Police in Philadelphia on Thursday publicly identified a four-year-old child killed in the city in 1957 as Joseph Augustus Zarelli — giving a name to the person long known only as the “Boy in the Box.”
Zarelli was killed in 1957 and found lying wrapped in a blanket in a box in a then-sparsley populated, forested area of northwest Philadelphia. Police at the time were unable to identify him or track down his killer, and the case currently remains open and unsolved.
But the identification of Zarelli, made possible through advancements in DNA technology, represents a landmark breakthrough in the ongoing quest to figure out how the four-year-old was killed and find whoever was responsible.
The case garnered extensive local and national attention at the time, with investigators recieving hundreds of tips and various theories emerging as to both who the boy was and who may have been involved in his killing. Investigators found that the boy showed signs of having suffered serious physical abuse, but was also given a fresh haircut shortly before his death.
“The boy appeared to be malnourished, and his body bore the signs of recent and past trauma,” Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw told reporters Thursday in comments reported by CNN. “In his very short life, it was apparent that this child experienced horrors that no one, no one should ever be subjected to.”
Phliadelphia police are offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the case. Captain Jason Smith of the Philadelphia Police homicide unit said Thursday that the department has its “suspicions” as to who the killer might be, though he did not elaborate.
“We may not make an arrest,” Mr Smith said. “We may never make an identification [of the killer]. But we’re going to do our darndest to try.”
Zarelli was initially buried in a potter’s field in Philadelphia before being moved to a cemetary in the northwest part of the city where his gravesite has been tended to by caretakers who, until now, where not aware of his identity.
DNA testing, however, paved the way for Philadelphia authorities to give Zarelli has name back. The boy’s body was exhumed in 2019 for the benefit of forensic testing, and genetic genealogists helped uncover Mr Zarelli’s name and help authorities contact members of his maternal family.
Police said Thursday that both of the Zarelli’s parents are deceased, but that he has multiple sibilings who are still alive.
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