SAMPLE E-MAIL MESSAGES & RESPONSES
Topic: The Investigation
E-mail Messages andResponses:
Since the boy had a scar was there any checking with state hospital records that might turn up a child treated for a cut to the chin?
All of the hospitals in and around Philadelphia were thoroughly searched for any medical records that could have a connection to the unknown boy. The results of this search were negative, as was the search for a matching footprint in hospital nursery records.
Have you checked a national or even international Dental database? I'm quite sure that little boy went to the dentist once in his short life span.
Unfortunately, there was no central database of dental records in 1957, and no dental records for the unknown boy have ever been found. Actually, the post mortem examination of the boy's teeth showed no indication that they had ever received professional treatment of any kind.
Did the woman who sold the cap with the strap offer a description of the purchaser? If that was a unique hat, and the purchaser was identified to an extent, it appears you have a suspect.
Mrs. Hannah Robbins, owner of the Robbins Bald Eagle Hat & Cap Company, provided a general description of the hat purchaser to the homicide detectives who interviewed her, but her memory of her brief encounter with the man was rather vague. She said the man resembled the photographs of the dead child on the original Boy in the Box poster. Mrs. Robbins told the detectives that the man was alone, wore working clothes, did not speak with a foreign accent, and had blond hair. He appeared to be in his late twenties. Her description of the hat purchaser did not match any of the known suspects at that time.
If this child had operations, a medical facility should have records of a child having a hernia operation etc. Perhaps this child's parents or guardians did not pay the bill and skipped out of town. There just has to be some kind of medical record on file somewhere.
Hospital records in the Philadelphia metropolitan area and surrounding counties were thoroughly checked by investigators. The results of those records checks were negative. A hands-on records search covering a wider geographic area just wasn't logistically possible, since there were literally hundreds of hospitals, clinics, and other medical centers in eastern Pennsylvania alone, not to mention thousands of doctors.
Even in a case of this magnitude, the manpower and financial resources of the Philadelphia police department could be stretched only so far. In any event, all hospitals and doctors in the country were notified about the case and asked to check their own records. The decision to perform such a records search was, of course, entirely voluntary. Although many doctors and hospitals did perform at least a cursory check of their records, it is probable that most did not. Again, manpower and financial constraints, as well as other operating priorities would have been the determining factors in deciding whether or not to comply with the search request.
I have an idea. I am a Public Health major and we use birth and death records. What about searching those records from the area and time period to see who lived there, who had babies, and who else died? Maybe you could find some of these people still alive and talk to them? The Health Department of the area would still have them possibly. Also check real estate transactions like who owned the property. Also, churches keep baptism records. Check police reports as to who was arrested, been arrested or in jail at the time. Also, juvenile facilities or records of businesses in the area.
As you might imagine, a case like this, extending over a 43 year period now, has been about as thoroughly investigated as any one case can be. There isn't any conceivable record that has not been examined by the many investigators who have worked this case over the years. At the outset, back in 1957 after the boy's body was first discovered, the amount and extent of work that was applied to this case was truly staggering. The most recent investigative team probing the case, has reviewed this material carefully and we can tell you without reservation, the numerous detectives, pathologists, and other criminal experts who handled this case over the years overlooked no details in their collective work.
I am a packaging engineer and I would ask the following questions:
1. Did the box show any signs of being "strapped down" during original transport (with bassinet)?
2. Did the box show any large surface abrasion which would be consistent with trying to take it out of a trunk? Or did it show any lateral bending toward the top which would be consistent with having to collapse the box partially in order to close a car trunk?
3. The original tape appears to be on the top of the box, but what about the bottom of the box? Was there any over-taping or evidence that the box may have been broken down, stored flat, and then re-set up? Fresh tape, differing from the tape on top of the box would indicate this and may point back to a particular trade if it differs. Painters use a certain kind of tape, plumbers another, etc..
4. If the box appears to be in original condition, no new tape, stayed setup- then why? Was it being used for storage? And who would have room for a setup box in their house? If stored in a basement, was there any older earthen dirt on the BOTTOM of the box (since it was found on its' side) which differed from site location? Regional differences in clay composition may tell a tale.
Did the cut edge of the blanket (small cut) seem as frayed and as old a cut as the two halved edge, or was it a "fresher cut"?
The bassinet box and the cut portion of the blanket seems to indicate (to me) that there was a baby expected and that the family of the murdered child DID possess the box and didn't just find it on site. Why? The size and cut of the missing section says "baby blanket" to me. If this is a true statement (and who knows) then there should be at least one child older and possibly one younger, if the baby had survived.
I would suggest getting some of those Rochester Tech grads or Michigan State grads to look at the evidence and see what a hands on professional might come up with on that box. You can tell much about where it's been by the condition it is in!
Thank you for your input. The cardboard box underwent a thorough physical examination at the crime lab. However, we do not know whether or not the investigators checked all of the items specifically mentioned in your message. Unfortunately, only two small fragments of the box and a tiny swatch of material from the blanket have survived, so it is no longer possible to perform the tests you recommend.
I'm not sure how possible this is, and it may already have been done, but is it possible to check hospital records for the year that the boy was born and do a process of elimination?
The medical records that you referred to have been thoroughly checked by investigators. The results were negative. Immigration and Naturalization Service records were also examined, but no match was found.
Apparently, the box was never examined for fingerprints. Why was that? Was this not part of standard procedures in 1957? Did the investigators consider it unnecessary at the time, or did they simply forget?
The cardboard box was checked for fingerprints by the crime lab, but no clear prints were found. The box was subjected to a very thorough physical examination. That examination included a search for the presence of hairs, fibers, blood stains, soil, and other kinds of trace evidence.
I think I have a way to identify the "boy in the box". I don't know if this has been done or not, but if this child was born in the USA and in a hospital, then he should have a birth certificate on file. I know that you have an approximate age for this child, so what if you went through the birth records of all the male children that were born in the early 50's? (I would start with the state that he was found in first.) Then, each of those male children that also has a death certificate on file can be eliminated. For all the names that remain, you could determine which ones are still alive through school records, medical records, etc. With the names that are left (i.e., missing & unaccounted for), you could try to find the parents or a relative of those children. If you find the parents, hopefully they have a picture of their child. I know that this would take a long time to do, maybe even years, but I can't help but feel that this might work. I might not have put this in the right words, so if you don't understand what I'm trying to explain I would be more than happy to tell you over the phone. I pray to God that this might work. For all the people who are still helping with this case, may God bless you all. Thank you for listening.
As a member of the current team investigating this very old case, I feel compelled to respond to the suggestion you offered as a possible way of ascertaining the true identity of the unknown boy.
Unfortunately, due to a number of factors, including limited manpower and financial resources, implementation of your suggestion is not feasible. Even assuming that the boy was born in a U.S. hospital and, therefore, has a birth certificate on file (a BIG assumption), such an ambitious project would require the review and correlation of literally tens of millions of records. Many vital records from the 1950's no longer exist and, of those which remain, virtually none are computerized. Consequently, nearly everything would have to be done "the old fashioned way" - manually! Please bear in mind that there are just a few investigators assigned to this case. Realistically speaking, we could not even begin to accomplish such a monumental task within our lifetimes. Frankly, there is no way we could amass the personnel, or obtain the level of funding it would require to undertake such a gargantuan effort, especially at this late date in time. We continue to be in receipt of new leads all the time, and while none has proved to be of merit thus far, it is still a much better use of our time and efforts to pursue these leads in each case. Moreover, if such an approach as you are proposing were workable (we believe it is not), it would be an endless job with almost no potential for success.
We appreciate your suggestion and your sincere interest in helping solve the case. Rest assured that we are working very hard to resolve the Boy in the Box mystery. Some progress has been made, and we are confident that the answer will eventually be found. Thank you for writing to the America's Unknown Child web site and for submitting your suggestion as to how to solve the case.
I realize that the autopsy report and investigative records are kept confidential. It has occurred to me that a body left outside, even in a box, would draw the attention of animals. From the photographs on the site, there doesn't appear to be any evidence of animal activity. Also, there is no mention of the presence of maggot larvae. I know the presence of maggots and/or larvae are used to help determine the time of death. Of course, I realize, these things may have been omitted in the course of keeping with police policies. The omission of these two factors just struck me as odd but they could also help narrow the field as to when the boy was actually left there and how long he was dead.
I also noticed that the bruising on the boy's legs seems to stop an inch or two above the ankles but seems very excessive above. It made me think that maybe the child was wearing boots when the beating was administered. Which made me think -- is there a trade or chore a child can perform while wearing boots and perhaps standing in water (maybe a stream) and require him to use his dominant hand (right) in the water also? All I could think of was fishing (although that wouldn't necessarily require submerging your hand) or laundry. Perhaps the child didn't perform this function to his murderer's satisfaction and this lead to a severe beating and ultimately his death. It would help to explain the washerwoman's effect.
It also struck me that children often attempt to cut their own hair with hideous results - it may not have been an attempt at concealment. Although there likely would not have been hair trimmings left on the body in that scenario. I've read the theory that the child may have been passed off as a female or had long hair -- were the trimmings on his body indicative of long hair?
Forensic Entomology (the use of insect evidence in the investigation of crimes) can be a very useful tool in estimating the amount of time that has elapsed since death. However, there are several key factors which may limit or even prevent the application of this method in helping to determine the post mortem interval (PMI). Two of the most significant limiting factors are temperature and season. (In the northeastern part of the United States, these two factors generally go hand-in-hand, of course.) If the ambient air and soil temperature around the body remains consistently at or below freezing during the period following death (as it did in this case), insect activity will be virtually non-existent. Consequently, no blowfly or flesh fly larvae (maggots) will be present. Disturbance of the remains by animals is a highly variable phenomenon. It is dependent upon a multitude of seasonal, climatic, geographic, and situational factors. For these reasons, evidence of animal activity (or the absence thereof) does not usually provide an accurate estimate of the PMI.
Your theory that the boy may have been wearing boots while fishing neglects to take the season into account. The only type of fishing that might occur in the Philadelphia area during the month of February would be ice fishing - an activity that does not involve standing in water.
As for your question regarding the length of the hair trimmings found on the body, there was no indication that the boy had unusually long hair.
In an article in the March 17, 1957 issue of the Philadelphia Bulletin, it states that all the evidence was turned over to the FBI for their investigation. Did any of the evidence, etc. come back to the city, or was everything out of their hands with the FBI takeover of the case?
Unfortunately, you can't always believe what you read in the newspaper. The story in the Philadelphia Bulletin is only partially true, and somewhat misleading. The FBI never assumed control of the Boy in the Box investigation (it was essentially a local matter), nor was any evidence "turned over" to the FBI.
What actually happened was this: The FBI offered to assist the Philadelphia police department with certain aspects of the investigation. This assistance included examining the evidence at the FBI crime lab. The evidence sent to the FBI for further expert analysis in 1957 included samples of hair found on the boy's nude body. Also, there were hairs retrieved from inside the cap that was found nearby. The FBI sent a report of their analysis to the Philadelphia Police Department and returned all the evidence sent to them as well.
Unfortunately, while the envelopes that formerly contained the hairs remain in the custody of the Medical Examiner's Office, the hairs themselves no longer exist. The envelopes are empty and it is not known if the hairs disintegrated over the years or were just plain lost due to so many handling them. The blue cap is still in police custody, but the blanket (except for a tiny fragment) cannot be located. Only two small pieces of the J.C. Penney bassinet box have survived.
I am originally from Northern Kentucky, about 10 miles south of Cincinnati, Ohio. I am a seamstress, one of many things I am able to do, and at one time in my life while living in Kentucky, I worked as an assistant manager in a large fabric store in a mall. Fabric merchandize for the fall, such as corduroy, are placed in the store sometime around July for those who make clothing. While the woman who had sewn the cap stated it was made from corduroy remnants earlier than May, I am curious why someone would purchase a cap mid-May (according to one of your news articles that the cap was purchased 9.5 months prior to discovery of the boy) to wear in the summer months. My dad wore golf caps, or ivy league as your site described the same cap, but he only wore these during the cooler temperatures of spring and fall. I do not recall him ever wearing a cap in May and I would think the weather in Pennsylvania is close to that of the Greater Cincinnati area. Seems to me it would be.
If this cap was available in this woman's store, then it more likely was a sale item to rid the inventory. A person with limited income would find this as a bargain and purchase it, but may not use it until the weather cools. Thereby, the usefulness of the cap or length of time the cap was worn would be indicative to permanent worn creases/folds in the fabric and sweat stains in the band. The person purchasing it and requesting a band on the back may likely hang the cap by the outside band and not the back inside. If this be the case, then there may be hook marks on the underside of the band and possibly indications of metal....just a guess. The other option for a leather band could be an indication of ethnicity. Would a European with a strong cultural practice have this more so than descendants who become more Americanized over the decades?
I also want to offer some comments about the blanket from the perspective of a seamstress. I thought about the cotton thread that was used to sew the two pieces of the blanket together. Did anyone view it under a microscope back then for comparison with other types of thread such as Coats and Clark? Then, I wondered about the type of sewing machine used for stitching and how much of the two pieces of cloth were lost from stitching; was there any fraying at the edges on the seam from several washings or was the stitching suggesting itself to be put together recently? Was straight shears or pinking shears used to cut the blanket? Was the stitching tight or loose meaning there were 20 stitches per inch vs. 10 stitches per inch? Was the seam pressed open after the two pieces were sewn together; was there puckering in the seam and, if the two pieces were taken apart and then matched up according to the pattern, how much of the part that is missing is missing at either end of the shorter piece?
The picture of the blanket shows me that the pattern is way off in vertical alignment. The right end of the first piece with the side of it with the small squares to make a large square is cut off considerably and when you look at the right side of the second piece, it makes me wonder if this piece was sewn onto the wrong side. If it wasn't then a good 3-4" of the left side of the second piece was either cut down after sewing or frayed. I think what I am saying here, a seamstress would have been very meticulous in putting the two pieces back together to make the blanket appear as close to its original state minus the 5/8" reduction on each side to form the seam. A seamstress would have pressed the seam open and would have either sewn the edges, used pinking shears on the edges, or used a cotton binding tape to prevent fraying. Depending on how thick the fabric is on this blanket would determine the size needle used on the sewing machine. A small needle, used for fine fabrics, would more likely have puckering, broken threading, maybe uneven loops between the bobbin thread and upper thread to make the stitch; a seamstress would have used at least a size 14-16 needle if this blanket's thickness was comparable to fabric used to make winter coats. Another cause of a seam having zig-zag affect (not being sewn close to the same distance from the edge of the pieces) is the weight of the fabric itself while the person had sewn it.
I'm confused about the exact timing and sequence of events when the boy's body was discovered. The newspaper and magazine articles about the case contain conflicting information about the days that certain key events happened. For example, some articles say that Fred Benonis first saw the body on Sunday, February 24th, while others say that he didn't discover the body until the following day, Monday, February 25th. There also seems to have been some uncertainty as to what day John Powroznik saw the boy's body. Could you tell me what the correct timing and sequence of events were?
Unfortunately, the exact timing and sequence of some events was never firmly established. The best that we can do is offer a hypothetical sequence of events, although it is by no means the only possible scenario. This sequence of events is based, in part, on the testimony of "M", the woman informant from Ohio, who claims to have lived with the boy and to have participated in the disposal of his body. (Please be advised that her testimony has not been corroborated.)
Fred Benonis may have originally visited the Susquehanna Road site as early as Monday, February 11, 1957. On that occasion, he allegedly discovered some small game traps, but did not see the J.C. Penney carton or the body. While not conclusive, this account indicates that the boy's body probably was not yet there.
According to "M", the boy was killed on a Saturday, and his body was disposed of late in the afternoon of the same day. (Note: "M" has given several convincing reasons for believing the day to have been a Saturday, but we are not presently at liberty to divulge that information.) Although "M" can't recall the exact date of the boy's death, it seems most likely that this was February 23, 1957.
A male motorist reported that he saw a woman and a young boy standing near the trunk of their car on Susquehanna Road between 5 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, February 24th. His testimony conflicts with "M's" recollection that the body was disposed of on a Saturday. Obviously, either "M" or the male motorist are wrong about the exact day of the week, but their accounts of this event are otherwise in almost total agreement.
John Powroznik, an 18-year-old youth said he discovered the boy's body while returning home from a basketball game. Powroznik said that this probably happened at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday the 24th, but he wasn't absolutely certain about the day. (Note: Since Powroznik also mentioned that it was raining at the time, police decided that he probably discovered the body on Saturday the 23rd, based upon regional weather reports.) However, if "M's" story is true, Powroznik couldn't have found the body at 1:30 P.M. on Saturday because it wasn't disposed of until much later that day. Thus, his recollection that he probably found the body early Sunday afternoon makes more sense.
Likewise, the male motorist could not have seen "M" and her mother on Susquehanna Road late in the afternoon of Sunday, February 24th, because John Powroznik had already discovered the boy's body by that time. It is more likely that the male motorist saw "M" and her mother at about 5 p.m. on Saturday, February 23rd.
According to most accounts, Fred Benonis returned to the Susquehanna Road site at about 3:15 p.m. on the afternoon of Monday, February 25th. It was then that he discovered the J.C. Penney box and the boy's body. However, Benonis did not report his discovery to the police until 10:10 a.m. the following morning (Tuesday, February 26th) after hearing a radio news report about a missing New Jersey child and then consulting with two LaSalle College faculty advisors. Police were quickly dispatched to the scene, arriving there about 10:40 a.m.
To summarize, the sequence of events may have been as follows:
1. Monday, February 11, 1957 - Fred Benonis' initial visit to the Susquehanna Road site. He did not see the J.C. Penney bassinet carton or the boy's body at that time.
2. Late February 1957 (specific date unknown, but probably not more than a few days prior to February 23rd) - The empty J.C. Penney bassinet carton was discarded at the site by person(s) unknown. The blue cap was probably left at the site at about the same time.
3. Saturday, February 23, 1957 (a.m.) - Alleged death of the unknown boy in Lower Merion, PA.
4. Saturday, February 23, 1957 (5 - 5:30 p.m.) - The body of the unknown boy was allegedly disposed of at the Susquehanna Road site by "M" and her mother. A male motorist reportedly witnessed them at the scene as they were preparing to remove the boy's body from the trunk of their car.
5. Sunday, February 24, 1957 (1:30 p.m.) - John Powroznik discovered the boy's body while returning home from a basketball game. He did not mention this incident to anyone.
6. Monday, February 25, 1957 (3:15 p.m.) - Fred Benonis returned to the Susquehanna Road site and discovered the body.
7. Tuesday, February 26, 1957 (10:10 a.m.) - Fred Benonis reported his discovery to the Philadelphia police department. Police officers arrived at the scene by 10:40 a.m.
Again, please be advised that this reconstruction of the sequence of events is hypothetical. Logical alternative scenarios are certainly possible.