Dec 8, 2022 - News

"Boy in Box" identified as police hope to revive case

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw and a picture of Joseph Augustus Zarelli, the latter of whom is known as the "Boy in the Box."

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw after she revealed Joseph Zarelli's identity. Photo: Matt Rourke/AP

Authorities hope a new discovery in one of Philadelphia's oldest unsolved homicides could bring new leads to close the case.

Driving the news: Philadelphia police identified a 4-year-old victim known for 65 years as the "Boy in the Box" on Thursday.

  • The boy found dead in a cardboard box in Northeast Philly's Fox Chase neighborhood in February 1957 is Joseph Augustus Zarelli, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw revealed during a news conference.
  • New forensic genetic genealogy methods, using Zarelli's DNA, led to the breakthrough.

Why it matters: While police still don't know who's responsible for Zarelli's death, this new finding could help revive the case.

  • And the new genealogy techniques could help solve other homicides with unidentified victims.
  • Zarelli's identification "brings hope that there will never again be an unidentified victim of homicide" in the city, Outlaw said in a statement.

What they're saying: Capt. Jason Smith said Thursday that the boy — whose headstone had read "America's Unknown Child" — likely died from blunt force trauma, the Inquirer reports.

  • "We have our suspicions about who may be responsible," Smith said. "But it would be irresponsible of me to share these suspicions as this remains an active and ongoing criminal investigation."

Between the lines: Investigators were able to use Zarelli's DNA to identify and track down his relatives. They found a match on Zarelli's maternal side, and obtained a court order for vital records of the children of a woman whom they suspected to be the victim's mother, the Associated Press reports.

  • From there, they were able to identify the boy's father from Zarelli's birth certificate and via DNA analysis.
  • Zarelli also has a "number of siblings" who are living, said Smith, who declined to reveal the parents' names, per the Inquirer.

Zoom in: The identification is the first using forensic genetic genealogy through a new collaboration between the city's Medical Examiner's Office and police, per NBC10.

  • Ryan Gallagher, the department's forensic laboratory manager, said the partnership is using the technology on "dozens" of cases spanning the past six decades to identify unknown human remains or suspects.
A tombstone
The grave of a boy who police identified on Thursday as Joseph Augustus Zarelli. Photo: Matt Rourke/AP

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