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Who Is the Boy in the Box? Who Is America's Unknown Child?

I have a curiosity for humanity's darker side and I love doing research so I've combined those two things to write in depth articles.

An artist's sketch of the unknown child.

An artist's sketch of the unknown child.

Details of the Victim

The young boy was 3’6" and only weighed 30 to 40 pounds. He had blue eyes, medium to light brown curly hair, and a fair complexion. The police believe he was between 4 and 6 years of age. He was found malnourished with deep bruising on his head and body. His ribs were visible under his skin, and he had bloody and severely dry, chapped lips. He had surgical scarring on his ankle and groin and had an L-shaped scar under his chin.

The boy's body had clumps of hair on him, indicating his hair was cut after death. He had wrinkled hands and feet, showing he was submerged in water for a long period of time before death. The last time he had eaten was 2 to 3 hours before death, and it’s believed he may have had a chronic eye ailment. His cause of death was determined to be multiple blows to the head.

America's Unknown Child

America's Unknown Child

Discovery of the Body

The boy’s body was found in the wooded area of Fox Chase, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was discovered first by a man who had illegal muskrat traps in the area, so he didn’t inform anyone about the body.

A few days later, a young college student, 26-year-old Frederick Benosis, told police he saw a rabbit in the area and knew of the animal traps. He claimed he got out to make sure the animal was safe and stumbled upon the dead body in the box but didn’t call police right away. It was later determined Frederick was in the woods to spy on the women at The Good Shepard School for wayward girls and feared calling the police and incriminating himself. His guilt led him to call the police to report the body the next day.

The Investigation

Once the police had been notified of the body in the woods, they went to the scene. They opened a report on February 26, 1957. The boy’s body was naked and wrapped in a cheap plaid blanket, and he had been stuffed in a bassinet box. The bassinet that came in this box was only sold at J.C. Penney, and only 12 had been sold in the area of Upper Darby. The police investigated every sale, but all boxes and bassinets were accounted for.

They took the boy’s fingerprints with hope of finding his identity in a missing child report, but they came up empty. No missing children reports matched the description of the boy, either. This case gathered local attention in Philadelphia and Delaware Valley but sadly no further. The Philadelphia Inquirer printed off 400,000 fliers that were handed out to everyone. It was even included with every single gas bill that was sent out. The flier had the boy's likeness and what little details they had gathered about his appearance.

The crime scene had been looked over multiple times by 270 police academy recruits. It was thought that, due to the cold weather, the body of the boy could have been out in woods for 2 days to 3 weeks. The recruits found additional evidence: a man's blue corduroy cap, a child’s scarf, and a man's handkerchief with the letter G in the corner. Unfortunately, these clues didn’t lead anywhere.

The police decided to dress the boy up in clothing and sit him up for photos to send out to the public. They thought if he looked more alive, then he might be easier to recognize. This didn’t get any results.

Several Years Later

On March 21, 2016, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children released a forensic facial reconstruction of the boy’s face and added it to their database.

In August 2018, genealogy expert Barbara Rae-Venter, who used DNA to crack several other cases, including the Golden State Killer, said she would use DNA profiling to try to identify the boy. To this day, the boy still remains unknown.

Barbara Rae-Venter

Barbara Rae-Venter

Theories

There are a lot of theories in this case, so I won’t be going over all of them—only the most likely ones.

The Nicoletti Family

The first theory is that of a foster home run by Arthur Nicoletti just 1.5 miles from the crime scene. Investigators checked on the house and found there were supposed to be eight children in the home. All had been accounted for. Police had hired a psychic to help in the case, and she had led them to the home without ever being in the area before. Arthur had refused a lie detector test, but the police had eventually ruled out the family as suspects.

Many people, to this day, still believe Arthur and his wife had something to do with the death of the little boy. People believe the child may have been their illegitimate grandchild from a baby born out of wedlock by one of their biological daughters. They think he may have died accidentally, either falling from a window or drowning in a lake nearby. Because he was a secret grandchild, they believe he was disposed of in the woods.

A medical examiner who worked on the case, Remington Bristow, was one of the people who believed the family was involved. After the family moved away in 1961, they had an estate sale. One of the items found at the sale was a bassinet that would have come in the same box the boy was found in.

Martha's Theory

Theory two came about in May 2002 when a businesswoman first known only by “M” but later identified as Martha from Cincinnati, OH, came forward with the possible identity of the boy in the box. She said her mother was abusive and bought the boy from his parents to be used and abused the same way she had been.

Martha said the boy’s name was Jonathan and he was disabled and didn’t speak. In February 1957, she claimed her mother killed the boy by slamming his body into the ground in a rage after he had thrown up baked beans in the bathtub. After six months of investigating, authorities were unable to corroborate her story, and it couldn't be proven true or false. Later, they learned Martha had mental problems that pushed them to be less inclined to believe anything she said.

Boy Dressed as a Girl

A third theory that can tie into the one above is that the boy was dressed as a girl before he died. It’s a strong theory that the boy’s hair was long before it was chopped off, and his eyebrows had shown signs of being plucked to look more feminine. The surgical markings on the groin area are not specific but could lead to this being a stronger theory. Some people think Martha’s mother dressed this little boy as a girl to help pass him off as just her daughter’s friend. There was a composite sketch made of the boy with longer hair, but still no leads came of it.

Carnival Workers

The last theory involves a couple of carnival workers with 10 children, six of whom died. Kenneth and Irene Dudley were arrested in 1961 in Lawrenceville, VA. All six children died of malnutrition and neglect, and all had been wrapped in blankets and dumped in various places in several states. Two of the children’s bodies were thrown in a lake. After doing a thorough investigation, the police were able to rule out the boy in the box as one of their children.

Despite the numerous theories and seemingly strong leads, to this day, the boy in the box remains unknown. Investigations in the case are ongoing.

Another sketch of the boy.

Another sketch of the boy.

Contact Information

If you have any information regarding who the boy in the box is, please contact the Philadelphia Police Department Homicide Unit or ask for Detective Tom Augustine at 215-686-3334

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.