest hoax since the Hitler diaries or it's the truth. There is no reason for this source that I can see to lie. They didn't even want to get involved."
45-year-old mystery gets another look
Police probe new information in 1957 killing of unknown boy
Sunday, June 30, 2002 by The Associated Press
PHILADELPHIA -- Police detectives are exploring a new lead they hope will help them identify a young boy whose naked, bruised body was found stuffed inside a cardboard box and abandoned in a wooded lot 45 years ago.
The boy's death riveted the city in 1957. Police plastered the city with photographs of the rail-thin child, whose sunken eyes and bloodied lips prompted investigators to speculate that he had been abused before his death.
Experts estimated that he was between 4 and 6 years old, but police have never been able to identify him or determine exactly how he died.
A prosecutor confirmed last week, however, that police had received a new, "uncorroborated" tip that the boy may have been killed in Lower Merion, a well-off Philadelphia suburb, and that his name was Jonathan.
Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor cautioned that "the information is sketchy and there is every possibility that it is unreliable."
"It might turn out to be nothing," he said.
In the past few weeks, a city homicide detective and two retired investigators flew to Cincinnati to interview at least two people, one said to be a woman who lived with the boy before he was killed, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
The investigation -- dormant for decades -- was revived in recent years by the Vidocq society, a club of retired law enforcement officials, forensic scientists and amateur detectives who specialize in cracking cold cases.
Society spokesman Dick Lavinthal confirmed Tuesday that "there have been positive developments that could be bringing us closer" to identifying the boy, but he declined to elaborate.
The department declined to say what new information investigators had received or comment on a KYW-TV news report that police were close to breaking the case.
The investigation into the boy's death has run hot and cold since 1957, as detectives have followed one false lead after another.
Early on in the investigation, police dressed the child's body and photographed him sitting in an upright position, hoping that someone who saw the more lifelike photographs might recognize him.
At one point, a tipster said the boy bore a resemblance to a young Hungarian refugee in a newspaper photograph. Investigators tracked other missing children from New Jersey and Tulsa, Okla., in hopes of making a match. None panned out.
As recently as 2001, detectives investigated a false lead that the boy was a child who had been reported missing in Tennessee.
In 1998, the boy's body was exhumed from a pauper's grave in hopes of getting a DNA sample. The case also was featured that year on the Fox television program "America's Most Wanted."
The boy was reburied in Ivy Hill cemetery under a tombstone identifying him as "America's Unknown Child."
Hope Fades For Big Break in 'Boy in The Box' Case
The identity of a boy whose naked, battered body was found stuffed inside a cardboard box 45 years ago is still a puzzle, police said, despite a new lead that has given life to one of the city's oldest murder mysteries.
Investigators' hopes of identifying the child, known in city crime annals only as "the boy in the box," were raised last month when, according to authorities, a Cincinnati woman said the boy's name was Jonathan and that she had known him prior to his death in 1957.
Yet, weeks after a Philadelphia police detective flew to Ohio to interview the woman, investigators are still trying to corroborate the details of the account given by the woman, whose identity hasn't been released.
"At this point we can't even say for sure that his name is Jonathan," said Homicide Capt. Thomas Lippo. "The information has been inconclusive."
The tale told by the woman, according to authorities, was the stuff of fireside horror stories:
The dead boy had been the secret ward of a family in Lower Merion, a well-to-do Philadelphia suburb, and had possibly come to the home by way of an illegal adoption.
The family had physically abused him and forced him to live in a basement, rarely allowing him outside. He was killed by a female caregiver, who slammed him to death on a bathroom floor after he vomited in a bathtub.
Because he was unknown in the neighborhood, no one noticed when he disappeared, and for decades his death remained a family secret.
It was only with the help of a psychiatrist that the woman said she was able to recall the circumstances of the child's death, authorities said.
Her story prompted Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor to order a county detective and a Lower Merion police officer to join the probe last month.
He isn't hopeful that the case is close to being solved.
"The story that we have been told is quite fantastic ... even more so than what has been reported in the press so far," Castor said. "Of course, I've seen just about everything in this job, so you never know."
Along with homicide detectives, the case is being investigated by the Vidocq Society, a group of criminologists and retired law enforcement officials who specialize in cracking cold cases. Two Vidocq Society members have also interviewed the Cincinnati woman.
If the woman's story doesn't check out, it won't be the first time that police have chased a bad lead.
A Michigan woman who saw the boy's photograph on the Fox television program "America's Most Wanted" told police in 2000 that he resembled a child who had disappeared from her neighborhood.
Witnesses had previously identified him as a missing Camden, N.J., boy, who was later found alive. A Philadelphia barber once said he was almost sure he had cut the boy's hair. At one point, detectives thought the boy bore a resemblance to a young Hungarian refugee in a newspaper photograph.
"This isn't the sort of thing we think we are going to be able to solve in weeks, or maybe months, or maybe even years," Lippo said. "This was a little break for us, but it may turn out to be nothing."
In 1998 the boy's body was exhumed from a pauper's grave in hopes of getting a DNA sample. He was reburied in Ivy Hill cemetery under a tombstone identifying him as "America's Unknown Child."
Northeast Times - 07/31/2002
Who was The Boy in the Box?
By William Kenny
Times Staff Writer
Northeast Philadelphia resident William Kelly served with the U.S. Navy in two wars, worked 14 years in the Philadelphia Police Department's identification division and spent another 17 years with the adult probation department of Common Pleas Court.
Yet, even in his retirement, Kelly has never seen anything as ghastly and heart-wrenching as the homicide case he was assigned to investigate in early March 1957. Just days earlier, on Feb. 25, a male college student had discovered the body of a small boy along an unpaved Susquehanna Road, just west of Verree Road, in Fox Chase.
"One thing that is never easy to digest is man's inhumanity to man," Kelly said in a recent interview.
"Coming from combat, you're used to seeing soldiers do things to other soldiers. But it was different to see what was done to the little unknown boy. That was probably the first little child we had ever encountered (in a homicide case). I never had another one."
The naked boy had been wrapped in an old blanket and stuffed into a box that was sitting among piles of household trash that had been dumped throughout the rural area. Unlike today, there were no row homes at the time, just the gravel road and farms, separated by clumps of roadside trees.
The man who discovered the body allegedly had been spying on a nearby home for "wayward" girls operated by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.
Five days into the investigation, when detectives still hadn't identified the boy, who was about 4 years old, they called upon Kelly, then 30, who specialized in fingerprint and footprint analysis, as well as other crime scene evidence.
More than 45 years later, Kelly is still trying to determine the identity of the victim, who was known only as "The Boy in the Box" for more than 40 years before investigators affectionately renamed him "America's Unknown Child" in November 1998.
• • •
Kelly, of Mayfair, is one of three experts leading the current investigation. The two others - retired medical examiner's investigator Joseph McGillen and active police Detective Thomas Augustine - are Northeast residents, too.
McGillen inherited the case from longtime colleague Remington Bristow, the man most known for keeping the investigation alive through the years until his death in 1993.
Augustine volunteered to take the case in addition to his official duties in 1998, when the boy's body was exhumed from its Potter's Field grave in Parkwood so that investigators could obtain DNA samples.
The three men were all pivotal figures in the media blitz surrounding new developments in the case in late June. Someone with access to sensitive information about the case leaked to the media that the men had traveled to Ohio for an interview with a witness and returned with a name for the boy - Jonathan.
The Times has confirmed through sources that those reports were accurate, as was the rest of the story that the boy had been sold to a wealthy Main Line couple and was killed by a so-called "caregiver" who slammed him into a bathroom floor after he had vomited.
The alleged killer died in or about 1985. Her husband had preceded her in death. The witness in Ohio was a child living in the Main Line home at the time of the boy's killing. She called Philadelphia police on Feb. 25, 45 years to the day after the discovery of the boy.
Citing promises of confidentiality, Kelly and McGillen each decline to confirm any of the new information. Yet, they say, whatever new information they have remains unconfirmed and incomplete.
That is, Kelly explained, they still don't know where the boy was born. They still don't know who his natural parents were. They still don't know his last name. And they vow not to rest until they get those answers and more - not only for the boy's sake but to finish the work begun by Bristow nearly a half-century ago.
"When he retired, he took this case into retirement with him," McGillen said. "It was a crusade with him. He never let the case die."
Added Kelly: "I feel good about (the progress), but I would like to feel better. I would like to have all of the answers. Some things we may never know. That will be hard to live with."
• • •
Kelly remembers many details of the early investigation vividly. Several years earlier, during a 17-month tour of duty by his Navy reserve unit in the Korean War, he saw many bloody sights. His job was to help evacuate wounded soldiers.
"I was stationed on land. The peninsula we were on at the time was surrounded by communists," he said. "I came home with a deeper value of life, I think."
After a lengthy study of crime scene investigation in college and the military, he was hired by the police department in 1952. By 1957, he was the youngest supervisor in the unit.
There was always an emphasis placed by the department on homicides, simply because of the violent nature of the crime, but the case of the Fox Chase boy was even more exceptional.
"It was almost unheard of at the time that someone could take the holy innocence of a child and kill him - batter him - then throw him in a box on the side of the road," Kelly said. "It was like an outcry for justice. It was a challenge for my own profession to seek and find the killer of the boy."
Kelly's tasks were multi-fold. One of the first jobs was to commandeer a local plane and take some aerial photographs of the crime scene, photos that Kelly preserves today in a binder with other information about the case.
The investigator took fingerprints and footprints of the corpse, reducing the latter photographically to the size of a newborn baby's prints. That way, comparisons with the birth records kept by area hospitals would be easier to make.
"There were well over two-thousand footprint records that I compared," Kelly said. "Many of the prints were improperly recorded, which was tough to deal with."
Kelly worked closely with Bristow in narrowing his search of hospital records.
"With the autopsy, we wanted to determine when the child was born," he said. "It was probably 1952. But he could have been older with more of a slender frame. I had to search three years to be accurate. Then people said to me, 'Bill, maybe the child was born at home.'"
The vast majority of records were supplied by Philadelphia-area hospitals, although the investigators followed out-of-state leads, too. And there were literally hundreds of those, although most were easily dismissed.
The comparison work lasted "well into the fourth or fifth year" after the discovery, Kelly said. He maintained his regular workload all the while.
"I either had to do it after work or on my day off," he said. "I could only do it for two or three hours at a time."
The body remained in the morgue for about five months, during which time countless people visited in hope of identifying a missing loved one. But none of those leads came to fruition.
Finally, the decision was made to bury the boy in the city's Potter's Field, along Dunks Ferry Road across from the present-day Parkwood Youth Organization headquarters. Concerned homicide detectives took up a collection for a headstone.
The boy's grave was the only one marked with anything more than a number in the field. Every year, without fail, Bristow would mark the anniversary of the boy's discovery by visiting the grave. Kelly accompanied him on many occasions.
"I was up there not all of the time, but most of the time," Kelly said. "One year, he'd get the flowers. One year, I'd get them."
• • •
Residents of the developing community around the gravesite also took an interest in the boy.
Around Christmas time, some would leave flowers or toys.
Even after leaving the police department in 1966, Kelly maintained an interest in the case. Few new leads required his expertise, however.
"For many years, it was just dry. We didn't have any phone calls or letters," he said. "Then maybe around the anniversary, we'd get a letter or phone call."
Interest in the case began to build again in 1998 when a local, private organization of law enforcement, forensics and criminal investigatory experts - the Vidocq Society - adopted it. Kelly and McGillen are both members of the society. Through the society's efforts, the case was featured in a segment of the television show America's Most Wanted and the DNA evidence was obtained. The body was reburied in a donated grave at Ivy Hill Cemetery in West Oak Lane to the dismay of some Parkwood neighbors who also placed flowers at the grave on holidays, Kelly said.
To this day, the identification expert is still amazed by the number of people who have contributed to the investigation of the boy's identity and the perpetuation of his memory.
"It's not a one-man operation," he said. "And no child ever had so many foster adoptions by well-meaning people."
Anyone with information about the case of the Fox Chase "Boy in the Box" is asked to call homicide detectives at 215-686-3334.
Boy in the Box revelations come up empty
Frankford News Gleaner - December 4, 2002
By Nicole Clark / Staff Writer
A big, fat zero. That's what's come of the woman who, back in the summer, claimed she knew the so- called Boy in the Box, according to Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr.
She even gave him a name: Jonathan.
But, while the media trumpeted the story, eager to wrap up the 45-year-old mystery, Castor was skeptical from the start, calling her story "akin to Martians coming down and marching somebody off in a spaceship."
And, so far, Castor said, detectives have been unable to corroborate any part of the woman's story since she came forward last summer. Castor said he's unwilling to accept it as a Montgomery County case.
"I'm not so sure that the information that was highly publicized is accurate and I don't know how reliable that information actually is," Castor said. "I'm not so sure that the information gathered was from a credible source."
Now a business executive in Cincinnati, the woman told investigators that as a child she lived with the boy in a Lower Merion home. He died after a female caregiver threw him to the bathroom floor, punishment for vomiting in the bathtub. His nude and battered body was found in a cardboard box in a wooded area along what is now Susquehanna Road near Verree in February 1957.
Police estimated the boy to be about 4 years old. He had suffered multiple head injuries, but the medical examiner declared the cause of death uncertain. Police treated it as a homicide.
The child's bruises and unknown identity have haunted city residents and investigators ever since. When the woman's tale was leaked to the media, they clamped on it with hope.
Her story held some credibility because she revealed the information to her physician in 1989. The doctor initially contacted law enforcement officials, but he and police worked 13 years to convince her to step forward.
She claimed she was about 12 when the boy was killed by a female caregiver who is now deceased. The witness said the boy was given to a Main Line family two years before his death in what may have been an unofficial adoption.
Autopsy photos of the boy's body show signs of abuse. The woman claimed he was malnourished and physically and sexually abused. Restricted to the basement where he slept in a cardboard refrigerator box, he rarely left the house, she said.
Castor assigned a detective from his office and one from the Lower Merion Police Department to investigate. The woman described the general area where she claimed the house was located. Combing through property records and municipal tax records, detectives narrowed the search to a specific address and a particular family.
They considered filing for a search warrant or asking for a consent search, but the home was so different than it was in 1957 that "it wasn't worth it," Castor said.
Using municipal records, they tracked down residents who lived in the area at the time and might remember a child from the neighborhood suddenly gone missing. Nobody remembered.
"It sounded good at the beginning because people from the Main Line might not have ever thought anything of it when you had a body (discovered) 20 miles away or 15 miles away," Castor said. "We tried to get them thinking about it, but nothing panned out."
After the woman's information was publicized, Castor said people called him with all kinds of "wacky theories," including rumors they heard that the boy was a sex slave. Again, nothing panned out.
Castor said the inability to corroborate the evidence doesn't mean the witness' information is false. "But what it means is that usually we could get at least some partial corroboration and we don't have any," he said. "So that's where we are, which is nowhere."
The case is back in the hands of Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham, who could not be reached for comment. Castor said his detectives will continue to help if asked, but they've exhausted their means to verify the woman's story.
"Right from the beginning, it didn't ever smell right to me," Castor said. "I never warmed up to the whole idea, although I know Philly was dying for it to be my problem."
Despite new lead, case stays stalled
Philadelphia Inquirer - January 12, 2003
By Marc Schogol, Inquirer Staff Writer
Six months after getting a possible new lead, investigators concede the "boy in the box" case is still an unsolved mystery.
In June, authorities said they had gotten a tip that they hoped might produce a break in the 46-year-old case of an unidentified boy, age 4 to 6, whose nude and battered body was found in a cardboard carton in Northeast Philadelphia.
Investigators and retired investigators who have made this haunting case their life's work flew to Cincinnati to interview a woman who said she knew for certain that the boy was killed by a member of a wealthy Lower Merion Township household after the youngster made a mess by vomiting.
But as with so many leads since the boy's body was found on Feb. 25, 1957, this one has led nowhere so far.
Back in June, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson and Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr. cautioned that new information on this nationally known case might not be conclusive.
Castor, who was especially skeptical, said last week that his office, Montgomery County detectives, and Lower Merion police who had worked with city investigators had "tried to corroborate what the woman from Ohio said, to no avail.
"As far as I'm concerned, this is still a mystery, and in the absence of credible evidence that the killing occurred in Montgomery County, we will defer to Philadelphia authorities concerning where the investigation should go from here."
What Philadelphia authorities are saying is very carefully phrased.
After questioning the woman in Cincinnati and checking out her story, "we could not be 100 percent certain that it was the 'boy in the box,' " Philadelphia Homicide Capt. Thomas Lippo said last week. "We're still looking at the entire case, still in contact with that person in Cincinnati to see if she can give us any more information.
"It's still an active investigation. It's not going away - it isn't ever going away."
Police who went to Cincinnati reportedly were told that the boy's name was Jonathan and that after he was killed, his body was driven to the city's then-remote Fox Chase section, where it was discarded in a brown cardboard box.
The member of the household who killed him - a female step-relative and caregiver - is now dead herself, investigators were told.
According to Lippo, Philadelphia police are continuing to work with the Vidocq Society, a group of active and retired crime and forensic experts who try to settle long-unsolved cases.
Society members, including a number from Philadelphia who have pursued the "boy in the box" case for decades, were unavailable for comment last week.
But a report on the group's Web site - based on the Cincinnati information - says: "Allegedly, the boy was mentally handicapped and had been subjected to systematic physical and sexual abuse, being forced to live in the cellar where he slept in an empty refrigerator box.
"About two years prior to his death, the unknown boy had been sold by his natural parents to the abusive caretaker and her husband."
The Vidocq Society, which refers to the boy as "America's Unknown Child," stressed that "none of this information has yet been verified or corroborated by others."
And during the last 46 years, the group acknowledges, "Hundreds of promising leads were tracked down and several likely suspects were identified and interrogated, yet each time the investigators thought that the answer was finally within their grasp, it somehow eluded them."
Nevertheless, Lippo said that "it is still an active investigation" and that police met recently with members of the Vidocq Society to discuss it.
"Everyone," Lippo said, "would like to bring this one in."
Inquirer researchers Denise Boal, Frank Donahue and Ed Voves contributed to this article.
Who killed the boy in the box?
Philadelphia Inquirer - Friday, November 07, 2003
By Katharine Ramsland
Today's crimes displace yesterday's, which may then grow cold, unless human passion keeps them warm. And sometimes a case needs the public's assistance.
Such an opportunity is at hand in one of this area's most famous and perplexing murder mysteries, known as "the Boy in the Box." Those involved are appealing to anyone with information to come forward and help them resolve this terrible case.
This story began on Feb. 25, 1957, on the outskirts of northeastern Philadelphia near Fox Chase. In a weedy, trash-filled lot, a man peered inside a furniture box and found the malnourished and bruised body of a blond, Caucasian boy, between the ages of 4 and 6. Someone had recently and amateurishly trimmed his nails and hair. Someone had also caused his death from severe head trauma. Those who found him were horrified by his brief, brutalized life, but no one knew who he was.
Several clues made a quick identification seem likely. The box had held a bassinet purchased locally; a man's customized cap was found near the scene and traced to the seller; and the boy's nude body had been wrapped in two sections of a distinctive blanket. He had seven scars from medical treatment and eight moles. He might also have had an eye ailment.
Yet every potential lead dried up. Days turned into months, and months into years without a resolution.
Haunted by the case, some investigators continued to search on their own time and at their own expense. They would not let the case go cold if they could help it.
Then in 1998, Philadelphia's Vidocq Society, a group of forensic professionals and other citizens, adopted the case. They rechristened the boy America's Unknown Child. Sam Weinstein, an officer present at the initial crime scene, led their reinvestigation. Later, former investigators Joseph McGillen and William Kelly took over. The boy's remains were exhumed for DNA testing and then reinterred in a better location in Ivy Hill Cemetery at Easton Road. A ceremony was held on Veteran's Day.
That same year, the TV program America's Most Wanted aired a segment about the case, which inspired George Knowles, a private citizen, to get involved. He joined an Internet discussion group monitored by the Vidocq Society. Seven people from the group formed a private chat to examine the unsolved crime from every angle. From these discussions, Knowles started the America's Unknown Child Web site (http://Americasunknownchild.net). Just since September, nearly one million people have visited the site.
There is at least one tantalizing lead. In June 2002, Kelly, McGillen, and a Philadelphia homicide detective interviewed a woman who had offered information through her psychiatrist. She said that in the mid-1950s, her abusive mother had purchased a toddler called Jonathan. Her parents had kept him in a box in the cellar, and her mother killed him when she banged his head on the bathroom floor. The woman recalled the blanket and the box. She herself had trimmed his fingernails, while her mother cut his hair. Her initial disclosures, the psychiatrist attested, had predated the TV show and the Web site.
The details were accurate, but while her former neighbors remembered her, which confirmed some of the woman's story, no one recalled the boy. While tantalizing, the tale is based only on memories. The Philadelphia police are holding the case open but need corroboration.
In a ceremony at 10:30 a.m. on Nov. 11 at Ivy Hill Cemetery, the Vidocq Society will make its final public appeal. This may be the last chance to spark a memory and inspire someone to provide the missing pieces.
Katherine Ramsland (email@example.com) teaches forensic psychology at DeSales University. She also writes forensic articles for Court TV's Crime Library and for the Vidocq Society newsletter. For contacts or directions to the cemetery, see http://Americasunknownchild.net
'Boy In The Box' Remembered
PHILADELPHIA (KYW-TV Channel 3)
Decades after they found him inside a box on a Fox Chase Road the case has remained unsolved.
Elmer Palmer was just a rookie when he found the boy in 1957. Since then he and his colleagues have been haunted by the case that they have never been able to solve.
"I had no idea I'd be involved for that many years. I've never given up. I continue to try," he told Investigative Reporter Walt Hunter.
On the 5th anniversary of the boy's body being removed from an unmarked grave and re-buried investigators gathered for a memorial.
"This boy must be happy where he is now and I'm sure that whoever did this God will take care of them and give their just do," said X.
Palmer and others hope someone will finally come forward with information to close the case and reveal the boy's name.
Mourners mark anniversary of Boy in the Box
Northeast Times - November 20, 2003
By William Kenny
Times Staff Writer
Nov. 11 was a bittersweet day for Bill Kelly, members of the Vidocq Society and all of those who have ever investigated the case of the Boy in the Box.
That day, they gathered once more at Ivy Hill Cemetery in West Oak Lane to remember the young victim of the infamous 1957 homicide case that has stymied many of the nation's most accomplished criminal investigators.
While Kelly and his colleagues could rejoice that as recently as last year, they made great strides in their quest to find out the boy's name and the circumstances of his death, they could only lament that they had not brought their probe to its rightful conclusion.
So many questions remain, and the time to get answers is growing ever thinner.
"It's kind of like a mixed-emotion thing," said Kelly, a Northeast Philadelphia resident and former civilian forensics expert for the Philadelphia Police Department.
"We feel we have a closure with the information we have, but not a positive identification. (But) we feel good it was the closest we've come to identifying the child."
Nov. 11 marked the fifth anniversary of the reburial of the boy's remains at Ivy Hill following their exhumation from Potter's Field in the Far Northeast and the extraction of DNA samples.
The cemetery, a local funeral director and a local headstone maker all contributed goods and services to the 1998 ceremony.
The Vidocq Society, a private organization comprised of detectives, forensics experts and others with investigative expertise, sponsored the exhumation with the endorsement of the police department, as well as the reburial ceremony.
The group even renamed the mystery boy "America's Unknown Child" as a memorial to all young victims of violence.
The death of the Boy in the Box has long been attributed to blunt force trauma to the head.
He was about 4 at the time.
But it wasn't until summer 2002 that investigators felt comfortable with any explanation for how the boy suffered those wounds and was ultimately dumped among piles of trash along Susquehanna Road in Fox Chase.
The boy was found inside a cardboard box by a passer-by.
The boy was naked except for a blanket.
That was on Feb. 25, 1957.
Kelly, then 30, was summoned to join the investigation five days later.
He has been involved with it since.
At one time, with publicity about the case stretching across the country and internationally, investigators figured an answer would surface in due time.
"Years and years ago, a good detective friend of mine said to me, 'This case is like ice,'" Kelly recalled.
"It's out there in the ice, then the ice melts in the sun. He said, 'I believe this very well may be a deathbed confession.'"
Much time has passed, perhaps too much time, with no such confession.
"Time is the enemy, and it has been for many years now," Kelly said.
Last year's revelations stemmed from a claim by a woman in Ohio who said her mother killed the boy when she struck his head against a bathroom floor in their Lower Merion home.
The witness was 12 or 13 at the time.
She said the boy's name was Jonathan and that her parents had purchased him and kept him inside a box in the basement.
That's why neighbors didn't miss him when he was gone.
The woman's mother died in 1985.
Kelly, retired medical examiner's investigator Joe McGillen and active Philadelphia homicide Detective Tom Augustine conducted the interview.
The men generally believe the witness' story.
But from a scientific standpoint, nothing has been proved.
Also, they'd still like to find out the boy's full name and identity.
"In many ways, I feel more at ease with what we have now," Kelly said.
"And we have a few more leads that we're pursuing. We're leaving no stone unturned."
Anyone with information about the Boy in the Box case is asked to report it to police at 215-686-3334. ••
Reporter William Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031