(Note: I will now be updating Bizarre and Grotesque every Monday and Friday. Articles will be posted at 12 AM, Eastern Time.)
On February 25, 1957, a college student walking through a field in the countryside of Philadelphia’s Fox Chase neighborhood found a cardboard packing box on a pile of garbage. When the student looked inside the box, he discovered the body of a small boy covered in a blanket. The boy was naked, and there were bruises all over his body. According to the boy’s autopsy, he was killed from being hit in the head. It was hard to say what his age was, but he seemed to be between the ages of 4 and 6. Although fairly clean, the boy only weighed 30 pounds and had a very crude haircut.
The authorities hoped “The Boy in the Box” would be a quick case to solve. Aside from the boy’s blanket and box, they also had a hat that was found close-by. The box was eventually traced to a J.C. Penny’s 15 miles away. It was used to store a bassinet, and the store had received and sold a dozen units. Thanks to media publicity, eight of the customers who bought the bassinets contacted the police. The other four never came forward though, and the J.C. Penny’s that sold the bassinets was unable to provide any receipts or records that could help identify them.
Tracing back the hat also came to a dead-end. The owner of the store where it was made said the buyer was a single man who paid with cash and looked to be around 26 between 30-years-old. This man was never identified, and nobody else in the area recognized the hat. The Boy in the Box’s blanket also proved to be unrecognizable. It was cheap and made from flannel, and it seemed to be the only copy of its kind. The three big clues investigators had ultimately came to nothing.
Over 400,000 posters depicting the boy’s face were distributed across the United States. No relatives, friends, or neighbors the boy might have had ever came forward. His fingerprints turned up nothing, and his appearance did not match with the descriptions of any known missing children.
Nobody could say how long the boy had been dead. There was actually an earlier man who found the body before the college student did, but he did not contact the police or remember the date. On the 24th, the day before the Boy in the Box was found the second time, a driver passing through the area reported seeing a boy and woman standing aside the road with a car. The witness thought the woman’s car might have broke down, but she sent him away with a wave of her hand. The kid the driver saw might very well have been the Boy in the Box before he was killed.
Some have wondered whether the boy was living under the radar, unnoticed by society at large. Perhaps his family was very poor, or maybe he was an orphan living in an abusive home. Remington Bristow, one of the case’s original investigators, believed that the boy’s death was connected to a local foster home. He suggested that the boy belonged to the foster father’s stepdaughter, but a DNA test in the 1990s later disproved this theory.
Another theory emerged in 2002, when a mentally-ill woman identified only as “M” claimed that her parents killed the Boy in the Box. The boy’s real name was “Jonathan,” and M’s parents had bought him from his birth family. Jonathan was subjected to horrific sexual and physical abuse for the next two years. One day, after throwing up in the bathroom, Jonathan had his head slammed against the floor by M’s mother. He died from the attack, and M and her mother then hid the body in the box where Jonathan was found.
After pulling over and getting out of their car, M and her mother were stopped by a passing motorist. What happened next is somewhat consistent to the account of the old witness who reported seeing a woman and boy near the spot where the Boy in the Box’s body was found. According to M, the man thought they were having car trouble, but her mother ignored him. She waited for the man to leave, and then they took Jonathan out of the car and hid his body in the cardboard box.
M’s account was quite detailed, but authorities had trouble believing it due to her mental illness. Neighbors who had known M’s family also disputed her claims. In more recent years, authors Jim Hoffman and Louis Romano believe they have traced the Boy in the Box to a family from Memphis, Tennessee. As of March 2016, they are looking to do a DNA test to confirm their findings.