Joseph Augustus Zarelli identified as “Boy in the Box”.

Joseph August Zarelli

Joseph August Zarelli. Police are still trying to figure out who killed him and dumped his body in a crate along Philadelphia Road in 1957.

After more than six decades, Philadelphia police have identified a young murder victim who was found dead in a box. The child, long known only as “Boy in the Box” or “America’s Unknown Child,” was revealed to be just 4 years old Joseph August Zarelli.

That solves a tragic mystery, but doesn’t solve how he was beaten in a box along Susquehanna Road in Philly on February 25, 1957.

“Despite continued efforts by law enforcement and partners, as well as international public interest in the case, his identity remained unknown for more than six decades,” police said.

The question is who killed Zarelli.

“The extreme difficulty in murder cases like this is that they are rarely solved and the perpetrator can ultimately be brought to justice until the victim is identified first,” the police captain said JasonSmith.

He said this at a press conference on Thursday, Smith said police have suspicions about who killed Zarelli, but it’s irresponsible to share those suspicions while the investigation is ongoing. He declined to reveal the names of the child’s parents, citing respect for the boy’s surviving siblings.

In describing Zarelli’s condition, the city’s police commissioner Danielle Outlaw said he was malnourished. His body bore the marks of recent and past trauma.

“In his very short life, it was evident that this child experienced horrors that no one, no one, should ever be subjected to,” she said.

In order to discover the identity, police went so far as to release pictures of the child taken at the time of the autopsy. This has been made public. Nobody stepped forward.

Authorities said Zarelli was exhumed in 2019 to obtain material for additional DNA studies, authorities said. They were able to trace relatives using genetic genealogy, they said.

“During this investigation, the Office of Forensic Science conducted, advised on, or coordinated the forensic work that was being conducted in this case,” the forensic laboratory manager said Ryan Gallagher.

“For 65 years, the story of America’s Unknown Child has haunted this community, the Philadelphia Police Department, our nation and the world,” Outlaw said. “Despite the fact that Joseph Augustus Zarelli was stripped of his entire identity and rightful claim to his own existence, he was never forgotten. This case gives hope that there will never again be an unknown murder victim in the city of Philadelphia. I am grateful to the investigators, scientists and medical staff who have worked so tirelessly on this case.”

Zarelli’s death remains under investigation as a homicide. The cops are asking that anyone with information call Detective Robert Hesser at 215-686-3334. You can also call or text the tipline at 215-686-TIPS [8744]. There is a $20,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction.

[Image via Philadelphia Police Department]

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