By Sarah Hunter
On February 25, 1957 the body of a boy was discovered in a box in an illegal dumping ground near Bury Road in Philadelphia Pennsylvania. The boy was estimated to be around 4 to 6 years old, 30lb, and stood 3ft 3in. His body was found naked, but wrapped in a blanket and his hair was recently cut. He was also recently washed and there were small scars in several places including his chin, groin and left ankle. Some of which suggested he underwent a medical procedure. Head injuries were determined to be the cause of death and there were no witnesses.
The body was first found by a young man who was walking through the abandoned lot. Strangely this man waited a full day before tipping of the police. Even stranger it turns out that a second man had previously found the boy body, but had not contacted the police because he claimed he didn’t want to get involved. With the cold weather at this time and the delayed phone call from the person who found the body, it wasn’t possible to accurately estimate the time of death. In hopes of finding his identity the police kept the boy at the morgue while visitors from over 10 states tried to ID the boy by looking for any significant marks to no avail. Police sent out 400 thousand fliers of the boy to police stations, post offices, and courthouses all over the country. The police compared the child’s footprints to hospital records in the area. Finger prints were also taken from the boy, but no record was found to prove that the boy ever existed.
One of the promising clues left at the scene was the actual box itself. The box contained a serial number which allowed investigators to pinpoint the shipment who were able to trace it back to a JC Penny store 15 miles away. Eerily before the boy, the box was used to ship a bassinet. The store shipped 12 of these boxes of bassinets. However, all of the purchasers paid in cash leaving no record. Eight purchasers ended up contacting the police when they read about the story in newspapers to go on record that they either still had the box or put it out for trash collection. Though the police were able to determine that the box was shipped to Upper Darby Pennsylvania.
The next piece of evidence is the blanket that was around the boy. The blanket was examined by the Philadelphia textile institute. They believed that the blanket was made either in Granby Quebec in Canada or Swannanoa NC. However, there was no way to tell where this particular blanket was purchased since thousands were made and sold. Therefore, the blanket lead was a dead-end.
The next piece of evidence was a hat that was found 15 feet away from the box. It was a blue corduroy Ivy League style cap size 7 and 1/8. It was labeled Eagle hat and cap company and made by the small company owner Mrs. Hannah Robbins in South Philadelphia. Mrs. Robbins remembered the man who purchased the hat because she had customized it for him. The man was described as blond between the age of 26 and 30. He requested that a leather strap and buckle be added to the hat. He paid in cash and she never saw him again. Detectives visited over 100 stores in the area with the description of the man but no one recognized him. There was also strands of hair found on the boy’s body suggesting a hasty haircut and one forensic artist named Frank Bender believed the boy was possibly raised as a girl. In fact, Bill Kelly an original investigator on the case recounts that in 1957 and 1958 a West Coast artist did circulate a rendition of the child as a girl, but it never produced any leads.
The first theory of this case comes from the authors Lou Romano and Jim Hoffman. They came across a lead from a man from Philadelphia who said that his family once rented a place to a man who sold his son, possibly the boy in the box. A forensic pathologist looked at photos of the boy’s potential father and possible brother and agreed that similarities would warrant further laboratory testing. He found similarities in the facial structure, the helix of the right ear and the nose. A DNA sample was taken from the man they believed to be the brother. Oddly, the investigators at the Philadelphia police did not say whether they would test DNA to compare the potential brother to the DNA of the boy in the box. They only said they would “Investigate Further.”
The second theory comes from medical examiner Remington Bristow who investigated the case for over 36 years. Bristow gathered newspaper clippings of the boy and spent thousands of dollars of his own money and countless hours trying to ID the boy. He traveled all the way to Arizona and Texas for leads. Bristow even consulted with a psychic who held staples from the bassinet box hoping he or she could gather some clues. Bristow went even as far as carrying a mask of the boy’s face in his briefcase. Bristow theorized that the boy died accidentally his freshly cut hair and nails indicated that he was well taken care of.
Perhaps the boy’s family never came forward because they did not want to be charged with murder. Based off a psychic’s clue, Bristow investigated a foster family that lived nearby where the boy was found. The foster family had already been interviewed by the police. At this foster family’s 1961 estate sale Bristow found a bassinet that he believed could have previously been stowed in the box the boy was found in. Bristow then began to theorize that the boy was an illegitimate child of the daughter of the foster family and was perhaps abandoned by the daughter so she would not be revealed as a single mother. Bristow would eventually pass away in 1993, but shortly after Philadelphia detective Tom Augustine took up the case where Bristow left off.
On February 23, 1998, detective Augustine went to the home of Arthur Nicoletti the man who led the former foster care home. Nicoletti’s wife Anna Marie was the woman Bristow theorized to be the mother of the boy. In addition to being Nicoletti’s wife Anna Marie was also Nicoletti’s stepdaughter. Anna Marie told Augustine that she did have a boy who passed away in bizarre circumstances with morgue records supporting her statement. His cause of death was electrocution from a nickel ride outside of a store.
The final theory comes from a woman named Martha a psychiatrist from Cincinnati contacted Augustine and said one of her patients insisted on speaking to the police. The patients went by the name of Martha and said that when she was 11 years old her mother took her to a house where she handed an envelope over for a boy. This theory leads back to the first theory of the man that said he sold his son. Martha said that she was sexually abused by her mother and the mother wanted to do the same to the boy. Martha said her mother beat the boy to death after struggling to bathe him and drove Martha and the boy to Philadelphia to abandon him. Martha spoke with investigators Tom Augustine, Joseph Mcgillem, and William Kelly. All three were allegedly convinced by Martha’s story. According to Bill Fleischer, a retired FBI agent, details of Martha’s story add up. The testimonies, addressee, and descriptions all add up.
The interviewees for this article are Cheyenne Camp and Emma Nunamaker. The first question was, “Have you ever heard of the case prior to reading this article?” Cheyenne replied with, “I don’t think I have heard of this case before.” Emma replied with, “No.” The next question was, “Why do you think this case is unsolved?” Cheyenne replied with, “To be honest I feel that we don’t have enough evidence yet and not the right forensic technology to solve this case.” Emma replied with, “I think its unsolved because some of the people lied their way out of it and the FBI didn’t catch onto it.”
Even with Martha’s lead the police were not able to verify if the boy was who Martha claimed he was. Either way to this day the boys Identity remains a mystery. His grave is marked as America’s unknown child at the Ivy Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia. To this day people are mystified as to why nobody had come to claim him. Perhaps someday we will learn who this boy was and what happened to him.