Thursday, March 05, 2009

A 52 Year Old Cold Case

by Joyce

I originally posted this two years ago in March 2007. It's now been 52 years since the Boy in the Box was found. It is still an active homicide investigation.

The Boy in the Box

On February 25, 1957, the body of a young boy approximately 4 to 5 years old, was found in the Fox Chase section of Philadelphia by Philadelphia Police officer Elmer Palmer. Police had received a call that there was something inside a J.C. Penney bassinet box that someone had thrown away. The subsequent autopsy showed that the blond haired boy was undernourished and had been abused. The cause of death was head injuries.

For the past 50 years, investigators have been searching for this boy’s identity. They thought the case would be solved quickly, but the boy was never even reported missing. Investigators have followed thousands of leads over the years. It is still an open case, now handled by Homicide Detective Tom Augustine, who first became interested in the case as a child when he saw the posters of the boy that were displayed all over Philadelphia.

The boy’s murder has been featured on America’s Most Wanted and 48 Hours, but most of the leads generated by these shows have failed to produce anything. One tip from an Ohio woman in 2002 seemed the most promising. The woman appears credible but investigators have so far been unable to corroborate her story. The boy’s remains were even exhumed in 1998 and an independent lab was able to obtain mitochondrial DNA from a tooth, but as long as he remains unknown, there is no one to match it to.

The sad death of this boy has generated interest all over the world. There is a website dedicated to solving the case and finding his identity--America's Unknown Child. This site has the entire case history, photographs, information on witnesses, etc. It is run by volunteers whose sole purpose is for this boy to rest in peace.

It is also being investigated by the Vidocq Society, which is an organization comprised of retired detectives and others, including a forensic sculptor who has made a bust of what the boy’s father probably looked like.

I think what intrigues me most about this case is the dedication of the investigators involved. Some of the retired detectives working on this case were the original officers assigned to the investigation. Many of them have worked on their own time studying evidence, looking through hospital records and interviewing witnesses. These seasoned cops remember this boy as if he belonged to them--and in a way he does. Fifty years later, they still attend memorial services at the gravesite.

How would you have this story end? Will there ever be justice for The Boy in the Box?


Annette said...

This story gives me chills every time I read about it. What a sad case. It's hard to imagine after 52years there could possibly be a resolution, but we can all hope.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

I wonder if that same case was warped ahead to present day, and today's technology, would it have been solved?

Joyce said...

I've wondered the same thing.

Lee, if you check in, what's your take on that?

Jennie Bentley said...

Dammit, you made me cry.

Karen in Ohio said...

If that boy were alive today, he would be about my age. Just think of the lost potential of a life lost that way. It's too sad to contemplate how he died, and what led to being thrown away in such a fashion.

My last CPA class was last night, and we talked about crime scene investigation. A lot has changed, but much is still the same, and without any kind of comparison DNA, it might still be an unsolved case today.

Lee Lofland said...

I agree with Karen. Officials will need something - a piece of his mother's hair, a sample of her blood, etc. - to make a scientific comparison. And that's if they find any DNA at all. I think they'd have a better shot at taking core samples from the skull, rather than trying to find something testable in the tooth after all this time. But anything's possible.

My guess, for what it's worth, is that this case can only be solved if someone talks. Having the boy's DNA is useless without DNA from his mother, or from the killer.

I'm assuming the police investigated the order number on the label, and checked (recently with Ninhydrin and maybe Superglue)the cardboard for fingerprints.

Marielena said...

I recall reading some time ago that forensic artist Frank Bender felt that the boy had been dressed as a girl and was being raised as a girl. The medical examiner at the time noted that the boy's hair had been hastily cut with strands still clinging to his torso. The child's eyebrows also looked like they had been plucked. It's a chilling scenario either way and one can only imagine what this poor child went through. Yes, what potential of a life lost.

Lee Lofland said...

So when they found the box the body was still completely intact?

SZ said...

Jeez I am a cry baby too

Joyce said...

Yes, the box was intact. They figured that both the boy and the box hadn't been there for very long.

I think they should have taken a harder look at the foster family in the area. It's too much of a coincidence that the boy was wrapped in a blanket that had been cut in half and that family also had blankets cut in half.