'Boy in the box': Victim finally ID'd in Philadelphia's oldest unsolved homicide case

The little boy's body was found in a box in February 1957.

December 8, 2022, 11:35 AM

A little boy killed more than 60 years ago has finally been identified thanks to police work and DNA analysis, the Philadelphia Police Department said.

The case, known as "the boy in the box," is Philadelphia's oldest unsolved homicide.

PHOTO: A little boy killed more than 60 years ago has finally been identified thanks to police work and DNA analysis, the Philadelphia Police Department said.
A little boy killed more than 60 years ago has finally been identified thanks to police work and DNA analysis, the Philadelphia Police Department said.
WPVI

On Feb. 25, 1957, a naked, emaciated boy between 4 and 6 years old was found dead in a box in a wooded area in northeast Philadelphia. He had been severely beaten, Philadelphia Police Capt. Jason Smith said.

No one ever came forward to claim him, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said.

The boy has now been identified as Joseph Augustus Zarelli, born on Jan. 13, 1953, Smith said.

PHOTO: A little boy killed more than 60 years ago has finally been identified as Joseph Augustus Zarelli thanks to police work and DNA analysis, the Philadelphia Police Department said.
A little boy killed more than 60 years ago has finally been identified as Joseph Augustus Zarelli thanks to police work and DNA analysis, the Philadelphia Police Department said.
WPVI

Genealogists used the boy's DNA to research possible relatives and eventually established the identity of his birth parents, Smith said, adding that detectives learned no Social Security number was ever issued for Joseph.

It is not clear who is responsible for Joseph's death, Smith said.

"We have our suspicions as to who may be responsible, but it would be irresponsible of me to share these suspicions," Smith said, citing the ongoing investigation.

Smith also did not release the names of Joseph's parents. Both parents are dead, he said.

"Joseph has a number of siblings on both the mother's and father's side who are living. And it is out of respect for them that their parents' information remain confidential," he explained.

It's believed his family was from west Philadelphia, Smith said.

Smith said he hopes this news conference prompts an "avalanche of tips" from the public.

"In that avalanche, there might be a diamond in the rough," he said. "I'm hopeful there is somebody ... who remembers that child."

"I want to thank all who have worked tirelessly since 1957 to give Joseph Augustus Zarelli his voice back," Outlaw tweeted. "However, the search for justice continues. If you have any information on his homicide, please call 215-686-TIPS(8477). As with all homicides, there is a standing $20k reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of a suspect. We will NEVER stop seeking justice for victims."

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