I have a curiosity for humanity's darker side and I love doing research so I've combined those two things to write in-depth articles.
Boy in the Box: Mystery Solved
It took 65 years, the patience of law enforcement and the community, and breakthroughs in DNA analysis. But the ongoing puzzle about the unidentified "boy in the box" has finally been solved.
Discovery of the Body
A boy’s body was found in the wooded area of Fox Chase, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1957. He was discovered first by a man who had illegal muskrat traps in the area, so he didn’t inform anyone about the body.
A few days later, a young college student, 26-year-old Frederick Benosis, told police he saw a rabbit in the area and knew of the animal traps. He claimed he got out to make sure the animal was safe and stumbled upon the dead body in the box but didn’t call police right away.
It was later determined Frederick was in the woods to spy on the women at The Good Shepard School for wayward girls and feared calling the police and incriminating himself. His guilt led him to call the police to report the body the next day.
Details of the Victim
The young boy was 3’6" and only weighed 30 to 40 pounds. He had blue eyes, medium to light brown curly hair, and a fair complexion. The police believe he was between four and six years of age.
He was found malnourished with deep bruising on his head and body. His ribs were visible under his skin, and he had bloody and severely dry, chapped lips. He had surgical scarring on his ankle and groin and had an L-shaped scar under his chin.
The boy's body had clumps of hair on him, indicating his hair was cut after death. He had wrinkled hands and feet, showing he was submerged in water for a long period of time before death. The last time he had eaten was two to three hours before death, and it’s believed he may have had a chronic eye ailment. His cause of death was determined to be multiple blows to the head.
Once the police had been notified of the body in the woods, they went to the scene. They opened a report on February 26, 1957. The boy’s body was naked and wrapped in a cheap plaid blanket, and he had been stuffed in a bassinet box.
The bassinet that came in this box was only sold at J.C. Penney, and only 12 had been sold in the area of Upper Darby. The police investigated every sale, but all boxes and bassinets were accounted for.
They took the boy’s fingerprints with hope of finding his identity in a missing child report, but they came up empty. No missing children reports matched the description of the boy, either. This case gathered local attention in Philadelphia and Delaware Valley, but sadly no further.
The Philadelphia Inquirer printed off 400,000 flyers that were handed out to the local community. It was even included with every single gas bill that was sent out. The flyer had the boy's likeness and what little details they had gathered about his appearance.
The crime scene had been looked over multiple times by 270 police academy recruits. It was thought that, due to the cold weather, the body of the boy could have been out in woods between two days and three weeks.
The recruits found additional evidence: a man's blue corduroy cap, a child’s scarf, and a man's handkerchief with the letter G in the corner. Unfortunately, these clues didn’t lead anywhere.
The police decided to dress the boy up in clothing and sit him up for photos to send out to the public. They thought if he looked more alive, then he might be easier to recognize. This didn’t get any results.
On March 21, 2016, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children released a forensic facial reconstruction of the boy’s face and added it to their database.
In August 2018, genealogy expert Barbara Rae-Venter, who used DNA to crack several other cases, including the Golden State Killer, said she would use DNA profiling to try to identify the boy.
In November 2022, the Philadelphia Police Department announced that the boy has been identified. They reported that they know his name and that they still may be able to file criminal charges.
CBS3 Investigations in Philadelphia confirmed that "police know the boy's name after years and years of DNA analysis, cross-referenced with genealogical information."
We can expect more news as this case develops.
The discovery of the identity of the "boy in the box" will soon determine the accuracy of these theories, but until officials provide a public explanation, there remains speculation about what happened to the murdered boy. Here are the theories that gained the most traction over the years.
The Nicoletti Family
The first theory involves a foster home run by Arthur Nicoletti just 1.5 miles from the crime scene. Investigators checked on the house and found there were supposed to be eight children in the home. All had been accounted for.
Police had hired a psychic to help in the case, and she had led them to the home without ever being in the area before. Arthur had refused a lie detector test, but the police had eventually ruled out the family as suspects.
Many people, to this day, still believe Arthur and his wife had something to do with the death of the little boy. People believe the child may have been their illegitimate grandchild from a baby born out of wedlock by one of their biological daughters.
People theorize he may have died accidentally, either falling from a window or drowning in a lake nearby. Because he was a secret grandchild, it's believed he was disposed of in the woods.
A medical examiner who worked on the case, Remington Bristow, was one of the people who believed the family was involved. After the family moved away in 1961, they had an estate sale. One of the items found at the sale was a bassinet that would have come in the same box the boy was found in.
Theory two came about in May 2002 when a businesswoman first known only by “M” but later identified as Martha from Cincinnati, Ohio, came forward with the possible identity of the boy in the box. She said her mother was abusive and bought the boy from his parents to be used and abused the same way she had been.
Martha said the boy’s name was Jonathan and he was disabled and didn’t speak. In February 1957, she claimed her mother killed the boy by slamming his body into the ground in a rage after he had thrown up baked beans in the bathtub.
After six months of investigating, authorities were unable to corroborate her story, and it couldn't be proven true or false. Later, they learned Martha had mental problems, and police were less inclined to believe anything she said.
Boy Dressed as a Girl
A third theory that ties into the one above is that the boy was dressed as a girl before he died. It’s a strong theory that the boy’s hair was long before it was chopped off, and his eyebrows had shown signs of being plucked to look more feminine.
The surgical markings on the groin area are not specific but could lead to this being a stronger theory. Some people think Martha’s mother dressed this little boy as a girl to help pass him off as simply her daughter’s friend. There was a composite sketch made of the boy with longer hair, but still no leads came of it.
The last theory involves a couple of carnival workers with 10 children, six of whom died. Kenneth and Irene Dudley were arrested in 1961 in Lawrenceville, VA. All six children died of malnutrition and neglect, and all had been wrapped in blankets and dumped in various places in several states. Two of the children’s bodies were thrown in a lake.
After doing a thorough investigation, the police were able to rule out the boy in the box as one of their children.
If you have any information regarding "The Boy in the Box" after more details are released about his identity, please contact the Philadelphia Police Department Homicide Unit or ask for Detective Tom Augustine at 215-686-3334.