Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Boy in the Box

by Joyce

Since tomorrow is the anniversary of when the Boy in the Box was found, I thought it was appropriate to re-post this. It is still an active homicide investigation.

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 (Note: Elmer Palmer just passed away in January 2011). 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?


Ramona said...

Joyce, from an academic/writer's POV, this story hold so many intriguing elements: the mystery of the boy's identity; the dedication of Elmer Palmer for so long; the purpose of the Vidocq Society. I see why you've become fascinated with it.

Plus, that child's face is haunting, isn't it?

Joyce Tremel said...

Very haunting. Even though it's been over fifty years, I keep hoping his murder will be solved. If this was a book it would be. Unfortunately real life doesn't always work out like a mystery novel.

Patg said...

I remember this story. So sad.

Cricket said...

I learned of this case a few years ago. It haunts me and I can't explain why. Possibly it's that I am the mother of two boys with special needs and although they are almost grown I feel for this little guy because he was so vulnerable. The website by the investigative team seems not to have been updated in the past few years. Do you know if there is ANYTHING new? I tried to email them but the email bounced, apparently the account is no longer active. Have they given up? I hope not. There have to be answers out there, somewhere. Some one has to know the truth.

faith said...

This story is so sad.. I'm 12 years old and live in the US. I wish I could've been around when this happened. I hope eventually this case will be solved, but I also have doubt about it. This kid had to be tortured, so bad. It really makes me feel like killing whoever did this. Really? They put him in a box? That's f***ed up. I KNOW someone out there has a clue who did this.. Whoever did this, I hope they live/ lived a miserable, horrible f***ing life. If I did this, I wouldn't have been able to live with myself.. I hope they didn't.. Sincerely, Faith. If you want to contact me, just e-mail