Philadelphia's Other Unknown Child

The Boy in the Bag Mystery




Following are several original newspaper articles from 1994 - 2002 describing the basic facts about the Boy in the Bag's discovery in May 1994, the efforts made to determine his identity, and his eventual burial seven years later.




Saturday, May 28, 1994



The decomposed body of a young boy was found yesterday on a lot in the 300 block of North Lawrence Street in Old City, authorities said.

According to investigators, police, called to the scene about 12:05 p.m., were told by construction workers that there was a body on the lot. Investigators said the boy, possibly African American, was between 4 and 6 years old. The naked body was wrapped in sheets and a blanket and had been inside a multi-colored Graco duffle bag found nearby.

Investigators said dogs might have dragged the body out of the bag. The body was on the lot for several months, investigators said. An autopsy is scheduled for today.




Saturday, May 28, 1994



Police are hoping an autopsy today will help determine the identity of a young boy whose decomposed body was found yesterday afternoon in an empty lot beneath the Ben Franklin Bridge.

Detective Fran Carroll, of Central Detectives, said the boy appeared to be 3 or 4 years old, but the body was in such an advanced stage of decay that the age and race of the victim could not readily be determined.

The body was wrapped in sheets and then placed in a canvas bag and left on the lot on Lawrence Street just north of Vine, according to police. The case was turned over to the Homicide Unit for investigation.

"This is going to turn out to be a homicide," one source predicted. "He didn't get in that bag by himself."

Passers-by called police shortly after noon when they came across the body, police said. It was taken to the medical examiner's office for an autopsy.




Thursday, August 4, 1994


By Nicole Weisensee, Daily News Staff Writer

He died alone, abandoned, anonymous.

Now, police are stepping up efforts to find out who he is and then, who killed him.

Two months after the body of a 5- to 7-year-old child was found abandoned in a lot under the Ben Franklin Bridge, police have released a facial reconstruction of the child to try to identify him.

The child's body was found wrapped in a brown-, yellow- or orange-striped sheet and stuffed inside a pink, blue and green nylon bag. He was left in an abandoned parking lot beneath the bridge on Lawrence Street near Vine.

Passers-by found the body in late May. Captain John Apeldorn, commanding officer of the homicide division, said the child died of severe blows to the head and had old body injuries.

Local artist Frank Bender was contracted to do the reconstruction because the body was severely decomposed, Apeldorn said. In addition, the child apparently had never seen a dentist, so no match could be made through dental records.

"It's tragic," Apeldorn said. "We want to find out the reason why and who's responsible for it. Whoever did it shouldn't be walking around the streets, and we're going to find out who did it and put him in jail, or her, whatever the case may be."

Since the fliers went out a couple of weeks ago, there have been several calls, Apeldorn said, but he declined to elaborate.

"Once we locate the family, I'm sure we can develop some information that will aid our investigation," Apeldorn said.

Anyone with information about the child's identity should contact police Detective John Benham at 215-686-3334.




Monday, August 15, 1994



By Yvonne Latty, Daily News Staff Writer

Doesn't anyone miss this little boy?

Doesn't anybody know the boy whose decomposed body was found beaten to death last May 27 in Old City?

Doesn't anybody even know his name?

His nude body was wrapped in old colored sheets and shoved into a pink, blue and green duffle bag that was dumped on a vacant lot on Lawrence Street near Vine. The little African-American boy was between 3 and 6 years old, weighed only 41 pounds and was 38 inches tall. He had a chipped front tooth, and old and fresh bruises from the numerous beatings he suffered, police said.

A reconstruction of his face was done by artist Frank Bender, but his identity remains unknown.

Bender, who was not paid for doing the sculpture, believes the victim was ''a nice kid" and was loved.

"What problem could a kid like that cause?" he asked, staring at the bust of the small boy, whose large eyes are painted golden.

"It takes courage for someone to call in because of pressure, because of the child abuse," the artist added. "But they just need that extra bit of courage."

Bender said if the boy's identity cannot be learned, he'll just "wind up a number in Potter's Field."

Homicide Captain John Apledorn said police were working with national organizations for missing children.

"If we can identify him, then I am confident we can find out who did this," Apledorn said.

The boy, who had only baby teeth, has no dental records.

The boy's body was so decomposed, the exact time of his death can't be pinpointed, said Jeff Moran, a spokesman for the Medical Examiners Office.

His body was found in a quiet tree-lined street where many senior citizens live in-turn-of-the-century row homes.

Neighbors had seen the vinyl bag sitting in the trash-filled lot for several months, police said.

A wooden fence in front of the lot was broken, and derelicts have been sleeping there for the past year, neighbor John Callahan said.

The lot has now been cleaned and a 6-foot-steel fence has been erected. But a piece of yellow police tape in the corner of the lot is a grim reminder of the body's discovery.

Police said the child could have come from anywhere, noting that the block is close to the Benjamin Franklin Bridge and Interstate 95.

Last year, 13 children under the age of 6 were murdered in Philadelphia. More than half were beaten to death.

But not since the 1981 murder of 5-year-old Aliyah Davis has there been a case similar to that of the boy found in Old City.

Aliyah, of West Philadelphia, was beaten to death by her stepfather while her mother watched. Her body was then placed in a steamer trunk and dumped under the Platt Memorial Bridge in Southwest Philadelphia.

The body was discovered seven months later. It took police five years to find out who Aliyah was.

Now, this little boy's bust sits next to that of Aliyah's in Bender's studio.

Bender said the boy's body was lying in a "fetal position" in the bag and because of the decomposition looked like "molten wax."

"It hardly looked human," he said.

Anyone with information about the boy should call homicide detectives at 215-686-3334.




Saturday, September 17, 1994



By Yvonne Latty, Daily News Staff Writer

No one seems to know who this little boy was. His body still lies in the city morgue waiting for someone to claim him.

Tonight at 9, the search for his identity goes national - on TV.

In the premiere segment of "Sightings," a syndicated show airing on WGBS- TV (Channel 57), Philadelphia artist Frank Bender, who created a facial reconstruction of the boy, is profiled. And so is the little boy.

The one-hour weekly magazine show focuses on paranormal phenomena and supernatural activity.

The show's producers contacted Bender, who is widely known for his work with the FBI and various police departments. Bender believes his gift for reconstructing victims' faces is somewhat psychic. The sculptor, who says 85 percent of his works lead to an identification, agreed to have the station tape him reconstructing the child's face.

So far police say there has been little response to fliers, newspaper articles and television news segments that have run photos of the reconstruction.

The boy, believed to be 3 to 6 years old, was 38 inches tall and weighed only 41 pounds. He was beaten to death and shoved into a pink, blue and green nylon duffel bag. His body was found May 27 in a lot on Lawrence Street near Vine in Old City, just a few blocks from the Ben Franklin Bridge and Interstate 95.

The boy's nude body was wrapped in a towel bearing a basketball team logo and then in a child's blanket with bears and clowns on it. A white pillow case and an 18-month-old child's green polka-dot dress were next to his body.

Police say a man walking his dog discovered the body when the dog pulled him towards the bag. But neighborhood residents said construction workers hosing down the street found the boy.

"The pressure from the hose was really strong, and the water hit the bag, forcing it open, and then a hand popped out," said John Callahan, 66, who lives next door to the lot.

Police said neighbors had seen the bag sitting in the trash-filled lot for several months.

Homicide Detective John Benham said he hoped the department would get some much-needed tips from the show.

Benham, who is handling the case, said police have had only about 25 leads. Most of the tips have been from distraught parents looking for children missing because of custody battles.

"It's very depressing," he said.

"Sightings" can be seen Saturday at 9 p.m. on Channel 57. If you have any information on this child's identity, please call homicide detectives at 686-3334.




Tuesday, February 27, 2001

7 years later, a burial is set

A slain boy and a stranger's devotion

By Monica Yant Kinney, Inquirer Staff Writer

The body - all 41 pounds of it - was found in the spring of 1994, stuffed inside a colorful duffel bag in a vacant lot in Old City.

It was a boy, somewhere between 4 and 6 years old. He had been beaten to death, stripped, his naked body wrapped in a towel and a baby blanket, then tossed out like yesterday's newspaper.

No grieving parent came forward. The weeks became months, and still nothing - not even after a local forensic artist showed a sculpture of the boy's face on national television.

For seven years, the body remained frozen in the purgatory that is the city morgue, drawing the abiding interest of only one person: Mary Peck, a North Philadelphia grandmother.

Dutifully, she called investigators several times a year with a plea. The boy no one wanted, she insisted, should be granted a proper goodbye.

At 11 a.m. tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, at a Catholic cemetery in Juniata Park, Mary Peck will get her wish. The boy's cremated ashes will be buried in an unmarked grave, with her parish priest officiating at the ceremony.

And then, despite dwindling finances and heart ailments requiring a pacemaker, the 70-year-old Peck will have completed her crusade. That this is remarkable in any way genuinely surprises her.

"If I didn't do it," she says simply, "somebody else would - wouldn't they?"

When she wasn't volunteering at St. Malachy's Roman Catholic Church, Peck was at home, reading. She devoured almost everything in the papers - sports, comics, news.

But it was the story about the discarded boy that really shook her.

"Nobody deserved that," she said. "A little child really didn't deserve that."

She had raised four children with her husband, Harry, who died in 1984. She has nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

After reading about the boy, Peck called a few funeral directors, inquiring about how much it would cost to bury the boy. The Medical Examiner's Office told her she would need to wait at least three years, a rule when investigating unknown homicide victims.

As time passed, Peck wondered about the boy: what his name was, where he was from, how anyone could have beaten him to death.

"I was kind of possessed by it," admits Peck, touching a gold necklace of the Virgin Mary her daughter Michelle got her for Christmas.

Peck told her family, but otherwise kept her quest to bury the boy secret. She wasn't sure people would understand. Even one of the detectives, she recalls, didn't grasp it.

" 'This little fella has no name. At least his little body should be at peace, at rest,' " she said she told the skeptical investigator. " 'He's not at rest as long as he's in the morgue.' "

Late last year, a morgue official told Peck she could finally get the ashes. She shared her wishes with her priest, the Rev. John P. McNamee, and the nuns at St. Malachy's, who set about getting a plot donated for the event.

Last week, the church at 11th Street near Master Street in North Philadelphia was abuzz with plans of the burial ceremony, to be held at New Cathedral Cemetery.

Peck and Sister Cecile Reiley sat together to plan the service.

"We're all so into ourselves and our own little world these days," Sister Cecile said. "To know Mary was giving this little boy love for all these years is just amazing."

"You were ordained to do this," the nun told her friend Peck. "You were chosen."

Neighbors had seen the duffel bag in the trash-filled lot for months, the one holding the 38-inch-tall boy with a chipped front tooth and fresh bruises on his body.

The bag had been dumped on Lawrence Street, near Vine. The proximity to Interstate 95 and the Ben Franklin Bridge stymied the search for clues - it could have been tossed from any speeding car.

Each year, the Philadelphia Medical Examiner's Office investigates 3,000 cases of sudden, unexplained or mysterious deaths. Of those, about 350 are unidentified at the time of death. Autopsies, fingerprints, dental records, X-rays, grieving family members, and detective work usually result in identifications of all but a handful, according to David Quain, the office's investigative supervisor.

"For a 5-year-old to be murdered and unidentified, that just doesn't happen," Quain said. "We've had two cases like it in 40-some years."

Police brought in Frank Bender, a forensic artist who sculpts lifelike reconstructions of the dead using their skulls. Bender rendered the boy with chocolate skin, short curly hair, tiny ears, and hazel eyes staring off into the distance.

Bender has a high success rate of helping identify the dead. But this time, his work brought no answers.

Ever since the boy was discovered, Philadelphia Police Homicide Detective John Benham has been on the case, chasing leads from authorities in South Carolina, Chicago, as far away as California. To the end, police never had a suspect.

Given the evidence of abuse - including broken ribs - Benham speculates that the child was probably killed by his parents, who were possibly homeless or transients. "That makes them pretty tough to track down," he said.

Quain decided to keep boy's body in a walk-in freezer at the morgue for seven years for this reason: Most hospitals keep X-rays on file seven years. If anyone stepped forward to identify the boy - and if, by chance, the boy had ever had a broken arm, chest exam, or any other reason to have an X-ray taken - then the Medical Examiner's Office could have performed a postmortem X-ray on the body and made a positive match.

Last fall, after DNA tests were taken, Quain put the boy on a list of unclaimed bodies to be cremated.

Over the years, Quain did his best to dissuade Mary Peck from burying the boy. He worried about her health and the weight of the responsibility. He told her the boy's ashes would be stored with those of about 1,800 others in the morgue's basement columbarium.

She wouldn't hear of it.

Last Thursday, in the midst of a sudden snowstorm, Peck went to the Medical Examiner's Office. Inside a room for bereaved families, Peck and Quain - phone friends all these years - met for the first time. Peck gave him a long hug.

Quain apologized to Peck for the seven-year wait. "As much as we didn't want to keep him here, we had a duty," he said.

In 11 years on the job, Quain said, he had never seen a case like this - or a woman like Mary Peck.

"We have had people call once, asking if they can help with an unclaimed child," he said. "We never hear from them again."

Peck signed a receipt for the ashes, packed in a bag inside a black plastic box secured with a gold foil seal. She placed the box inside her knapsack, then kissed the box.

Quain gulped, then told Peck he would see her at the burial. He will take a day off from work for the event. Quain's wife will come, too.

"My son," Quain explained, "turned 6 years old today."


Mary Peck of North Philadelphia holds a box containing the ashes of the unknown boy, whose body was found in 1994.

(Vicki Valerio/Inquirer)



The Associated Press

March 1, 2001

Unidentified Slain Boy Buried



 PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Mary Peck was reading the newspaper one day in 1994 when she came across a story about a slain boy, whose decaying, 41-pound body had been found inside a nylon duffel bag.

 His body, curled into a fetal position, revealed a history of abuse, and a final, fatal beating - but police did not know his name.

 For seven years, investigators tried to identify the child, believed to be 4 to 6 years old. Peck, a widowed mother of four, prayed for the boy and waited for the day she could give him a proper burial.

 ``He's at peace now,'' said Peck, 70, as she awaited an Ash Wednesday burial at a Roman Catholic cemetery. ``My prayers have been answered.''

 Peck, who lives on Social Security and shares a house with her daughter, was reading the Philadelphia Daily News that day in 1994 when a picture caught her attention.

 The boy's face, as recreated by a forensic sculptor, gazed out at her: the large, inquisitive eyes, endearing half-smile, broad nose, high forehead and short brown curls.

 ``It just took my heart because I have two sons and two grandsons,'' Peck said.

 She called the police telephone number listed at the bottom of the story - a call that would lead to countless others, and the start of a lifelong bond with the child she calls, simply, ``my boy.''

 Every few months, she called Dave Quain, the investigator with the city medical examiner's office assigned to the case.

 Quain, holding out hope, waited longer than usual before turning the boy over for burial. Hospitals often keep X-rays for seven years. He wanted to keep the body that long, in case he ever needed it to compare with X-rays that could identify the boy.

 Peck was disappointed by the delay, but understood.

 ``I just thought it was amazing, her tenacity in this,'' said Quain, who attended the boy's funeral Wednesday. ``She didn't have to do it.''

 About 25 people turned out on a cold, crisp day for the service at New Cathedral Cemetery, which donated the plot. Peck carried the boy's ashes in a pale floral box. Her children and a grandchild carried sprays of flowers and a stuffed animal. Joe Hoban, a 38-year-old salesman from Wayne, Pa., played bagpipes.

 In Philadelphia, about 350 of the more than 3,000 cases the medical examiner's office handles each year involve people whose identities aren't known. Most of the time, investigators learn the person's identity fairly soon - especially when the victim is a child.

 ``In 40 years, we have only two cases of a homicide of a child who's also been unidentified,'' said Jeff Moran, a Health Department spokesman.

 The duffel containing the boy's nude body was found near Interstate 95. He was wrapped in a blanket adorned with clowns and bears. A white pillowcase and an infant girl's green polka-dot dress was also found inside the bag.

 ``I guess I'll never understand it. What can he have done to hurt somebody?'' Peck said Wednesday. ``He didn't even have a life.''


AP-NY-03-01-01 1143EST


Copyright 2001 The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press. All active hyperlinks have been inserted by AOL.




Friday, June 28, 2002

'Other Unknown Child' just as sad

By Monica Yant Kinney - Inquirer Columnist

His grave is near the end of the New Cathedral Cemetery in North Philadelphia, next to a chain-link fence that separates now from then.

 To find it, you have to know what, not whom, you're looking for, because no sign points the way to "The Boy in the Bag." Such is the fate of a child murdered and tossed out like the trash - only to be rescued in death by a stranger who saw to it he received a proper burial.

 This week has been full of news that investigators may finally be close to solving the 45-year-old case of the Boy in the Box, also known as "America's Unknown Child."

 When I heard that, all I could think about was the Boy in the Bag. He's Philly's "Other Unknown Child," a modern murder mystery confounding cops for nearly a decade.

 It was May 27, 1994, when the naked, decomposed body was found wrapped in sheets and stuffed into a pink, blue and green nylon bag left in a vacant lot on the 300 block of Lawrence Street near Vine in Old City.

 He had been beaten to death, smacked in the head, smacked everywhere. He was between 3 and 6 years old and just 41 pounds - way too little to fight back.

 Homicide Detective John Benham has been on the case since the start.

 He talked to parents desperately seeking children snatched by exes in custody battles.

 He tracked leads from Chicago, South Carolina, California and Washington state. He followed up on tips after the case was profiled on national TV, after noted forensic artist Frank Bender created a lifelike sculpture of the boy, right down to his curly hair and wide eyes.

 In eight years, no suspects or family members have surfaced.

 Geography and genes may be working against investigators on this one.

 Based on where the body was found - a block from the Vine Street Expressway, near both the Ben Franklin Bridge and Interstate 95 - the killers could have come from anywhere.

 Based on the evidence of past abuse, it's possible the boy was killed by his parents. When family kills family, Benham says, relatives often keep quiet out of fear or self-protection.

 "There's somebody out there who knows," he says. "Maybe somebody's angry at somebody else and they'll tell. That's all it takes."

 Mary Peck still shudders at how anyone could kill a child, let alone live with the knowledge.

 Mary is one of those characters you don't meet too often, but are forever grateful when you have. She's the North Philly grandmother who gave the boy the dignity in death he was denied in life, a selfless, deeply devout woman who patiently waited seven years to give him a fitting funeral.

 She finally got her wish on Ash Wednesday 2001. It was a truly touching ceremony, full of strangers drawn together to show the Boy in the Bag he was loved - even if it was too late.

 Now that the Boy in the Box may be finally identified, she's praying the police will solve the murder of her "little guy." She calls him "Tarsicius," after the patron saint of altar boys, but would rather know his real identity.

 She visits his grave every so often. So do others, apparently. On Easter, someone left a stuffed rabbit.

 I stopped by this week and found silk flowers next to the grave. I brushed off grass clippings and dirt to get a better look at the headstone.

 "God bless this grave of this unknown boy," it reads, next to an image of Jesus cradling a child and a dove flying above in a ray of light.

 "Safely home," it says.

 Judging by his neighbors - beloved mothers, fathers and other children - I'd say he is. At last.

 Now, if only he had a name.