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B is for Boy in the Box

Some cold cases will forever haunt us.

There’s the Black Dahlia, Jack the Ripper, and America’s Unknown Child, also known as The Boy in the Box.

We don’t know his name. We don’t know how he died. But the people of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania have never forgotten him.

Unknown childEven his age is unknown. In 1957, the nude, battered body of a little boy was found wrapped in a blanket in a bassinet box in the woods. He is believed to have been between four and six years old.

When his body was first discovered, police were optimistic, but the third generation of cops is now on the case and they’re no closer to finding the truth.

Incredibly, new theories are still coming to light. In March of this year, two authors announced they believe they know the boy’s identity.

Their theory centers around the testimony of a woman who claims her mother bought a child, who was then abused until he died, along with rumours about another man who allegedly sold his son. While a forensic pathologist agreed that there are similarities between the Boy in the Box and his proposed father and brother, that’s as far as it will go without DNA testing.

Boy in Box alive

What the boy may have looked like when he was alive

The boy’s body was exhumed in 1998 in order for a DNA sample to be taken from a remaining tooth, but police will need to investigate the authors’ theories thoroughly before they pursue that avenue.

In the meantime, people who never knew the little boy continue to care for him after death, bringing flowers and candy to his grave.

And a third generation of Philadelphia cops continues to search for his killer.

What do you think happened to The Boy in the Box? Do you think this mystery will ever be solved? Should police take the authors’ theory more seriously? Why do you think this case continues to haunt us?

PS…If you love unsolved mysteries, check out this post about the missing person cases that will always haunt me.

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75 Comments

  1. That was a great and sad read… I wish I knew, life isn’t life until it’s at rest!

    Welcome in the letter “B”… thank you!
    Jeremy [Retro]
    AtoZ Challenge Co-Host [2016]

    Stop over and find a free “SIX STRINGS: BLOGGING AtoZ CHALLENGE” Here: http://www.jmhdigital.com/

    HOLLYWOOD NUTS!
    You know you want to know if me or Hollywood… is Nuts?

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Jeremy. I really wish they could give him a name, at least. Poor little tyke didn’t deserve what happened to him.

      Reply
  2. It might be solved one day, it continues to haunt us because it still isn’t, I think. I believe there are may cases that will never be solved though.

    Reply
    • JH

      Sad but true, Zeljka! Thanks for visiting.

      I really hope we find out who he was someday. It’s nice to see the cops are still actively searching for answers.

      Reply
  3. How sad. I hope they manage to ID him with DNA and find out who was responsible for the awful things that happened to him. Sadly, the culprits will probably already be dead and beyond punishment before the police manage to identify them.

    Reply
    • JH

      It’s looking that way, Lexa, but even being able to give him a name would bring some closure to this terrible case.

      Reply
  4. I’ve never heard about this case before. Interesting how some stories stick with people. I do hope though that the police will move on to fresher cases where the criminals can be found and punished.

    Reply
    • JH

      Oh, the open cases are always their first priority. They just keep working on this one when they can. Most large cities have cold case teams now.

      Reply
  5. My favorite tv shows are about solving cold cases. The unresolved is haunting. We want closure. We want the truth, and we really want justice. Poor little guy. My heart aches for him.

    Reply
    • JH

      Me too, Mary. It would be wonderful to see the people who abused and discarded this little guy brought to justice.

      Since he was wrapped in a blanket, I think whoever left him in the woods cared about him and felt guilty about what they had done.

      Reply
  6. I think it continues to haunt us because it is unfinished. It’s a very odd case that a child can go missing from somewhere without a single person noticing or reporting it
    Debbie

    Reply
    • JH

      I keep thinking (and hoping) that someone out there knew this little boy and loved him at one point, especially since he was found wrapped in a blanket.

      Reply
  7. How sad, yet amazing that police are still working on the case. I do think they should perhaps take the authors’ leads more seriously. I mean, at this stage, what have they got to lose?

    Reply
    • JH

      I guess they feel time and money. DNA testing is expensive, so they’d want to make sure there’s some validity to the authors’ claims before they proceed with it.

      I can only guess how many crackpot theories they’ve received over the years.

      Reply
  8. I think I remember an old post of your J.H. written just as fascinatingly though longer I think … and yes, I hope justice finds a way. And blessings to those who bring flowers to his grave …

    Reply
    • JH

      Not about this case, Susan. I’ve never written about the Unknown Boy before, but I’ve certainly covered other missing person cases. Perhaps one of those is what you’re thinking of?

      I don’t like to rehash the same topics. There’s so many things that go bump in the night to write about! 🙂

      Reply
  9. So a child went missing and no parent or relative ever reported it? That is truly sad.

    Reply
    • JH

      I guess there is a small chance that he was reported missing from another State and the police didn’t link that report with this boy, but you’d think they would have scoured everything by now.

      Reply
  10. They couldn’t even determine his age? That really makes it difficult. He could have come from just about anywhere.

    Reply
    • JH

      I know, Alex. It’s so sad.

      This is a mystery that probably won’t ever be solved. Poor little guy.

      Reply
  11. Sad, although I think it is really difficult to find out the truth by now. Such cases are haunting because we humans need an answer, a closer. Having the victim being a child makes it heavier on the heart. I have to thank you for the great stories you highlight on this blog of yours, really worth the time, and I have so little of time these days.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Haneen. I do my best to make every post interesting and worthwhile, and in this case, a little shorter for easier reading during the A to Z!

      I hope the police are able to close this case one day, but I agree it seems unlikely at this point.

      Reply
  12. This is a sad case. I don’t think it will be solved though. Too much time has passed.

    I’ve heard about this one before a long time ago.

    Reply
    • Forgot to fix the stupid website listing.

      djinniaandtheenglishlanguage.blogspot.com

      Reply
    • JH

      Yes, it’s a pretty famous case. One thing I’ve found, though, is to never assume everyone has heard of a certain subject.

      Once you write about it, you find it’s always new to someone.

      Reply
  13. These unsolved murders really drive home the point that we can easily be erased from this place of existence and aside from the body left behind, nobody will know what happened. It blows my mind how many different theories there are for the Black Dahlia and Jack the Ripper. The gruesome death of a small child never seems to leave the community consciousness.

    Reply
    • JH

      Yes, it’s really scary. Whenever I read about people who have vanished, I realize that, in most cases, they never knew that they were going to disappear.

      Who’s to say it couldn’t happen to any one of us?

      Reply
    • JH

      I hope so, Tasha. I’m impressed with how dedicated the cops still are to a case from 1957.

      Gives me hope that one day they will find the answers.

      Reply
    • I have been so belwederid in the past but now it all makes sense!

      Reply
  14. This is just heart-wrenching. A child nobody cared enough about to protect and a child without even a name for a headstone. This is the ultimate of inhumanity. I may not think of much more than this today.

    Reply
    • JH

      It is really sad, Lee. I haven’t given up hope that someday we will find the answers.

      It may not be in our lifetime, though.

      Reply
  15. That is incredibly sad… So many children lost, one way or another. In Hungary they do an event every year where they send up floating lanterns to commemorate them (like in Tangled).

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    The Multicolored Diary
    MopDog

    Reply
    • JH

      Oh, that’s beautiful! What a lovely tribute. I bet it’s amazing (and very moving) to see.

      Reply
  16. It’s Corey Hart’s long lost uncle (lol – kidding! Couldn’t resist).
    Always disheartening when a young child slips through the cracks of society like this. Makes you wonder how no one notices a child disappear, or cares enough to question.
    Hopefully this mystery will be solved yet. Good post, J.H.

    Reply
    • JH

      While I was writing this post, I wondered if this case is what Hart’s song was about. But I doubt it.

      Maybe someone in another state was looking for this boy. In 1957, police weren’t connected across state lines the way they are today. You never know….

      Reply
  17. I’ll be surprised if this case ever gets solved. So sad though, I can’t imagine what that little boy had to go through. Awful!

    Reply
    • JH

      I know. Poor little guy.

      Someone out there must have the answers.

      Reply
  18. What a sad story.
    The DNA testing didn’t yield any positive results?

    Reply
    • JH

      I assume that they have extracted the boy’s DNA, but I know they haven’t compared it to the authors’ suspects yet.

      I don’t think that comparison will ever take place, unless the authors find some way to make their suspicions more compelling to police. Which can be damn hard to do!

      Reply
  19. Hmmmmm…..I am one who has never heard of this case. Considering the times and that people never looked at family abuse the way they do now, I wonder if this was a case where the kid was killed by his dad and the mom was also beaten and told to keep quiet and then they left. They may have kept to themselves so people may not have even noticed they were gone. If they lived in a rural area that could easily happen. The kid was not in school otherwise teachers would have reported him gone. Interesting case and sad. I hope there is a headstone placed there and just call him angel

    Reply
    • JH

      There is Birgit, quite a nice headstone with the name, “American’s Unknown Child.”

      The cemetery caretaker and his family have promised to “always take care of him,” but lots of other people drop off gifts as well.

      This case really touched many people, especially in Pennsylvania.

      Reply
  20. We both wrote about boxes today. Yours was sad and chilling though. Oscar Wilde wrote: “Life is not fair, and perhaps we are lucky it is not.” Fairness to the father who sold the boy and the “Mother” who bought, abused him, and then killed him would have dealt them the same cruelty that they dished out. 🙁

    Reply
    • JH

      I can’t imagine people resting easy with those decisions. They were no doubt highly damaged by life before they ever did such a thing.

      I’m sure they didn’t have anything close to a happy life.

      Reply
  21. That’s a sad case. Hopefully, one day they will get a break and the mystery will be solved.

    Reply
    • JH

      I hope so too. I want justice for the Boy in the Box.

      Reply
    • JH

      Me too, Sam. Thankfully, most children have someone looking for them.

      Reply
  22. I remember reading that a good plot device for building tension is to put a kid in danger. Fictional kids don’t move me. Stories like this will haunt me to my own grave.

    Reply
    • JH

      We get desensitized to so much in this life. I’m glad to see the Unknown Child’s story still moves people.

      Reply
  23. Such a sad tale. More needs to be done to get John Does identified. Especially long cold cases like these. Tragic.

    Reply
    • JH

      At least the police are still working this case. I was very impressed by their dedication so many years later.

      Reply
  24. It’s so sad to read about John Doe cases. To think of the poor people who went unclaimed.

    Reply
  25. It’s sad in cases like this that they can extract DNA, but they don’t have the information they need to link him to a missing person. The family is probably long gone. I wonder why nobody came forward to claim him? He had to have been moved to a distant location–although in an era when most news stories stayed local, probably not too far to get outside of the “news zone” where he was discovered.

    Reply
    • JH

      That’s what I’m thinking, Stephanie. I like Birgit’s suggestion that he could have come from a rural family as well.

      Reply
  26. When children are involved, a case always gets more attention and sympathy. The fact that this one (and many others) isn’t solved yet, is sad and a bit scary. How can murderers get away with killing? That means he/she is still out there and it can happen again… Mysteries intrigue! Great topic!

    Liesbet @ Roaming About – A Life Less Ordinary

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Liesbet. I still hope there will be justice for this little guy one day, but it’s getting less and less likely that his murderer will serve any time.

      Welcome to my blog!

      Reply
  27. The saddest stories are the true ones.

    Reply
    • JH

      Agreed, Amy. 🙁

      Reply
  28. I think they should keep looking. I hate to think of a child not being identified or missed. We had a drreadul case in Australia where an unidentified 2 year old was ound and Police solved the case and also identified her Mum who had been found 5 years earlier and also unidentified. Here’s a link: http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/body-in-suitcase-charges-to-be-laid-over-murder-of-khandalyce/news-story/3b8cc6babbaaa7fde4010401abaeb279
    We also have the long running cold case of the Beaumont children: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beaumont_children_disappearance
    xx Rowena

    Reply
  29. Half way through reading this, I lost it. I have a little boy and I can’t help it. My heart breaks for all the children who have suffered these fates.

    Heather M. Gardner / @hmgardner
    Co-Host, Blogging from A to Z April Challenge
    The Waiting is the Hardest Part

    Reply
    • JH

      Sorry, Heather. I tried to handle it as sensitively as I could.

      Hugs.

      Reply
  30. The police have the boy’s DNA. Have they ever tested the “Nagle-Nicoletti” woman. The stepdaughter who married her stepfather after her mother died. They lived in the large house near the area where the boy was found. They took in foster kids… and this “stepdaughter” was “challenged”, never left the house but was pregnant a few times. After house was sold they married and moved within the state. She might be the mother of this boy. Maybe they were the ones who possibly sold that boy which sealed his fate. Also, at that time a “psychic” lead investigators to that house that the Nicoletti’s lived in.

    Reply
    • I believe that the psychic’s theory is correct, but then again, I believe in almost anything.

      Reply
    • This seems the most logical theory, including the matching blanket and bassinet found at the foster home; As well as the small pond that could explain the hands and foot bogginess. I’ve not seen any more info on the connections between the 11 of 12 bassinet boxes traced from the J.C Penny Store. Were the purchasers all listed and cleared?

      Reply
      • Yes all the other bassinets have been accounted 4 other then one… The box he was found in

        Reply
  31. Great story, but I highly doubt the case will be solved. TYKU.

    Reply
  32. Hello I feel so sorry for this little or boy, I knew this case when I was in high school and can not believe it’s still a mistory now. Wiki shows this boy was only 14kg, I think this weight is way to light for a boy aged around 5, because me myself I have a little boy his 15 months and his 13kg, so this unknown boy must had a terrible life. Hope police will work everything out soon.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks for letting me know, Jim! This is fascinating. I’m definitely interested. Please send me an email when you get a chance and we’ll chat further.

      It’s a shame the cop seemed so reluctant. I hope the police actually pursue your theory.

      Reply
      • Here’s the contact info. below. There’s so much that’s happened. Do you have any specific questions?

        Reply
        • JH

          Thanks, Jim. I do, actually. Have the police investigated your lead? Have they begun to take it seriously? They seemed sceptical on the newscast.

          Reply
          • Have the police investigated your lead?

            Philly’s cold case detective, Sgt. Kuhlmeier, with whom I’ve spoken to many, many times, definitely seemed interested in our evidence (Rutt, Louis and myself). There are differing opinions on why they haven’t (admittedly anyways) taken our evidence – which I might add was gift wrapped for them – and examine it. There is a lot I could say about this whole saga, but I can’t spend hours writing with the NCAA Tournament on.

            Have they begun to take it seriously?
            I don’t know. Again, we provided DNA even. Names. An address.

            They seemed skeptical on the newscast.
            Yes and I also, knowing Sgt K fairly well, sensed some bitterness and embarrassment. There is something to be said about the notion that a couple of schmucks might have solved the case and it pisses people off. I will add with absolute sincerity though that the credit really does belong with the Philly PD and their lead investigators over the years, including bu not limited to Rem Bristow, Bill Kelly, Joe McGillen, Sam Weinstein, Tom Augustine and yes, Sgt. K. Without their 60 year efforts, we’d be no where today with this case.

            I’m a pretty simple person and I wrote the first simple, but comprehensive book about the case…”The Boy in the Box: America’s Unknown Child (Revised Edition)” which was originally professionally published through Rooftop and is now available at Amazon.

            Do you do podcasts or the like? I’d be happy to oblige.

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