George Broomall, Marine Private First Class - told police that he believed the unknown boy might be his eight-year-old brother. He renewed the belief after viewing the body in the morgue. Broomall, who had recently returned from overseas, said he was one of 18 children. He last saw his family when they lived in Philadelphia. At that time, he said, the family was about to move to the West Coast, but two of the younger children were left with an older brother who lived in the northeast section of the city. Detectives eventually found the "missing" brother, alive and well in California.
Steven Craig Damman - The son of an airman stationed at Mitchel Air Force Base, N.Y., who was kidnapped outside a Long Island supermarket, October 31, 1955, when he was 34 months old. At the time of Steven's disappearance he was described as 38 inches tall, weighing 32 pounds and having blond hair. Since the unknown boy appeared to be about the age the Damman boy would have been if he were still alive, and because of some similarities of description, investigators thought that it was possible they could be the same person. They sent copies of the dead boy's footprints to the Nassau County, NY police department. They also X-rayed his body at Philadelphia General Hospital in a search for certain physical characteristics known to be possessed by the Damman boy when he disappeared. However, comparison of the dead boy's footprints with those of the missing Damman boy taken at his birth and the X-ray findings cast great doubt on whether they were the same person. The X-rays failed to reveal a healed fracture of the left arm, which the Damman child had. Also, a large freckle on the back of the right calf of the Damman boy did not exist on the body of the murdered boy. A comparison of the footprints did not indicate any similarity and a picture of the dead boy's face bore no resemblance to the missing Damman child. To clinch the matter, the autopsy conducted by Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Joseph W. Spelman had shown that the dead boy had normal kidneys. The Damman boy, his parents said, had been under treatment for a kidney growth at the time of his kidnapping. Two visiting Nassau County police officers said they were satisfied after viewing the body and conferring with Philadelphia investigators that the murdered boy was not the missing Damman child.
In 2003, investigators re-examined the still-unsolved Steven Damman case in order to determine if every potential link to the Boy in the Box case had been thoroughly explored. They found that nothing had been overlooked by the original investigators. Also, with the cooperation of the Nassau County police department and other law enforcement agencies, the sister of Steven Damman was located. She submitted a DNA sample for comparison with the DNA profile of "America's Unknown Child." Analysis of her DNA sample proved conclusively that the unknown boy discovered in Philadelphia was not Steven Damman.
Kenneth E. and Irene Adelle Dudley - itinerant carnival workers, who were arrested and jailed in Lawrenceville, VA in 1961 for causing the death of their seven-year-old daughter through malnutrition, exposure and neglect. Under intense questioning, the Dudleys admitted that they had permitted six of their 10 children to die of malnutrition and neglect, disposing the bodies in various places in several southern states. Two of the bodies were tossed into a lake, and another was dumped at an abandoned phosphate mine. Detectives conducted a thorough investigation of the Dudleys and eventually disproved any possible connection to the Boy in the Box case.
Florida Claimants: In early 2004, Detective Tom Augustine was contacted by people in Florida who claimed that their mother was the unknown boy's birth parent. They submitted DNA samples for testing at their own expense. The DNA samples were analyzed, but they didn't match. When Detective Augustine informed them of this, the people in Florida insisted that the DNA lab must have made a mistake because they were absolutely certain that their mother was the boy's birth parent! Subsequently, they submitted a sample of their mother's DNA for analysis, again at their own expense. The mother's DNA sample also failed to match the unknown boy's DNA profile.
Foster Family - operated a foster home in a large stone house on Moredon Road, about 1.5 miles from where the boy's body was discovered. The family consisted of a middle-aged couple, Arthur and Catherine Nicoletti, and a 20-year-old female, Anna Marie Nagle, who was Catherine's daughter by a previous marriage. There was hearsay evidence that Anna Marie was retarded or at least "mentally challenged." She had previously given birth to four children out of wedlock. Three of the children were stillborn, while the fourth child, a boy, was tragically electrocuted in 1955 at the age of three in a department store amusement ride accident. The Nicoletti family took boys and girls from the state and city for a few weeks to a few years. They usually cared for five or six kids at a time, but sometimes as many as 25 were in residence. There were eight foster children living there at the time of the unknown boy's discovery (five girls and three boys.) All of the foster children were checked out by detectives and accounted for. The police did not suspect the foster family of having anything to do with the Boy in the Box case.
In 1960, Remington Bristow, an investigator in the medical examiner's office who was conducting his own inquiry into the Boy in the Box mystery, began to focus his attention on the foster home. He hadn't been making much progress up to that point, so in desperation, he turned to an elderly New Jersey psychic named Florence Sternfeld for help. Florence claimed that she could identify a person by holding a piece of metal that in some way was connected to him. Bristow went to see Florence at her home in Palisades Park, NJ, and took with him two staples from the J.C. Penney box the unknown boy was found in. Florence told Bristow to look for a large house with a wooden railing and a log cabin on the property that had children playing in it. Bristow spent months searching around the Fox Chase area for a large house that fit the psychic's description, and eventually found the foster home. There was a log cabin behind it. Bristow learned that the foster children slept on cots in the log cabin in the summer. Bristow then brought Florence to Philadelphia (she claimed to have never been there before), and took her to the discovery site on Susquehanna Road. She led him directly from there to the foster home. This impressive performance convinced Bristow that he was definitely on the right track. In 1961, the Nicoletti family got out of the foster care business and moved away. The home was closed and put up for sale. Bristow went to a preview of an auction of its furnishings and spotted a bassinet similar to the one sold by J.C. Penney. It was covered with dust, sitting in the basement. Outside, he found plaid blankets hanging on a clothesline. The blankets had been cut in half to fit the metal cots the children had slept on. There was also a duck pond on the property. Bristow theorized that this could have been the place where the boy's hand and foot had lain in water. Bristow said he always believed that the stone house was linked to the case because of what he found there. For years, Bristow tried repeatedly to persuade the Philadelphia police to re-investigate the foster family, but they refused. Finally, in 1984, two homicide detectives reluctantly agreed to interview Arthur Nicoletti at his home in Dublin, Bucks County, PA. The interview failed to turn up anything incriminating. Frustrated by this, Bristow telephoned Arthur Nicoletti and urged him to take a lie detector test. Nicoletti declined to do so. To Bristow, the man's lack of cooperation indicated that he probably had something to hide. Bristow was firmly convinced that the Nicoletti family had somehow been involved in the strange death of the Boy in the Box. He theorized that the boy may have actually been the illegitimate son of Anna Marie Nagle. His suspicions were reinforced some years later when Arthur Nicoletti, then a widower, married his stepdaughter. In 1988, after going through old police reports, Bristow realized that a doctor who had treated the children at the foster home had never been interviewed. Bristow hoped that the unknown boy's medical records would be among the doctor's files. He located the doctor's wife, who told him that she'd destroyed the records about five years earler, after her husband died. Until his own death in 1993, Bristow never wavered in his belief that the foster family had been involved in the unknown boy's demise. However, in the end, Bristow couldn't come up with any hard evidence to prove his theories.
When the Boy in the Box case was reopened early in 1998, Philadelphia Police Captain, Pat Dempsey, asked Homicide Detective Tom Augustine to follow up on the foster home angle where Remington Bristow left off in 1984. Detective Augustine, accompanied by a member of the Bucks County police department, interviewed Arthur Nicoletti and Anna Marie (now husband and wife) at their home on February 23, 1998. During the course of that interview, Detective Augustine was able to obtain the answers to many crucial questions about members of the foster family. In general, the interview tended to confirm that the foster family had no involvement in the unknown boy's death. Only a few months after the interview, Arthur Nicoletti died. Anna Marie was subsequently placed in a nursing home.
Shortly after the America's Most Wanted TV broadcast of October 3, 1998, seven persons who had watched the program and participated in the AMW Forum, decided to form an Internet chat group to discuss the Boy in the Box case. One member of that chat group was a woman postal worker from Virginia. She had been raised in the Philadelphia area during the 1950's and 60's, and said that she vividly recalled the original Boy in the Box investigation; particularly the flyers, which were posted everywhere. In early November, the woman began telling the other chat group members about a friend of hers named "Dianne", who had allegedly lived in the same neighborhood as the foster family and knew a lot about them, possibly even "incriminating stuff". "Dianne" had attended grammar school with two of the foster girls, she said. The woman stated that the foster family definitely had several relatives on the Philadelphia police force, and that they may have engineered a cover-up of the "Boy in the Box" case. This information was relayed to the Vidocq Society by George Knowles, the group's Vidocq liaison, and was brought to the attention of Vidocq Society Commissioner, William Fleisher. Fleisher requested that the woman contact him via telephone as soon as possible. After some initial reluctance, the woman called Fleisher, but declined to put him in touch with her friend, "Dianne." She told Fleisher that "Dianne's" abusive husband hated the police and wouldn't allow her to speak directly to anyone in law enforcement. The woman proposed that Fleisher funnel all of his questions through her, and she would act as an "intermediary" between "Dianne" and the Vidocq Society. Fleisher reluctantly agreed to this unusual arrangement initially, but in subsequent phone conversations, he insisted that he had to speak with "Dianne" directly about her knowledge of the foster family. The woman stalled Fleisher for awhile by announcing that "Dianne" was temporarily unavailable because she and her husband had left town for a two-week vacation in Florida. At the end of two weeks, Fleisher contacted the woman again and repeated his request to be put directly in touch with "Dianne." This time the woman told him that "Dianne's" husband had suffered a mild stroke in Florida, and needed time to recuperate! "Dianne" wouldn't be able to return to Philadelphia until the spring, she said. This weird "cat and mouse game" continued for a few more weeks, until the woman suddenly announced that "Dianne's" husband had suffered a second stroke and probably didn't have long to live! Therefore "Dianne" had decided to sell her home in Pennsylvania and remain in Florida permanently. Consequently, Bill Fleisher would never have the opportunity to speak with "Dianne" about the foster family. Of course, by this time, everyone was already convinced that "Dianne" didn't really exist. In all probability, she was an imaginary character that the woman had invented just to get attention. Eventually, the woman was expelled from the chat group.
In May 2001, the CBS television program "48 Hours" broadcast a brief segment about the Boy in the Box investigation. The segment featured clips from home movies that were taken at the foster home in the 1950's. A man who had spent his summers at the foster home during that period, saw the program and recognized himself in one of the film clips. He contacted the America's Unknown Child website and offered to tell what he knew about the foster family. The man was immediately put in touch with the investigators, but he could provide little information that wasn't already known.
Horsham Suspects - a mass night raid on a farm near Horsham, PA in September 1957 netted four persons who were questioned about the murder of the unidentified boy. Carried out by State, Montgomery county and Philadelphia police, the raid was made as a result of confidential information given to the Montgomery County District Attorney by an unidentified woman. The exact location of the farm and the identities of the six persons living there were not disclosed. After questioning, all of the suspects were released.
Hungarian Refugee: In 1965, Bill Kelly decided to investigate the possibility that the unknown boy may have been a recent immigrant. If true, that would explain why he had no hospital birth record or footprints on file. Going through old newspapers, Kelly came across a 1956 article about the tide of Hungarian refugees that arrived in this country following the failed uprising of October 1956. In the accompanying photo, there was a little boy who looked exactly like the Boy in the Box. His approximate age, coloring, facial expression, and build were the same. With the assistance of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Kelly sifted through 11,200 passport photos before finding the Hungarian boy's picture, and then locating his family in North Carolina. State troopers found the family at home, the boy playing safely in the yard.
Mrs. Margaret Martinez of Thornton, CO - arrested in 1960 after she admitted throwing her three-year-old daughter's body into a trash can. Mrs. Martinez matched the description of a woman seen standing next to a parked car near the spot where the boy's body was found in Fox Chase. She was questioned by Joseph Komarnicki, former head of the Philadelphia Detective Bureau's missing persons division, but no connection to the Boy in the Box case could be established.
Missing Rhode Island Boy - The initial search for clues spread to Barrington, Rhode Island, where police learned a young mother and her six-year-old son had been reported missing since they left, ostensibly for Florida, on Feb. 19, 1957. Twenty-five prints of the dead boy's foot were sent to the Barrington police to be checked against those of the missing youngster there, along with a picture of the slain boy. The mother of the Barrington boy was estranged from her husband. Her son, though a blond and of about the same height as the dead boy, apparently was at least 10 pounds heavier. This potential lead turned out to be a dead end.
New York City Homicide Victim - Certain similarities between the Boy in the Box case and the mysterious homicide of a 5-year-old girl found in a New York City park in August 1957 prompted the Philadelphia and New York City police departments to launch a cooperative investigation to determine if both children could have been victimized by the same person. A link between the two crimes was never found.
Ohio Informant - In February 2002, a business woman from Cincinnati, Ohio (hereinafter referred to as "M") contacted investigators through her psychiatrist. "M" claimed that her abusive mother purchased the unknown boy from his birth parents in the summer of 1954, subjected him to extreme physical and sexual abuse for two and a half years, and then killed him in a fit of rage, by slamming him to the floor after he vomited in the bathtub. (Allegedly, the boy had eaten baked beans just a few minutes earlier.) "M" had originally recounted the story to her psychiatrist in 1989 but declined to come forward and speak with law enforcement officials until thirteen years later.
In May 2002, Philadelphia detective Tom Augustine, accompanied by Vidocq Society investigators, Joseph McGillen and William Kelly, traveled to Cincinnati and interviewed the woman at her psychiatrist's office for three hours. "M" told them that she had lived in Lower Merion, Pennsylvania (a well-to-do suburb of Philadelphia) in the 1950's. Her parents were both employed by the Lower Merion school district. Her mother was a librarian and her father was a science teacher. "M" told the investigators that the unknown boy's name was "Jonathan". She said that "Jonathan" was very frail, mentally handicapped, and could not speak. In August 1954, when she was 10, "M" told the investigators, her mother drove her to a home, where she picked the boy up in exchange for an envelope which she assumed contained money. "M" claimed that her mother regularly sexually abused her and purchased "Jonathan" so that she could sexually abuse him, as well.
For two and a half years, "Jonathan" was raised in squalor in the basement of the Lower Merion home. He slept in an empty refrigerator box amid dusty coal bins and used a floor drain as his toilet. "Jonathan" was never allowed to go outside or even be seen by visitors to the home.
According to "M", after her mother killed "Jonathan" in February 1957, she cut his long hair to conceal his identity. "M" trimmed the boy's nails. Then they wrapped the boy's nude body in an old blanket, placed it in the trunk of their car, and drove into Philadelphia, looking for a suitable place to dump the body. "M" said that they eventually arrived at Susquehanna Road, a narrow, secluded country lane in the sparsely-settled Fox Chase section of northern Philadelphia. It was ideally suited for their purpose. "M" recalled that, as she and her mother were preparing to remove the boy's body from the trunk, a male driver unexpectedly stopped and asked them if they were having car trouble. They quickly turned their backs to the man, and said nothing. They were careful to block the man's view of the license plate on their car. After a few anxious moments that must have seemed like an eternity, the man continued on his way. ("M's" account almost exactly matched the confidential testimony of the anonymous male witness who had originally reported this incident to the police in 1957.) After the man drove away, "M" and her mother removed the boy's body from the trunk and placed it in a large cardboard box that they found at the scene. What role, if any, "M's" father may have played in the whole macabre episode has not been revealed by the investigators.
The investigators were impressed by "M's" testimony, which seemed quite plausible, but they remained skeptical. At issue was whether "M", who has a history of mental problems, could have fabricated the entire story. After the investigative team returned to Philadelphia, the Philadelphia police department, the Vidocq Society, and the Montgomery County District Attorney's office launched an intensive follow-up investigation in order to verify "M's" account of the unknown boy's death. Unfortunately, six months later, having left "no stone unturned" in their relentless search for corroborating evidence, the investigators came up empty. Not a single one of "M's" allegations could be substantiated. Also, a search for trace evidence in the basement of the Lower Merion home where the boy allegedly resided turned up nothing. The investigators are still pursuing other clues in this phase of the Boy in the Box investigation.
Private Edward J. Posivak of Philadelphia, PA - detained and questioned in Nashville, TN regarding the mysterious disappearance of a young married woman whom he had been dating. In a car Posivak was driving, police found a clipping about the unidentified boy found in the Fox Chase area of Philadelphia. Posivak denied any involvement in the boy's death. He agreed to submit to a lie detector test. The results of the test were entirely negative, confirming Posivak's assertion that his relatives sent him news clippings as matters of general interest. Extensive questioning convinced detectives that Posivak was probably nowhere near Philadelphia at the time the boy was found dead.
John Powroznik - an 18-year-old youth who told police that he had discovered the body of the murdered boy in Fox Chase on the weekend of February 22-23, 1957, but was afraid to tell anyone about it. John Powroznik's home was located on Pine road near Susquehanna road, a short distance from the spot where police found the boy's body. Powroznik told detectives that on either Saturday, February 23, or Sunday, February 24, he sighted the box, with the body, while returning home from a basketball game. Powroznik was not sure of the day but said it was drizzling at the time (the Weather Bureau reported a light rain about 1 P.M. on Saturday.) Powroznik was so horrified and frightened by what he had seen that he ran home and said nothing about it to his parents. Powroznik claimed ownership of a number of muskrat traps in the vicinity.
Harold Sanders, of Dover, DE - reported that his wife and three children were missing. He said that he had a son, John, who was fair, thin, and about the age of the child found battered to death in Fox Chase. Mr. Sanders' wife and children were subsequently located - alive and well. The investigators learned that Mrs. Sanders had not really been "missing" after all, but had simply left her husband and taken the children with her.
Max Schellinger, a Philadelphia barber - told police he was "almost positive" that he had cut the unknown boy's hair only one week before the body was found. He said that the boy told him he had five brothers and one sister, and lived in the Strawberry Mansion section of the city near the Schuylkill River. Two detectives accompanied Schellinger on a house to house canvas of the area looking for possible witnesses who could corroborate the barber's story or provide additional information about the boy and his family. The search proved fruitless.
Terry Lee Speece - The dead boy was identified by six persons as Terry Lee Speece, eight, who had been living with his father, an itinerant roofer and laborer, in Camden, NJ for the six weeks preceding February 23, 1957. Police issued a 13 state alarm, requesting that the boy's father, Charles D. Speece, be detained for questioning. Speece's estranged wife, who had not seen the boy for a year, took a look at the dead boy in the morgue, and said he was not her son. The boy's maternal grandparents also viewed the body of the dead boy, and said they could not positively identify him as their grandson. Weeks later, Terry Lee Speece was found by state police in Ardmore, PA, living with his father. The father said he wasn't aware police had been looking for him.
Mrs. Cora Thompson of Tulsa, OK - telephoned Philadelphia detectives and said she thought the boy found beaten to death in Philadelphia might be her son who had been missing for two years. Pictures of the dead boy were sent to Tulsa police so that the woman could check them, but nothing came of it.
Unidentified Bus Passenger - In March 1957, a woman amateur artist identified the body in the morgue as the same boy she had seen sleeping in a man's arms on a bus running from Philadelphia to southern New Jersey. The pair had boarded the bus in Camden, she said. The woman submitted a sketch she'd made of the man, but the investigators weren't able to verify her story.
Unidentified Caller: In May 1999, an anonymous caller informed the Philadelphia police department about a woman who had lived only a few miles from the crime scene in early 1957. Allegedly, the woman had a little boy who was "about the same age" as the unknown Boy in the Box. According to the anonymous caller, shortly before the unknown boy's body was discovered, both the woman and her son mysteriously disappeared! The caller identified the missing woman by name, and said that she was "almost certain" that the woman had been the mother of the unknown boy. Detective Tom Augustine followed up on the anonymous tip, but he soon discovered that this information was not new. The story about the missing woman and her young son had originally been reported to the local police in 1957. They had checked out the story, and verified that the woman and her son had merely moved away. There was no connection between them and the Boy in the Box case. Augustine also discovered that the "missing" woman's son had subsequently died of injuries that he received in an automobile accident at the age of 21.
Unidentified Informant #1 - A tip was called in by a man who said he knew how to obtain a pre-mortem photograph of the unknown boy sitting on an Indian blanket. Detective Sam Weinstein received authorization from his commander to purchase the photo. The boy in the photo looked like the dead boy, and the blanket looked like the blanket found in the box. But after further investigation, Weinstein discovered that the boy in the photo was still alive and obviously not the one found in Fox Chase.
Unidentified Informant #2 - In 1982, the police got a call from someone who said they had new information on the case. The information turned out to be correct, but it concerned a different child - not the Boy in the Box. Police learned that the child, who had been sent to live in a Bucks County foster home in 1957, was still alive.
Unidentified Delaware Informant - In March 1957, a waitress in Wilmington, Delaware identified the child from a circular as one she had seen several months before walking past the place where she worked, hand in hand with a man who was talking about catching a train for Philadelphia. The woman's testimony could not be corroborated.
Unidentified Illinois Informant - In late 1998, investigators learned that in 1958, an Illinois woman who'd read about the Philadelphia mystery in The Saturday Evening Post told FBI agents that she knew the boy's mother - a "loose" woman who traveled a lot. Once the original report was located, Vidocq Society Commissioner William Fleisher tracked down a female member of the family by phone, who indicated that the boy he was asking about was now a man and very much alive.
Unidentified Michigan Informant - In September 2000, a Michigan woman notified police that she believed a young boy who moved into her Detroit neighborhood in the mid-1950's could have been the Boy in the Box. She said that he was a shy, withdrawn child, and he was thoroughly disliked and mistreated by his drunkard stepfather. In late 1956 or early 1957, the boy tried to cut his own hair and made a mess of it. This infuriated his stepfather. Shortly thereafter, the boy and his family departed on a two-week trip to Kentucky to visit relatives. When the parents returned to Detroit, the boy wasn't with them. The stepfather alleged that the boy had been "adopted" by a Tennessee doctor. Although the informant didn't accept the stepfather's explanation, she never reported the boy's mysterious disappearance to authorities.
In August 2000, while searching through the original case files, Vidocq Society investigators, Bill Kelly and Joseph McGillen, discovered an index card confirming that in March, 1957 the lead about the hasty overnight departure of a mysterious tenant family in the Oxford Circle area had been provided to the Philadelphia police. The card also bore the name of a female neighbor whom police had interviewed after getting that tip. The neighbor had babysat for the tenant family during the short time they lived in the neighborhood. She testified that there was a young boy in that family, but he was only 2-1/2 years old at the time (rather than the unknown boy's estimated age of 4 or 5), and that he bore no resemblance to the unknown boy in the box. There was a reference number on the index card to a page number in one of the master books containing the actual interview with the neighbor, but the Vidocq investigators were unable to locate the specific report. However, the brief information on the index card provided sufficient evidence that the lead was checked out in 1957 and found to be of no value in the case.
Unidentified Pennsylvania Informant #2 - In 2004, the investigators received a tip via the Internet about a large family of poor tenant farmers who lived in Bustleton, not far from the Fox Chase site where the unknown boy's body was discovered. The tenant farmers allegedly moved away quite suddenly in early 1957. The youngest child in the family was said to be about the same age as the Boy in the Box. Preliminary investigation revealed that the family had, in fact, moved to Virginia suddenly in 1957, but none of the children died during childhood. The eldest child was contacted and he agreed to submit a DNA sample for analysis. His DNA did not match the unknown boy’s DNA profile.
Leads Generated By the America's Most Wanted TV Broadcast of October 3, 1998:
In response to the special Boy in the Box segment shown on the America's Most Wanted program of October 3, 1998. approximately 150 tips were called into America's Most Wanted's toll-free hotline, and at least another eight tips were received by Philadelphia Homicide. Several tips originated from Philadelphia or its outlying areas, such as southern New Jersey and upstate Pennsylvania. Others came in from as far away as Southern California, Wyoming, British Columbia, Newfoundland, Maine, New York, Virginia, Alabama, Missouri and Indiana. Most of the calls were anonymous, without even a phone number to follow up on. Many callers simply had questions or offered theories about the case, and a few calls came from psychics and other people who had vague "dreams" or "visions." A small percentage of the respondents had "leads" or "tips" which warranted follow-up investigation, although in the end, none of them panned out. Here are four examples:
Modesto, California Lead - A woman reported that a man her aunt married many years ago fled Philadelphia under suspicious circumstances. Local authorities interviewed the woman at Detective Tom Augustine's request, and sent back a photograph of a boy that "could have been the unknown boy's half-brother." This lead eventually turned out to be a dead end.
Brazil, Indiana Lead - A young boy disappeared when a carnival came to town and was never seen again. This occurred less than a year before the Boy in the Box was discovered. Detective Tom Augustine contacted local law enforcement officials to learn more. Result: there was no connection between this incident and the Boy in the Box case.
Atlantic City, New Jersey lead - A woman described a news clipping she'd saved, about a missing Vineland, NJ, boy, who simply had to be the boy she saw on AMW. Detective Augustine called the newspaper, which dug the article out of its archives and faxed him a copy. He was happy to have been saved a trip to Atlantic City when he learned that the Vineland boy had gone missing five years after the Boy in the Box was found.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Lead - A man showed up at Philadelphia Homicide and reported that his half-brother, 14 months older than himself, had mysteriously disappeared around the time that the unknown boy's body was discovered. He said it was a secret among the family for years. He also said that forensic sculptor Frank Bender's hypothetical bust of the unknown boy's father looked exactly like his own deceased father. Detective Augustine tried to track down other relatives who might have been able to add to the man's story. Eventual result: another dead end.
Thousands of these posters were distributed to police departments throughout eastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey. They were also displayed in post offices, state liquor stores, racetracks, and many other places frequented by the general public.
Front Page Detective Magazine - November 1957
WHO IS THE BOY IN THE BOX?
By Bruce McIntyre
THEY WERE ALL HARDENED DETECTIVES BUT THE BATTERED LITTLE FIGURE HAD THEM BROKEN UP, VOWING REVENGE
Somewhere, the vicious killer of this small boy is still at large.
Philadelphia police are confident that identification of the dead child will lead to his murderer ... but it's been months now and no one has recognized the tiny victim.
FRONT PAGE DETECTIVE hopes that among its thousands of readers will be one who knows him.
Information should be submitted to your local police department, or to the Homicide Unit, Detective Headquarters, City Hall, Philadelphia, Pa. - telephone Municipal 6-9700.
TIME OF DEATH: Sometime prior to February 26, 1957.
CAUSE OF DEATH: Head injury (multiple bruises on body).
AGE: Four to five years old.
HEIGHT: 40 1/2 inches.
WEIGHT: 30 pounds.
HAIR: Medium to light brown, crudely cut.
CLOTHING SIZE (probable): 4. Shoes 8-D.
IDENTIFYING FEATURES: Full set of baby teeth, no deformities, L-shaped scar under chin; no vaccination scar; tonsils not removed; no bone fractures; finger and toe nails neatly clipped; may have had chronic left eye ailment; three small moles on left side of face.
The boy is not necessarily from the Philadelphia area. He might have been brought, dead or alive, from any part of the country.
Philadelphia, PA., August 9, 1957
The homicide detective glanced up from the report he was two-fingering on his typewriter to find a colleague standing by, bearing the standard equipment of the office donations "collector" - pencil, paper, and envelope. At the next desk, another detective was just putting his wallet back in his pocket.
"Another bite!" moaned the report-typer. "What's it this time, Harry . . . marriage, death, or an office party?"
The collector didn't crack a smile. "It's for the boy . . . the one in the box up in Fox Chase. They're going to bury him and we're pitching in for the funeral bill. Either that or he gets a hole in the ground; no tombstone, nothing."
The first detective dropped his hands from the keyboard and leaned back in his chair. "I'd almost forgotten that one," he mused. "Seems like months ago . . . And he's been in the morgue all that time?" He reached for his back pocket. "Sure, put me down, Harry. And, hey, how about the flowers? The poor kid ought to have all the trimmings. He deserves a break of some kind, even if it is too late."
A few days later, on July 24, 1957, a dozen or so detectives gathered silently at the graveside of a small boy in Philadelphia's city cemetery.
The presence of these hard-bitten men and the fact they had chipped in hard-earned cash to pay for the funeral of a murder victim, may seem incongruous. There's little room for sentiment among men who deal with violent death every day in a city of millions.
But detectives, even those who deal with the murdered and the murderers, are human. They have children themselves. Perhaps, then, the scene was not out of character as three of them, plus a member of the city medical examiner's staff, carried the tiny white casket.
The words of Captain Warren F. Guthriell, chaplain of the Fourth Naval District in Philadelphia, were still fresh in their minds:
"All funeral services are sad," he had said at the brief ceremony, "but this one is particularly so because it is for a blue-eyed, brown-haired boy whose name we do not know . . . nor do we know why or by whose foul hand his life was exterminated."
"But we do know he has real friends, for they were unwilling to have him buried without appropriate service."
On top of the small casket was a spray of red roses and gladioli with a card: "From the members of the homicide squad."
They watched silently as the remains of a little nameless boy, already dead some five months, was lowered to a final resting place.
To the homicide squad, the "boy in the box" was more than the victim of just another unsolved murder. Already, his death had brought one of the greatest concentrations of police manpower in Philadelphia's history.
Yet to this day, the mystery of his identity is just as baffling as the day they found him.
Here was a boy who once, like others, had parents, friends, love - but his death stirred no real ripple of recognition; produced not one friend to mourn him. His plunge into death and anonymity came sometime late in February, 1957. The time is uncertain, but the discovery came on February 26.
Officially, it came at 10:10 A.M., as Sergeant Charles Gargani lifted a ringing telephone in the Philadelphia homicide bureau.
The caller, a young college student, told Gargani that two days previously, while driving through the Fox Chase section of the city, he had stopped his car to chase a rabbit which hopped into weeds and scrub growth along Susquehanna Road, near Verree Road.
"I didn't find the rabbit," continued the youth, "but while I was there I noticed some muskrat traps. They weren't set, so I set them and decided to come back later and see if they caught anything."
"I also saw a cardboard box lying on the ground, and what looked like a head sticking out of it. I thought it was a discarded doll, and didn't pay any more attention."
"Yesterday I went back. There was nothing in the traps, but the box and the head were still there. This morning I saw in the paper they're looking for a girl who might have been kidnapped in New Jersey . . . and I thought I'd better call."
Gargani immediately sent two detectives to locate and search the area. He, too, knew that four-year-old Mary Jane Barker was missing fom Bellmawr, N.J., not far from Philadelphia. The detectives picked up Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Joseph W. Spelman and were met at the the location by uniformed officers.
After 15 minutes of searching they found the box, at the junction of two footpaths, surrounded by scattered trash. It did not contain a doll, nor the Barker child. Inside was the body of a boy, completely nude, wrapped in a soiled-looking old blanket.
(Mary Jane Barker was found a few days later, apparently dead from starvation, confined in the closet of a vacant house not far from her home. The door is believed to have stuck while she was playing.)
Dr. Spelman made a cursory examination of the boy in the carton. "Could be four, five, six years old," he told the assembled officers. "Bruises on his face, stomach and legs. But it'll take time to tell what killed him."
That night, a post mortem established the boy had been killed by a severe blow on the head. Combined with the bruises, it indicated a brutal beating.
Captain David H. Roberts, head of the homicide squad, discussed the case with Chief Detective Inspector John J. Kelly. "We're off to a slow start," Roberts said. "No one seems to have recognized him from the early newspaper stories and our records don't show any child of that description missing."
"The lack of clothing and the isolated spot where he was dumped makes it look like he was killed somewhere else," said Kelly.
"Not much physical evidence to work on," said Roberts. "None of his clothes were found. All we have are the box and the blanket."
The initial publicity did yield one promising lead, however.
On October 31, 1955, 34-month-old Steven Craig Damman vanished from outside a Long Island, N.Y., supermarket. He had been left there by his mother while she was shopping.
Stuyvesant Pinnell, chief of detectives in Nassau County, Long Island, got on the phone to Roberts. "Think there's any possibility it's the Damman boy?" he asked.
A quick comparison of physical characteristics showed some similarities. Steven would have been in the dead boy's age group. He had blue eyes, as did the dead child, and both had small scars under their chins.
Roberts decided to have the body X-rayed, to determine if there was an old fracture of the left arm, like the Damman boy. Footprints also were taken for comparison.
Spelman, meanwhile, came up with a more detailed report on the body. "The cool weather makes it difficult to tell how long the boy was dead," he said, "but it was at least two or three days, and possibly as long as two or three weeks. I don't think the body was in the field that long, though."
According to laboratory tests the boy had not been sexually assaulted.
"As closely as we can tell, he is four to five years old, 40 1/2 inches tall, weighing 30 pounds. He has a full set of baby teeth, still has his tonsils, and has no deformities. No past bone breaks, and no vaccination scar. It would seem he was well cared for, because his fingernails and toenails are carefully clipped."
"His haircut seems crude," Spelman continued. "Trimmed high around the sides. Could have been given at home by an inexpert barber, or perhaps in an institution."
By then, the failure of parents or acquaintances to claim the body, after pictures and descriptions had appeared in the press, led police to believe the boy had either lived in an institution or been brought from some distance.
City Welfare Commissioner Randolph E. Wise offered to check on the whereabouts of all children in foster homes under his jurisdiction, while police canvassed orphanages and children's homes. A thorough check was made of all missing persons reports. But within several days all these efforts proved fruitless.
Police department technicians reported the blanket wrapping the boy was of cheap cotton flannel, patterned in a sort of "Indian print" of green, rust and white blocks, with faded colors. It apparently had been recently washed, then mended with poor-grade cotton thread on a sewing machine.
The blanket had been torn into halves. Its overall size would have been 64 by 76 inches. However, a section 31 by 26 inches had been torn from one half, leading police to think it might have borne some identifying mark.
Although the blanket was untraceable, investigators had better luck with the box. Marked "Furniture", it carried no firm name, but through serial numbers detectives learned the carton had once contained a baby's bassinet, shipped to a West Philadelphia department store in November, 1956.
The store reported the bassinet had probably been sold between December 3, 1956, and February 16, 1957. Roberts issued a public plea for the purchasers of all such bassinets during that period - there were believed to be about a dozen - to come forward and tell where they disposed of the cartons.
There were several other clues.
One was a blue corduroy "Ivy League" cap, size 7 1/8, found 30 feet from the body. The wearer had stuffed tissue paper in the sweatband. It had been manufactured in Philadelphia, but the trail ended there.
Two hundred feet from the body, along Verree Road, police searchers found a cache of clothing for a woman and child - but the smaller clothing was not the dead boy's size.
A story told by an informant who later contacted police seemed to cast some light on this clothing, but created a new mystery.
Two days before the body was found, said the man to Lieutenant William Lovejoy of the northeast detective division, he had been driving along Verree Road when he saw a middle-aged woman and a boy, 12 to 14, unloading something from the trunk of a car.
"I thought the car might have a flat tire, so I stopped and asked if I could help. They didn't say a word, and seemed to be standing so as to block my view of the license plate."
The scene which he described was almost exactly where the clothing had been found. The informant described the car and the woman and boy, but they were never found.
Meanwhile, the possibility that the dead boy was Steven Damman had been eliminated. Two Nassau County detectives came to Philadelphia to view the body and confer with local investigators. Footprints failed to compare; the body showed no left arm fracture. The visitors left convinced it was not Steven's.
Police remained puzzled by one curious circumstance involving the dead boy's crude haircut. Tiny pieces of clipped hair, matching that on his head, were found all over his body.
"The haircut could have been a deliberate attempt to conceal his identity," Inspector Kelly theorized. "That much hair couldn't have fallen down inside his clothing in a normal haircut. It looks as if the haircut was given when he was unclothed . . . maybe already dead."
This opinion was quickly followed by a visit to Roberts from a Philadelphia barber who steadfastly believed (first from a newspaper picture and later from viewing the body in the morgue) he had cut the boy's hair less than a week before the body was found.
"He told me he had five brothers and a sister, and lived in the Strawberry Mansion part of town," the barber said.
Two detectives were immediately assigned to join the barber in an effort to locate the boy's family. Soon they, too, reached a dead end.
By then tips were piling up almost too fast for police to handle. More than 10,000 circulars were distributed.
A young Marine, recently returned from overseas, looked at the boy in the morgue and "almost positively" identified him as a younger brother. But intensive checking disclosed the brother was safe in California.
While the body continued to lie unclaimed, Dr. Spelman did not drop his scientific investigation. He reported to Inspector Kelly:
"I've been checking the possibility that the boy was immersed in water, at least partially, sometime before he died. The soles of his feet and the palm of his right hand were puckered, perhaps from being kept under water."
"There's a possibility, so far nothing more, that drowning might have been a contributory cause of death. But I'll have to make tests of lung tissue."
Dr. Spelman also conceded, in answer to the inspector's questions, that the boy's head injury might either have been caused by a blunt instrument or by pressure. Kelly had considered the possibility the killing was unintentional, and might have been caused by someone gripping the boy's head very tightly, perhaps while cutting his hair. The position of the bruises permitted this conjecture.
As the first 12,000 descriptive circulars on the case were exhausted, a new printing of 25,000 was ordered. More than 5,000 were sent to Philadelphia area physicians and Dr. Spelman himself wrote a detailed article for the Philadelphia County Medical Society.
A few days later, Kelly organized what was called the largest search for evidence ever attempted in a Philadelphia homicide case.
It pressed into service well over 300 patrolmen, detectives and park guards, including the entire class of "rookies" at the city's police academy. Officers from two suburban townships agreed to cooperate.
Coordinated by "walkie-talkies", the men conducted an "inch-by-inch" search of a 12-square-mile area surrounding the spot where the body was found. Meanwhile, 20 detectives called at some 300 homes hoping residents could identify the boy from photographs.
One thing picked up by searchers, about a quarter of a mile away from the location, was a piece of blanket which seemed to come from the one in which the boy was wrapped. But a lab check showed that it was similar but not identical.
By nightfall, the district police station which Kelly was using as a search headquarters was littered with heaps of trash - everything from shoes to old license plates - which the careful searchers had produced in response to the order to pick up "everything."
Even as this effort was afoot, Captain Roberts was busy with another tip.
The woman night manager of a restaurant in Camden, N.J., directly across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, called to say she had seen the murder victim in the restaurant on two occasions in February.
"He was with a man about 40 . . . red-faced, sloppily dressed. The little boy said he wanted to talk to his 'Mommy' on the telephone, " she told Roberts, "and the man placed a long distance call to Baltimore."
But a check of telephone records disclosed no such call on the nights in the period mentioned by the woman in her report to police.
Soon, Dr. Spelman had determined the dead boy definitely had not drowned. His work turned up some new facts, however.
The child had not eaten within two or three hours of death. There were seven scars on his body, three of which (on the left ankle, chest and groin) the examiner felt might have resulted from surgery.
He concluded all the bruises had been inflicted at the same time and, while some of them might have come from blows, others were caused by squeezing, shaking, or pulling. Dr. Spelman stuck to his belief the body had been partially immersed in water at one time.
On the afternoon of March 8, some ten days after the investigation began, detectives picked up the trail of a substantial lead.
Six persons, Kelly revealed, identified the body as that of an eight-year-old lad who for some six weeks had lived in Camden, N.J., with his father. The same afternoon, Kelly dispatched teletype messages throughout several states seeking the arrest of the father on "investigation in connection with homicide."
Camden residents said the father and son lived there until February 23, 1957 - only three days before the body turned up. They identified the father, who had a police record, from rogue's gallery pictures.
Although the man's whereabouts were unknown, a description of his car was broadcast.
The child's mother, who lived in a nearby Pennsylvania city, was brought to Philadelphia by police to view the body after she was unable to identify it from their relayed descriptions. She said it wasn't her son.
The search for the missing man and child was not canceled, however. Police were unwilling to consider the lead worthless until they could establish where the boy was.
A few days later, the man telephoned relatives in Pennsylvania and told them the boy was with him. He put the boy he said was his son on the phone and those who talked to him were convinced it was the lad.
But the suspect refused to say where he was, perhaps because he was accused of running out on some Pennsylvania debts.
Meanwhile, several other witnesses viewed the body and announced their conviction it was his child's. "Maybe it's not the same boy, but, if it's not, this is one of the most amazing instances of direct similarity we've ever encountered," said a homicide squad man.
Detectives eventually were able to connect the "Ivy League" cap found near the body with a purchase made in South Philadelphia some nine and a half months prior to the killing. A store-owner remembered selling the same or a similar cap to a man about 25, but he could not be found.
A woman amateur artist also came forward with a story she had seen the boy (she, too, identified him in the morgue) sleeping in a man's arms on a bus running from Philadelphia to southern New Jersey. They had boarded the bus in Camden, she said. She had sketches she'd made of the pair.
A waitress in Wilmington, Del., identified the child from a circular as one she had seen several months before walking past the place where she worked, hand in hand with a man who was talking about catching a train for Philadelphia.
Although investigators did not completely discount these stories, the multiple identifications made them skeptical, and they were totally unable to establish connections between such reports and the dead boy.
By then, the circular distribution in the case had reached fantastic proportions. The Philadelphia Gas Works agreed to send 200,000 circulars to customers with their monthly bills. The Philadelphia Electric Company promised similar distribution. Food stores, a druggists' association, insurance agents, and even political party committeemen offered assistance. Total circulation: 300,000.
Finally, the FBI arranged to publish a complete description of the boy in its monthly bulletin, which is sent to every police and law enforcement agency in the nation.
A few days later, one phase of the case came to a close when the sought-after father and son were located in a Philadelphia suburb, both healthy.
After these scores of false leads, two detectives turned up a really authentic piece of evidence.
Detectives Edmund Repsch and Raymond Latchford decided to retrace some of the route they had followed on an earlier house-to-house check of residents in Susquehanna Road.
At one house, only a quarter of a mile from where the body was found, they met by accident an 18-year-old high school junior who admitted he had seen the body either two or three days before it was discovered.
"I was so scared I didn't even tell my mother and father," he explained. The parents had been questioned in the earlier canvass, but spoke such poor English they had not even made it clear they had a son - and he was in school at the time.
The 18-year-old said he was walking through the area either February 23 or 24, returning from a basketball game, when he saw the boy in the box. Police decided it was the twenty-third because he spoke of walking through the rain, and weather bureau records showed rain on that day alone.
Within a month of the discovery, tips and leads had virtually vanished. Five of the persons who had purchased bassinets in the type of box containing the body came forward and told what had happened to their cartons. But that left police far from a solution to the crime.
It was even thought the boy might be a refugee from the Hungarian revolution of October, 1956, possibly explaining why no one seemed to know him. A few more angles were pursued, some as distant as Canada, still without concrete results.
But there, without another significant development, the case rests. Says Inspector Kelly today, "If we can establish the identity of the boy, the solution will be a natural sequel."
Dozens of people had viewed the tiny body in the morgue. Hope was waning. Finally, the authorities decided it was time the child had a decent burial, and a better coffin than a cardboard box.
Then it was that the homicide squad, which still is working against heavy odds toward a solution, chipped in to save the youngster from a Potter's Field grave.
At the graveside, Chaplain Guthriell said a final prayer. The detectives heard the familiar words intoned: "Suffer the little children to come unto me."
And, as the casket was lowered, each of them walked past to drop a single red rose into the grave of an unavenged child.
This is an excellent article that was published in the Saturday Evening Post magazine one year after the unknown boy was buried:
SATURDAY EVENING POST
JULY 26, 1958
A BOX, a BLANKET
and a SMALL BODY
A year and a half after a shocking murder, these mute
pieces of evidence still hold the secret of Philadelphia's
most baffling crime. by EARL and ANNE SELBY
Spring sometimes comes early in Philadelphia, but by late February of 1957 there was still no sign of warm weather. In the last week of that month, the temperature ranged from the chilly twenties to the brisk forties. In Philadelphia's most incredible murder mystery, that tiny fact may be the most important clue of all. When the thermometer stays in that range, human bodies do not decompose rapidly. And, as a result, there was no telling how long the body of a little boy had lain in a box in a rubbish-strewn field.
The boy - perhaps four, maybe five years old - had been beaten to death, but the police have never determined when, where or by whom. In a big city, murder is commonplace and seldom an enduring puzzle. In the usual course of their investigation, police rapidly learn the name, home address and cronies of the murdered. Rarely do they lack a suspect. In this case the mystery is so complete that detectives have never been able to identify the body.
This is a mystery almost without parallel. How is it possible for a murderer not only to escape justice, but even to shroud the identity of the victim?
Somewhere in his life the boy must have been known, not just to his parents, but to their friends. Somewhere he must have had playmates. Somewhere there must have been neighbors who knew he was alive - and now around no more. Somewhere there must be a person who neatly trimmed the nails on his fingers and toes. Somewhere there must be a barber - professional or amateur - who gave him a bowl-like haircut shortly before his death. Somewhere the boy's fingerprints - or footprints - must be on file.
That is - all these people - and these things - "must be" in the logical course of events. It is, or so it would seem, impossible for a child to be murdered and have no persons come forward to claim him as their own or, at the very least, identify him.
But in this case, fact defies logic. The police sent out 400,000 circulars to be posted in police stations, post offices, and courthouses all over the nation. The FBI's Law Enforcement Bulletin alerted investigators; the American Medical Association circulated a complete medical description in the hope that some doctor, somewhere, might recognize the boy. In a dozen states, from California to Maine, leads have developed - and all proved futile.
More than a year has now gone by. The Philadelphia police have three filing cases bulging with reports of investigations. But nothing has happened to alter the simple statement of fact on the white marble slab over the boy's grave: HEAVENLY FATHER, BLESS THIS UNKNOWN BOY.
There is no telling how long the boy's body might have gone undiscovered in the community of Fox Chase, on the northern outskirts of Philadelphia, had it not been for a rabbit. On February 11, 1957, a LaSalle College student named Frederick Benonis was driving home from school on Susquehanna Road, west of Verree Road. On the north side of Susquehanna there is a girls' school; on the south, a country field with dense undergrowth stretching back from a line of trees and providing perfect cover for small game. When a rabbit scurried in front of Benonis' car, he stopped to follow it into the brush. He didn't catch the rabbit, but he did find two steel traps for small game. Benonis sprang the traps and then left.
Two weeks later, about 3:15 on the afternoon of Monday, February twenty-fifth, he again drove by and stopped to see if the traps were still there. He looked around for them and saw a three-foot-long cardboard box partially overlaid with vines and brush, about fifteen feet from Susquehanna Road - on a direct line with a footpath made by persons who'd dumped trash.
The box looked new, and Benonis went over to examine it. Inside he found what appeared to be a doll or a small child wrapped in an old blanket. But, as a police report puts it, "He did not notify the police or anyone else for fear of becoming involved in some tragedy."
The next morning, while driving to school, Benonis heard a radio broadcast about a little girl being missing from her home in New Jersey. Could her body be what he had seen in that box? When Benonis got to LaSalle, he didn't go to class. Instead he talked with two faculty counselors and also with his priest-brother. All advised him to tell the police his story. At ten A.M. he telephoned the Philadelphia homicide squad, commanded by Capt. David Roberts.
A routine police check was ordered; and, at the exact point Benonis had described, the officers found the cardboard box marked, FRAGILE, HANDLE WITH CARE. In it was the boy's body, wrapped in one piece of a cheap, well-worn blanket with a faded design of diamonds and blocks in green, rust-red, brown and white. In the box was another piece of the same blanket, smeared with what appeared to be grease. A third piece - to complete the 64-by-76-inch blanket was missing.
The boy was unclothed. His head was bruised with the injuries that killed him. But the body was dry - and clean. The nails had been recently trimmed short and neat. But the palm of his right hand and the soles of both his small feet were rough-skinned and wrinkled in what police called a "washerwoman" effect, indicating that just before or after death the one hand and both feet had been in water. His hair, a medium brown, had been crudely cut, with no sideburns, and short - only about a half inch on top. And on his body, police discovered a spattering of his hair, meaning that the cutting had been made with no sheet around his neck or when the boy was nude - and possibly dead. No man could fix the time of death. The boy could have died two days - or two weeks - earlier.
Those three clues - a box, a blanket and a body - were all the direct evidence the police had. But in the beginning hours of their investigation the detectives had no thought that this would be a crime without solution. The left hand yielded perfect fingerprints. That "washerwoman" wrinkling was not severe enough to obliterate the prints on the right hand nor on the feet. Further, there were scars on the child's body which could mark surgical incisions, on the left ankle, the chest and the groin. On the chin was an L-shaped scar - a quarter of an inch long in each direction. There were three small moles on the left side of the face, a tiny one below the right ear, three on the chest, and still another on the right arm two inches above the wrist. The boy had blue eyes and a full set of baby teeth.
No one believed that a homicide investigator's first job - identifying the victim - would be difficult. What was more, the box itself not only bore the name of the store it had come from - it also carried a manufacturer's serial number, so that it could be pinpointed to one specific shipment. And the stain on that torn piece of blanket could be chemically analyzed; if it turned out to be automobile grease it could be compared with smears that might be found in a suspect's car. Prosecutors like that kind of circumstantial evidence.
There was yet another hopeful item. Fifteen feet from the box, near the footpath leading in from the road, searchers found a distinctive cap, cut in Ivy League style from blue corduroy, with a leather strap and buckle across the back. It was easy to understand how someone who carried the box could have had the cap brushed off by a low-hanging branch - then been unable to find it in the darkness. And, best of all, the capmaker's name and address were clearly stamped on the sweatband.
Detectives took the cap to Mrs. Hannah Robbins, in whose South Philadelphia shop it had been made. Certainly, said Mrs. Robbins, she remembered the cap. Several months earlier a man between twenty-six and thirty years old had bought it. She recalled him because he'd asked her to add the leather strap and buckle. He was in working clothes, spoke without an accent and was alone. What was his name? lt was, said Mrs. Robbins, a cash sale, so she hadn't taken his name. Had she ever seen him before or since? Never, she said. With the cap and a picture of the boy, detectives then painstakingly visited 143 stores and businesses in the area. Not one person recalled either boy or cap.
Meanwhile the fingerprints were checked. Neither the Philadelphia Police, the Pennsylvania State Police, nor the FBI files in Washington produced any match for the youngster's prints. Four thousand doctors in the Philadelphia area were sent special circulars: none remembered seeing the boy. Nothing of consequence developed after the same information appeared in the nationally-circulated Journal of the American Medical Association.
And what of the cardboard box? Printed on it was the name of the J.C. Penney chain's store in suburban Upper Darby - at least fifteen miles from where the boy's body was found. The store officials immediately recognized the box as one used for a $7.95 white bassinet. But Penney's practice is "Cash"-- and although a dozen were sold from that shipment, the store had no records of the purchaser. With the help of newspaper publicity, the detectives got calls from eight buyers, all of who said they had either put the box out for trash or still had it in their homes. The police talked to the trash collectors--they said they had long since burned their loads of refuse. The four other purchasers of the white bassinets were never found.
But Homicide Captain Roberts and his superior, Chief Inspector of Detectives John Kelly, still had hopes for clues from the box. For example, how long had the box been in the field? When the officers had first arrived in that thicket-filled field, the box was dry and without rain stains. This might be a clue - the Weather Bureau said there had been rain on Saturday, the twenty-third, just three days before the investigation started. Yet, here again, the investigators ran into another of those baffling frustrations that have marked this whole case. There is no Weather Bureau station for recording rainfall in the area where the body was found. The meteorologists have no way of telling how much--if any-rain fell in Fox Chase that day. But one thing is certain: The box was there at 1:30 on the afternoon of Sunday, the twenty-fourth, one full day before student Benonis first saw it.
That fact, however, did not come out until two weeks later. A detective, specially assigned by Chief Kelly to make a door-to-door survey of the homes in the immediate area of the field, found the owner of the traps that Benonis had spotted in early February. He was eighteen-year-old John Powroznik, whose family had settled in the Fox Chase community after leaving Poland in 1949. John, a high-school junior, said he had nineteen traps around the death field, but had been checking them only spasmodically because it was close to the trapping season's end. And he told detectives that on Sunday the twenty-fourth, he was bicycling to play basketball in a nearby church gymnasium when he saw the box in the field.
A police report says, "He thought it looked suspicious, got off his bicycle and walked to the box. Approaching it from the rear, he reached down with his right hand, lifting the top of the box up toward him, at which time he saw the body of a baby and a blanket. He immediately dropped the box, got on his bicycle and went back home and never mentioned this to anyone." Why? Many people who have come from behind the iron curtain do not quickly involve themselves with the police of any land.
There was yet another reason for John's silence. Some months before, in another deserted Fox Chase field, John's brother had come upon the body of a suicide hanging from a tree: the mere questioning of him by the police had upset the whole family.
John's admission meant that the boy in the box had been dead at least forty-eight hours before the police arrived at the field. Could the box have been there for a week or even longer? If it had gone unscathed for forty-eight hours, couldn't it have been unmolested for ninety-six hours, or for an entire week? The answer is: possibly.
This is a mystery for which everyone may logically advance his own theory. Could it have been a kidnapping? It could have. But then, wouldn't the boy's parents have reported him missing? In fact, there was a sensational - and unsolved - missing-child case on the books. In the June 9, 1956 issue of The Saturday Evening Post, Mrs. Marilyn Damman told the story of how her thirty-four-month-old son, Steven, had been kidnapped on Long Island the previous October. Hundreds of police officials, reading the newspaper and wire-service stories of Philadelphia's unknown boy, immediately thought this might be the body of the Damman child. At first, so did the Philadelphia police. But Nassau County Detective Inspector James Farrell came to Philadelphia and after carefully examining the unknown boy's body said it was not that of the Damman child: "Completely different in facial appearance, coloration and build."
This was not the only kidnapping lead. Page after page in the Philadelphia files is filled with the suspicions of deserted wives and husbands. From the South came a lawyer's letter saying a client thought the unknown boy might be one of his children taken by his wife when she left. The wife, found in New Jersey, produced the children - alive. She explained she simply had no desire to live with her husband. In Cleveland a wife was positive the Philadelphia mystery explained what had happened to the son her husband had taken when he left town. Grandmothers wrote of their no-good sons-in-law; in one case, a young serviceman told police he was sure the body was that of his younger brother. That is, he was sure until the police checked out every one of his fourteen brothers and sisters and found all well. In police files, there are nearly 300 letters and reports in which one member of a family suspects foul play by another; some of these letters are shot through with sad and pathetic stories of marital discord; some are mean and malicious. ("I know my sister must have had an illegitimate baby, and she's the kind that would kill it.") But all had this in common - not one produced a single worthwhile lead to solve Philadelphia's baffling murder.
The possibility of kidnapping was raised also by Dr. Wilton M. Krogman, noted University of Pennsylvania anthropologist, known to police throughout the country as "the bone detective." His specialty is human growth; he reads bones as accurately as certified public accountants read balance sheets. Examining the body of the unknown boy, Doctor Krogman found him to be forty inches tall: in the technical phrase this gave the youngster a "height age" of about three years, eight months. But the boy weighed only thirty pounds, a "weight age" of about two years and two months. This obviously suggested undernourishment, and the bones confirmed that. With x-rays Doctor Krogman discovered scars of arrested growth on the long bones of the legs. This, he reported to police, "may have been enough to have slowed him down six months to a year in his growth progress."
Doctor Krogman estimated that the boy had been in chronic ill health - with the accompanying malnutrition - for about a year. Under what circumstances is a child exposed to that condition? Doctor Krogman said it might be typical of a family on the move. A family of itinerant workers, perhaps; always following the sun and the crops. Or perhaps kidnappers had taken the boy and just kept moving, in constant fear of the police.
But do kidnappers keep a boy's fingernails and toenails neatly trimmed? Not in the police view. So they turned back to Doctor Krogman for other possible leads they could investigate. For example, could he give them any clue to the boy's ancestry? The scientist described the boy as having "a long narrow head, a high narrow face, and a high narrow nose." That, to him, was enough to speculate on Northwest European ancestry - Scandinavia, West Germany, or England or Scotland. But, as Doctor Krogman pointed out, that racial stock had pretty well spread over Europe, especially during and after the Second World War.
Was it possible that the unknown boy was the child of a Hungarian refugee couple admitted to the United States after the great freedom riots of 1956? For a time, Homicide's Captain Roberts and his men thought they had a real possibility in that question. But, once again, the blank wall. From lmmigration authorities came the word that everyone who came during the Hungarian refugee program had been vaccinated. And the boy's body bore no mark of vaccination.
The haircut and the wrinkled "washerwoman" skin on the right palm and the soles of the feet presented another puzzle. That wrinkling comes only from immersion in water. Maybe just before death the little boy had been playing in his bath. But, if that were true, wouldn't the left hand be affected too? And if he had been taking a bath, then why hadn't the water washed away the strands of hair the police found on his body? Why, the detectives asked themselves - why the wrinkling on the soles of the feet?
One possible answer: Whoever killed the boy knew the footprints were on file in some hospital, and was attempting to blur the skin ridges so that the prints could never be traced. But, if that's so, then why is the right hand also wrinkled? Detectives speculate - with no real evidence to support their theory - that this right hand might have been put in water to throw the investigators off the trail, by adding a deliberately misleading clue. And yet all that speculation founders on this point: If the purpose was to conceal the footprints, then why weren't the feet kept in water long enough to achieve that goal. As it turned out, detectives checking sole prints in hospital files found that the hospital prints in a number of cases were too fuzzy to use for comparison. That didn't surprise them, for as most topnotch investigators know, footprints are not always an accurate means of identification.
The peculiar cropping of the hair also attracted close attention. Why was it cut so high on the sides, almost as if it had been shaped with a bowl, then flattened on top in a half-inch-high crew style? And did the strands on his chest indicate that the hair was clipped while the boy was nude - and dead? Captain Robert's men followed this thinking to another strange possibility - that the boy was the son of an unbalanced mother who had raised him as a girl; then, after his death, had cut the hair short to block recognition of the "girl". Certainly the cropping had the appearance of an amateur's work, and the strands on the chest could mean that the cut was made in such a hurry - or panic - that the barber had no time to brush them away.
The "unbalanced mother" thought flowed directly into another theory that perhaps the boy, too, had been mentally incompetent - was, in fact, a retarded child. Doctor Krogman recalls that after the newspaper disclosed his entry into the case, he got a telephone call from a woman with a calm, almost deliberately ridged voice. "Can you tell whether that boy was weak-minded?" she asked. Doctor Krogman asked her name. "Do you know what it is to take care of an idiot?" she answered, the calmness suddenly gone. "Sometimes you get so sick of their crying you can kill them in a fit of anger." Now her voice was loud and angry. "That," she said, "might be your explanation." Abruptly she hung up. She never called again.
Actually, there was no way after death to determine the boy's mental competency. But one thing the investigators could - and did - do. This was to make a head count of children who had been placed in nearby institutions for the retarded. But, in institution after institution, in home after home, the story was the same. All the children could be accounted for. And in not one place was there a blanket even resembling the torn and faded one the boy's body was wrapped in. But there was still something compelling about the retarded child theory. Was it possible that this was a case of unintentional killing, not premeditated murder? Suppose the boy was retarded and his family had a new baby. That new baby could account for the bassinet box. Suppose further that the defective child tried to harm his infant brother or sister. Would either parent, in a burst of rage, strike the retarded one - again, again, and again? This is a mad and frightening picture, but homicide is rarely otherwise.
The retarded child theory has never been disproved - or proved. But, whatever this child might have been - normal, retarded, healthy or ill - it would be only logical that he, or "she," would be known to some neighborhood. Young policemen were assigned to wear the casual clothes of playground instructors and mingle with youngsters of all ages in schoolyards, parks, and recreation centers. They kept asking one question. Did any of them remember a thin little boy - or girl - who'd been seen around, and now was seen no more? Some did, and each lead was traced out. In every case the children were alive. The detectives wondered if perhaps the unknown boy's family had moved from their own neighborhood or were newcomers to Philadelphia. From every moving company in the city they got a list of the customers in the weeks before and after the body had been found. Interstate movers were asked to supply the names of families they had moved into the city. Painstakingly the detectives searched out every white customer. Net result - another statistic for the files: 763 white families had hired movers. Period. Not one of those 763 investigations led to the tiniest clue about the boy.
All the while the police were investigating, the body of the unknown boy lay in the city morgue. Periodically the homicide squad got calls from men and women who thought they recognized the boy from pictures they had seen in newspapers. One by one they were taken to the morgue to view the body; one by one they said no, this was not the boy they had in mind. Early in the investigation there had come a call from a woman in Camden, New Jersey, across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. The boy's picture, she said, reminded her of a small boy traveling with an itinerant roofer she had hired at her home. She was brought to the morgue - and instantly she said this was the child she had seen. Armed with pictures of the boy, detectives rushed to her neighborhood. They found three other persons who, on viewing the body in the morgue, definitely identified this as a boy they had seen with a stranger in the area. Two others were not so positive, but said there was a real resemblance. With the help of these witnesses, the detectives identified the itinerant roofer as one Charles D. Speece, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. A year earlier, Speece had left Lancaster, taking with him his eight-year-old son. It was established that Speece and the boy had lived for a time in Camden, and then left town. Police sent out a thirteen-state alarm asking that Speece be picked up. But abruptly the investigation collapsed. Speece's estranged wife, located in Lancaster, came to the Philadelphia morgue to see if the unknown boy was her son. Emphatically she said, "It's not him." And in Newark, New Jersey, Speece heard of the alarm for him and came to Philadelphia. With him was his son.
Despite the calls that continued to come into the homicide squad's city hall headquarters, that was the last time anyone definitely identified the boy. And police knew, as each clue collapsed, they were: "back where we started from."
But Philadelphia police - like police everywhere - are patient people. Even though the case is now more than a year old, the dogged investigation goes on. As both Chief Inspector Kelly and Captain Roberts put it, "Somewhere in one of our files, there may be one little sentence that will give us a clue. All we want is a toe-hold on this case."
And there's a young civilian in the police department - a fingerprint clerk - who, on his own time, still goes out to check footprints in "just one more country hospital." While he goes from hospital to hospital in the outlying counties, detectives check back over those bulky files time after time. Every possible lead that trickles in from police in other states is investigated, but the clues remain the same - a box, a blanket and a small body.
As they were back on July 24, 1957, when, with city detectives standing at stiff attention, the body was buried in a small white casket in the city cemetery. The tombstone was inscribed: FEB 25, 1957. HEAVENLY FATHER, BLESS THIS UNKNOWN BOY....