Sunday, May 7, 2017
The Creepy Mystery of the Boy in the Box
It seems there is no end to the number of strange and unsolved mysterious deaths that have long baffled and evaded understanding. Some of these cases can be quite creepy on top of being puzzling, and one of the creepier of these involves a box which mysteriously appeared in the wilderness one day in 1957 containing the body of a boy who seemed to have come from nowhere, leading to a bizarre, unsolved cold case that has eluded all attempts to solve it to this day and has spiraled into one of the more macabre and spookier unsolved crimes there is.
In February of 1957, a young man was making his way through the wilderness near the rural Susquehanna Road in Philadelphia, in the city’s Fox Chase section, checking traps he had set for muskrats when he came across a large, cardboard box with “fragile” and “handle with care” written upon it, which had been unceremoniously dumped in a trash filled empty field in the woods. Upon approaching the strange abandoned box, the man discovered within it what he first took to be a doll around 40 inches in height sitting within its shadows and wrapped up in a flannel blanket, yet the truth would be more chilling. When the man got closer, he could see that this was no doll, but rather the naked body of a young boy of around 4 years of age, who was badly bruised and appeared to have sustained severe injuries to his head.
While understandably startled and shocked by this macabre discovery, the man decided not to tell authorities because he was in the area hunting illegally and feared repercussions. As a result, the man left the box and its gruesome contents where they were. Two days later, a man by the name of Frederick Benosis came across the box and finally notified police the following day, wary of being seen as suspicious for being there. When authorities arrived on February 25, 1957, they found that the naked body was of a boy from between 4 to 6 years old, but small for his age and displaying signs of severe malnourishment. His hair had been hastily closely-cropped into a sort of bowl-style cut, possibly just before or after death as there were clumps of hair still clinging to his body. The body was covered with bruises as if he had been severely beaten, but yet had been carefully, almost lovingly arranged in the box with arms gently folded over the chest.
Further examination of the body turned up more interesting clues. His fingernails had been carefully trimmed, and his hands and feet showed evidence that the body had been submerged in water for a long period of time either just before or after death, perhaps because he had been bathed. An examination of his eyes found that he had possibly suffered from a chronic eye ailment of some sort. On the boy’s ankles and groin were scars indicative of having undergone surgery, and he had another scar under his chin. Medical examiners would find that he had eaten approximately 2 or 3 hours before he died, and in his esophagus was found a dark brown, unidentified residue thought to have been perhaps vomit. The cause of death was determined to be possibly from multiple serious blows to the head, but this was not certain, and the body was estimated to have been out in the woods anywhere from 3 days to 2 weeks, difficult to determine because the weather had been so cold.
The crime scene itself held clues as well. The box was from the department store J.C. Penny’s, and had been meant to hold a bassinet, and investigators found it promising that the box still had a manufacturer’s serial number visible upon it, meaning that they could find out the exact shipment it had come from. Additionally, there was even the address of the J.C. Penny’s it had been shipped to, which was located only around 15 miles away. Not far away from where the box had been dumped there was also found a cap with a distinctive leather strap and buckle. The boy’s fingerprints were taken, pictures were heavily circulated, and authorities thought that they would quickly get to the bottom of the crime. They would be proven wrong.
The box turned out to have been for one of 12 bassinets sold at the store, but records of the purchasers had not been kept as they had paid in cash. 8 of the buyers would eventually come forward after reading of the case in the news, and all of them had either thrown away the boxes or kept them to store things in their home. The other 4 buyers would remain unknown. The cap that had been found also led to a dead end. Even though it was tracked to a store run by a Hannah Robbins, and despite the fact that she distinctly remembered the man who had bought it, the payment had been made in cash and none of his information had been taken. Authorities would painstakingly go door to door to every shop in town with pictures of the boy and the cap, but no one would recall ever having seen either.
The boy himself would prove to be the most frustrating and mysterious of all. His fingerprints were run through hospital records and extensive databases, but did not find a single match. It was also found that no one had reported a missing child fitting the description of what the media was calling “The Boy in the Box,” and despite hundreds of thousands of flyers and notices sent out nationwide, as well as countless law enforcement bulletins, including the FBI’s Law Enforcement Bulletin, no one came forward who knew who the boy was, no family, no friends, no doctors, no one. Orphanages all over the country were also approached but none had any knowledge of the boy either. The American Medical Association passed out details on the boy’s surgical scars in the hopes that a doctor somewhere would know him, but no one came forward. Frustrated authorities even went so far as to widely circulate photos of the boy fully dressed and in a sitting position to make him look more lifelike, but still there was nothing.
Authorities did everything humanly possible to try and track down any hint of who the boy could be and came up empty handed every time. Some possible leads trickled in, but none of them led anywhere, and with the total anonymity of the boy and lack of any records whatsoever it was as if he had never existed at all. It was totally baffling, as surely someone must have known him and there must have been a worried parent or playmate out there who would have seen all of the media attention, but there was nothing at all. The boy was a complete cypher, as was whoever had killed him. It wasn’t even known exactly how he had died. The only person questioned on the crime as a possible suspect was Frederick Benosis, the second person to find the box, but he was soon cleared and released.
With nothing to go on and the case unsolved, the mysterious boy was buried in Potter’s Field on July 24, 1957, with money gathered together by various detectives on the puzzling case. The boy’s simple headstone read “Heavenly Father, Bless this Unknown Boy, February 25, 1957.” Although the case was officially quite cold, there were some detectives and investigators who refused to let it go, becoming obsessed even, determined to get to the bottom of the mystery. Every possible clue was pored over and there were even psychics brought in to work on it, but it was futile, with no new answers forming out of the cloud of questions orbiting the case.
Some possible leads did sporadically come up. One initially promising lead was a foster home just 1.5 miles from where the body was found, which was pointed out by a psychic that had been brought in out of desperation by medical examiner Remington Bristow, who had become one of the most tireless investigators on the case. At this foster home was found a bassinet of the same type that would have been in the discarded JC Penny box the boy had been in, as well as several blankets that were reminiscent of the one the dead boy had been found wrapped in. Bristow suspected that the boy had lived there and been killed by someone at the home, possibly even the owner Arthur Nicoletti, either intentionally or accidentally, but there was no concrete evidence to show that the home had ever had the boy in the first place and certainly nothing solid to link them to the crime.
On Nov. 3, 1998, the boy’s body was even controversially exhumed in order to extract DNA in the hopes that modern technology could shed some light on the case, but this also led nowhere and the body was reinterred on Nov. 11, 1998 at the Ivy Hill cemetery in Cedarbrook, Philadelphia on a donated plot, and with a headstone reading “America’s Unknown Child.” However, the case itself was far from buried, and it has appeared on programs such as episodes of America’s Most Wanted in 1998 and 2008, episodes of Court TV and 48 Hours, as well as a 2016 episode of NBC 10 Investigators.
Of course with such a mysterious case there have been numerous theories brought forward by both law enforcement and amateur sleuths alike. One is that the boy had been accidentally killed by the one who had cut his hair by holding his head too tightly. Another is that a family with too many children had killed him and disposed of the body, or possibly had their child die by accident after which they had disposed of it to avoid accusations of homicide, although who these parents could be is unknown. He could have also been a kidnap victim who was killed. Indeed, homicide is the typical idea for what had happened. However, one of the people who most doggedly pursued the case for decades all the way to his death in 1993, Remington Bristow, strongly believed that the boy had not been murdered in cold blood, due to the care with which his hair and fingernails had been cut, as well as the fact that he had been bathed and so carefully arranged in the box, suggesting to him that the boy had been laid to rest with love and affection. He believed that whoever had put the boy out there in the box had likely intended to bury him, but had been interrupted somehow before they could finish.
Another theory came forward in 2002, when a woman from Cincinnati, Ohio only known as “M” claimed that she knew what had happened to the mysterious boy. In a disturbing testimony, M claimed that in 1954 her mother had purchased the boy from his parents for cash, after which he had been subjected to horrific physical, psychological, and sexual abuse. According to M, her abusive mother, who frequently beat him, had accidentally killed the boy, who they had called Jonathan, it a fit of rage by smashing his head into the floor after he had thrown up in the bathtub. Since the story seemed to fit so well with the evidence and details at hand, and also fit in with a witness who had come forward years earlier claiming to have seen two suspicious women waving him by the side of the road in the area where the area was found at around the time it was discovered, police at first believed the lead to be very promising, but became suspicious when it came to light that the woman making the claims had had a history of mental problems. Considering there was also no real hard evidence to corroborate the story either and denials by neighbors of the woman that such a thing had ever happened, the lead was dropped.
Over the years since there have been occasional new leads that have turned up from time to time, but so far none of them have led to an answer to the mystery. Likewise, continued efforts to investigate the cold case by researchers and organizations such as the Philadelphia-based group of law enforcement experts who actively pursue cold cases, called the Vidocq Society, have met with little in the way of new discoveries. The Boy in the Box remains unidentified, the circumstances leading to his death unknown, and even the cause of his death not totally clear. Officially he is known to authorities as simply “unidentified boy,” and it seems he is likely to remain that way. Who was this nameless boy? Why doesn’t anyone know him? How did he meet his fate and end up alone out in that field within that box? Nobody knows, and years later he is still without a name and without any justice served in his death. He is, and perhaps will always be alone, unknown, simply “The Boy in the Box.”