Philadelphia police have revealed the true name of "The Boy in the Box"

"This announcement only closes one chapter in this little boy's story," said Commissioner Danielle Outlaw

By Kelly McClure

Nights & Weekends Editor

Published December 8, 2022 2:34PM (EST)

"America's Unknown Child" in Ivy Hill Cemetery (Wikipedia Commons)
"America's Unknown Child" in Ivy Hill Cemetery (Wikipedia Commons)

During a news conference held on Thursday, Philadelphia police publicly identified the discarded remains of a young boy known only as "The Boy in the Box" for the past 65 years.

The boy — believed to be between 3 and 7 years old at the time of his death — was found in a small cardboard box off the side of the road in a wooded area of Philadelphia in 1957. After area officials investigated the remains following their discovery it was determined that the boy's cause of death was blunt force trauma, but a run of the child's fingerprints came up with no match and a series of phony leads as to where he came from, or who could have ultimately killed him, yielded no concrete evidence.

In late November, Philadelphia police issued an update on the cold case stating that DNA and genealogical information had led to a positive ID on "The Boy in the Box," and during Thursday's news conference they revealed the boy's name to be Joseph Augustus Zarelli. 

According to ABC's coverage of the news conference, Joseph was born on January 13, 1953 and was likely from the West Philadelphia area.

"Today, after 65 years, America's Unknown Child's name was finally restored," said Commissioner Danielle Outlaw on Twitter following the news conference. "I want to thank all who have worked tirelessly since 1957 to give Joseph Augustus Zarelli his voice back. However, the search for justice continues."

Joseph's remains were laid to rest decades ago at Ivy Hill Cemetery under a donated headstone reading "America's Unknown Child." In November, when news first broke that police were nearing the announcement of the boy's name, workers at the cemetery expressed excitement over finally being able to see his real name etched into the stone.


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Philadelphia Captain John Smith said during Thursday's conference that "Joseph has a number of siblings on both the mother and father side who are living and it's out of respect for them that their parents' information remain confidential."

Captain Smith indicated that they do have suspicions as to who may be responsible for the boy's death, but was unwilling to offer them up as the investigation is still ongoing.

"This announcement only closes one chapter in this little boy's story while opening up a new one. This is still an active homicide investigation and we still need the public's help in filling in this child's life story," Outlaw furthered. 


By Kelly McClure

Kelly McClure is a journalist and fiction writer who lives in New Orleans. She is Salon's Nights and Weekends Editor covering daily news, politics and culture. Her work has been featured in Vulture, The A.V. Club, Vanity Fair, Cosmopolitan, Nylon, Vice, and elsewhere. She is the author of Something is Always Happening Somewhere and the co-host of The Antler Queens podcast 

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