The Mysterious Death of the Boy in the Box
For over 50 years, people have been trying to figure out details about the mysterious death of the boy in the box — a child no one has been able to identify.
In the world of criminal investigations, unidentified people are a rare but very possible occurrence. These people, often called John or Jane Doe by investigators, are people that no one recognizes.
John and Jane Does are the people who slipped through the cracks of society. No one may have ever really known they existed, or, if they did, everyone just forgot about them. That alone is tragic, but the situation becomes even more dismal when you realize that many "Does" out there are bodies that belonged to children.
Such was the case with one of the strangest unsolved mysteries in Philadelphia history. One cold February day in 1957, one of the most famous cases of a young John Doe gripped the nation and caused a massive investigation to determine who killed the unknown child.
No one was ever caught for the murder, though some suspects remain. Even so, to this day, no one really knows the details behind the mysterious death of the boy in the box — or who he even was.
A Strange Occurrence in Fox Chase
In 1957, if you were to have asked anyone where a cold case murder would take place, no one would have said Fox Chase. This section of Northeast Philadelphia was known for being home to wealthy families, historic buildings, and picturesque scenery filled with wildlife.
However, that's exactly where someone left a cardboard box — right on the side of Susquehanna Road, in Fox Chase. Inside that box laid the body of a young boy, perhaps as young as 4 years old. He was small and malnourished, weighing only 30 pounds at the time of his death.
A very anxious college student by the name of Frederick Benosis called the police and told them that he had found the body of a naked boy in a cardboard box used to contain a bassinet, next to a flannel blanket.
Benosis was nervous, partially because he could have been arrested right then and there. He admitted to police that he waited to report it, due to the fact that he was spying on girls nearby.
Another man, who was illegally trapping muskrats nearby, skipped telling police when he discovered the boy in the box earlier — also out of fear that he would have gotten arrested for hunting, too. It's very possible others may have seen the box, only to either ignore it or fail to speak up, too.
Even so, eventually, police found the boy and the box. Despite the time it took to alert the authorities, police were initially confident someone would come with more information.
So, they followed procedure. Police arrived at the scene, took photos of the body, examined the area, and expected to get a call from someone with information. They then brought the body to the morgue, took fingerprints, and examined the boy.
After days of alerting the public to the mysterious boy's death, no one came to claim him, and police began to realize that it would be up to them to uncover the story behind the mysterious death of the boy in the box.
America's Unknown Boy
Within a matter of days, over 200 different investigators combed Fox Chase looking for clues about the mysterious death of the boy in the box. All that they could find was a bassinet that came from a local J.C. Penny, and a hat with a buckle.
In the forensics lab, though, some clues did reveal themselves fairly quickly. Investigators quickly noticed several things that were unusual about the boy's body.
First, investigators noticed that the boy was severely malnourished, and weighed far less than he should have. His hair was crudely cut, with some chunks sticking to his body. The boy's hands and feet were also wrinkled, suggesting he spent time submerged under water before he died.
Most obviously, he was covered in bruises and scars. Lastly, the boy had a strange substance that came out of his mouth and coated his throat. So, he also vomited after he died.
Forensic teams stated that he died due to multiple blunt traumas to the head, and that it seems like he was heavily abused and neglected. So, when it comes to the cause of death, the mysterious death of the boy in the box isn't too much of a mystery anymore.
However, no one knows who abused him or killed him, primarily because he couldn't be identified. Even when they compared his footprints and fingerprints to hospital records, police couldn't find a match. It was as if this child just appeared out of nowhere, with no family to be found.
No owner ever came to claim the hat, and it's unsure that the owner may have had something to do with the boy's death. The hat was traced to a local store, with owners claiming that a man with a foreign accent bought it. There's no official tie to the murder case as of now.
The only clue that was left was the bassinet box, which was traced to Upper Darby's J.C. Penny. That store only sold a dozen of this particular bassinet model. Some of the models were able to be traced back to owners, but not all of them. The lead turned cold quickly.
That's where the real mystery began and when police realized they needed help in figuring out the details of this boy's tragically short life.
The Search Begins
With all possible leads turned into dead ends, it didn't take too long for police to realize that they needed help. So, a massive search began and the mysterious death of the boy in the box became a major media sensation.
Journalists covering the story called him "America's Unknown Child," and begged anyone with information to come forth for details about the boy's identity. Over 400,000 flyers with his face were distributed throughout the Philadelphia region — but no one came forth with any information.
270 police academy recruits combed the area again, and were able to find a child's outfit, complete with a hat. They used the outfit to make a sketch of what the boy would have looked like, seated and clothed. Still, no dice.
There were a number of potential suspects over the years, though, and some of them definitely make a lot more sense than others. Could any of these suspects have been behind the tragic killing of this child?
The Foster Home Theory
If you ask a number of investigators, the mysterious death of the boy in the box might have to do with a very poorly run foster care system. They might not be wrong, either. During the 1950s, the foster system wasn't very good at keeping track of which children lived where.
Susquehanna Road was remarkably close to a small foster home which housed children from single, unwed mothers. In 1993, Remington Bristow, a criminal investigator, asked a NJ psychic where the child was killed. The psychic took Bristow directly to the foster home.
Inside the foster home was a bassinet — the exact model that was sold in the box the boy was discovered in. Similar flannel blankets were also found in the home, and Bristow believes that the boy belonged to the stepdaughter of the man who lived in the house.
She may have killed her child to avoid being outed as a single mother in a time when unwed mothers were stigmatized and shunned in polite society. Bristow himself believes that the mysterious death of the boy in the box was accidental in nature, or perhaps, a crime of a woman who felt cornered.
Despite the strong circumstantial evidence, no official tie to the child was found. Could the psychic have been right?
The mysterious death of the boy in the box may have actually been explained by the child's sibling, if you believe the story of an anonymous woman. The woman was known only as "M." She had contacted police with a tip, and begged to remain anonymous.
"M," who was around the same age the boy had been when the crime happened, claimed that a young boy about his age lived with her and her parents at the time of the murder. She claimed that the boy was subjected to extreme amounts of physical, verbal, and sexual abuse.
Then, in a rage, her mother killed the child after throwing him head-first in the bathtub. She then decided to cut his long hair. Then, she and a friend put the boy in the box and tried to dump him in Fox Chase.
According to "M," a man noticed the two people struggling with the box and offered to help. They ignored him, and he went away. This claim was corroborated by earlier confidential testimony given in 1957 by a man who claimed he knew something about the mysterious death of the boy in the box.
"M" claimed that the boy's name was Johnathan, and that her abusive mother purchased him from someone. This may have been possible, since it was a different time and children were occasionally bought and sold.
Cops were appalled at what they heard, so they immediately investigated the claim. After all, this level of abuse would suggest criminal intent — and it's possible others knew. Unfortunately, several major details came up that made the case seem very unlikely.
"M"'s neighbors had access to the house while she grew up, and were adamant that there was no little boy who resided there at any point in time. One even called the claim "ridiculous." The anonymous woman was also known for having mental illness, with some suggesting she made it up.
At first glance, it seems like a person may have accused an innocent person of a horrible crime. However, many investigators believe that the boy may have been raised as a girl — thus the haircut. Could it be that the neighbors didn't realize that "M's" tiny female friend was actually Johnathan in disguise? Could an abusive mother actually have committed the perfect murder?
DNA Extractions in 2001
The boy's DNA was extracted in 2001 and compared to leads that were available. All tests, however, proved to be inconclusive. So, all leads appear to be dead — and somehow, a murderer managed to get away with it while also totally hiding the boy's identity.
To this day, no one knows the full details of the mysterious death of the boy in the box, and what's more tragic is that he received more love and attention in death than he did in life.
His body was buried in a potter's field, with a simple headstone reading, "Heavenly Father, Bless This Unknown Boy." Later on, officials moved his grave to a proper cemetery, where his grave regularly gets flowers and toys from locals in the area.
Society may have failed him in life, but with hope, someone will solve the mysterious death of the boy in the box — and give him the justice he deserved after his death.