FORGOTTEN BUSINESS. “The boy in the box”, this murdered boy whose face no one recognized


On February 25, 1957, the body of a little boy was discovered in a cardboard box on the side of a road in Philadelphia. Closer returns to this mysterious case.

It is one of the most mysterious cases in American history. On February 25, 1957, on the edge of Susquehanna Road in Philadelphia, the body of a little boy was discovered in the cardboard box of a crib. Visibly malnourished, the child, aged about 3, bears the scars and bruises of blows to several places on his body. At first sight, he was beaten, but someone curiously took care to wash him and cut his hair and nails before wrapping him in a flannel blanket… Mobilized to the scene, the Philadelphia police opened a investigation with certainty: someone will claim this child in a few hours. A few days, at most.

But no one shows up. What at first looked like a closed deal turns into a deep mystery. First, the police try to trace the two clues left with the child: the cardboard box and the blanket. The first was used to wrap a crib sold by a department store in West Philadelphia. However, the latter only accepts cash payments, which makes it impossible to trace back to the buyer. The child’s blanket is marketed by the thousands by a textile giant. Impossible, this time again, to get anything out of it.

A foster family and an abusive mother at the heart of the investigations

But the police are not giving up. In the weeks following the discovery of the toddler, more than 270 recruits are assigned to the case and 400,000 flyers are distributed across Philadelphia. Quickly, new exhibits are identified at the crime scene: a blue cap, a child’s scarf and a man’s handkerchief bearing the letter “G”. But there again, all the efforts of the investigators prove to be in vain…

Until 1960. That year, Remington Bristow, a medical examiner very involved in the case, consults a clairvoyant who gives him the description of a house very similar to that of a foster family located about 2 miles from the crime scene. On the spot, the police discovered several cradles similar to the one that was in the box found on Susquehanna Road. The investigators also discovered several covers comparable to the boy’s shroud. The adopted daughter of the foster carer is then suspected of having given birth to the little boy out of wedlock and of having got rid of him to save his honor. Unfortunately, this hypothesis could never be proven.

Subsequently, two other avenues are carefully studied. In 1965, Remington Bristow thought he recognized the boy’s face from an old press clipping devoted to welcoming Hungarians to the United States after the Budapest uprising. Shocked, the coroner starts looking for a needle in a haystack. Alone, he peels 15,000 files of refugees from the east until, finally, falling on the face of the little blond. But again, his efforts prove futile. The little Hungarian in the article, adopted by an American family, is alive and well. And this one has nothing to do with the “box boy”. Finally, in February 2002, a woman named “Martha” contacted the police and claimed that her abusive mother had bought “the boy in the club”, whose first name was Jonathan, during the summer of 1954. She said that one evening in 1957, the boy would have vomited his meal of beans and that his mother would have cruelly abused him. He would have died afterwards, while the latter was giving him a bath. Strangely, his version corroborates with the autopsy report, the remains of beans having been discovered in the stomach of the little boy. But unable to verify Martha’s statements, the police ended up abandoning this new lead.

“This kid still has no name”

Sixty-five years later, the “boy in the box” remains unidentified but the police, persistent and upset by the story of the one who is nicknamed “the unknown child of America”, continue their investigations. “I do it because I’m a policeman, sir. And because this kid still has no name“, said Sergeant Bob Kuhlmeier, head of the Philadelphia police special investigations unit, in 2018 in the columns of the World.

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