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"America's Unknown Child": Will the mystery of Philadelphia's "Boy in the box" soon be solved?


Sixty-five years later, this American cold case could be on the way to being resolved. The little boy discovered beaten to death in 1957 in a

The small black tombstone has long remained anonymous and surmounted by these terrible words: "Unknown Child of America".

From now on, the grave of this little boy, found dead in 1957 in a small wood on the outskirts of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania (United States), bears a name: Joseph Augustus Zarelli.

The child was 4 years old when he was found dead.

His swollen body had been wrapped in a colorful blanket and placed in a cardboard box before being abandoned.

Sixty-five years after the discovery of the "Boy in the box" (in French, "the boy in the box"), the little victim, who has become emblematic in Philadelphia, has therefore found an identity, perhaps even a family.

But the investigation into his murder is still ongoing.

On February 25, 1957, a student discovered the small body in a wooded area of ​​Philadelphia, known to be the hunting ground of poachers.

The naked body rests in the old cardboard box of a cradle.

His hair was shorn, possibly after his death, as handfuls of hair were found on the remains.

The boy shows serious signs of malnutrition as well as numerous marks of beatings and several scars.

"It was obvious that in his very short life, this child had experienced horrors that no one, no one should ever experience," Philadelphia police chief Danielle Outlaw said in December at a conference of hurry.

The box in which the boy was discovered.


The police think they can quickly solve this case of the "Boy in the Box" but no one declares the disappearance of a little boy.

Hundreds of posters showing the face of the boy are then distributed in the Philadelphia area and its surroundings.

The investigators even dress the little body in fashionable clothes of the time and photograph it in a seated position, to recall any memories of the boy living to relatives.

In vain.

Dead ends upon dead ends

The clues discovered at the crime scene seem promising and are exploited: a blue corduroy men's cap, a child's scarf and a white handkerchief in the corner of which the letter "G" has been embroidered.

But still nothing.

The boy's name is still unknown, let alone that of his killer.

Posters distributed throughout the region at the time of the discovery of the body.


Decades pass but no one forgets the little "Boy in the Box".

Homes for suspected orphans, eccentric denunciations, fabrications by disturbed people… Dozens of amateur detectives are breaking their teeth over the case.

Twice, in 1998 and in 2019, the body was exhumed to extract DNA.

In 2016, an NGO even broadcast a reconstruction of the child's face as if he had been alive...

The DNA of a cousin of the little boy at the heart of the revelations

But, as with many cases in recent years, it is once again science that solves the mystery.

When a man, who turns out to be the little boy's cousin, uploads his DNA to a public database, it's "the match".

A result confirmed by the analysis of the DNA of his mother and since by that of the parents of the boy.

In December 2022, the authorities reveal that the little boy finally has a name: Joseph Augustus Zarelli, 4 years old, born on January 13, 1953. However, the police refuse to reveal the identity of his parents.

Just, she explains, he grew up on the banks of the Delaware River, in downtown Philadelphia.

But according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, which relies on interviews with the families and information from those close to the investigation, her parents are Augustus J. "Gus" Zarelli and Mary Elizabeth "Betsy" Abel.

We do not know if Joseph is the fruit of a pretty post-war love story or a simple passing fancy.

In any case, his birth certificate as well as new scientific expertise confirm the identity of the couple.

Read alsoThe case of the “Golden State Killer” or the extraordinary hunt for a serial killer

Gus comes from a family of Italian immigrants who settled in Philadelphia.

First a mason, he will become over the years a successful real estate entrepreneur in the region.

He will marry in 1958 and will have several children.

Betsy, meanwhile, is “a real beauty,” her family members will say.

We do not know what happened to the love of the young couple, but in 1950, barely graduating from a vocational school, Betsy became pregnant.

The child will be put up for adoption, probably entrusted to a Catholic institution.

She becomes a cashier at a movie theater in downtown Philly.

A few years later, she will marry the director.

They will have four children together.

So ?

Who attacked little Joseph?

"This is still an active homicide investigation and we still need the public's help to complete this child's life story," Police Chief Danielle Outlaw said.

"Not an ounce of cruelty" at home, he was "loved and respected"

Betsy's relatives, interviewed by the Philadelphia Inquirer, have no memory of a pregnancy that occurred in 1952… But strongly doubt that she could have harmed a child.


For nothing in the world, assures a relative.

There wasn't an ounce of cruelty about her, no wickedness.

Neither in his heart nor in his soul.

On the side of the family of Gus, officially the father of four children, who "loved and respected him", we are flabbergasted, indicates a lawyer in a press release which denounces in particular the attacks whose relatives are the subject on the networks. social.

“Each of his children is very touched by the death of this young boy, and horrified by the affair (…) However, until recently, they had never heard of any of this.

They were never told anything that connected their father or any member of their family to this case.”

The lawyer continues: “There is no allegation by the police or anyone else that Zarelli knew of the birth of this child or had anything to do with the life of the little boy.

And certainly nothing to suggest he knew about or was connected to the abuse he suffered.


Betsy died in 1991 after a long illness.

Gus died in 2014 at the age of 87.

On January 13, the Zarellis gathered in front of the grave of this little boy who has just made a sensational entry into their family.

Some have even taken over the investigation on their side: “We want to pay tribute to them by discovering his whole story.

We want to put a real end to this story.


Source: leparis

All tech articles on 2023-02-01

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