In 1957, law enforcement made a discovery that shocked Philadelphia: the battered body of a young boy, stuffed inside a cardboard box and dumped by the side of a road just outside of the city. When Philadelphia police found the body - based on a tip called in by a local college student - they had no idea it was just the beginning of a mystery that is still unsolved to this day.
While the authorities know that the child - who the media named the "Boy in the Box" - died as a result of multiple blows to his head, they have no idea how he sustained the fatal injuries. Despite chasing down countless leads over the course of six decades, investigators still don't know the boy's name and if he was murdered or died accidentally - causing many to call him "America's Unknown Child."
He Was Beaten To Death And Stuffed In A Box
On February 25, 1957, police - acting on a tip from an informant - discovered a cardboard box that had been dumped off the side of a country road near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Inside the box, which had once contained a bassinet purchased from J.C. Penney, officers found the nude corpse of a young boy, partially wrapped in an inexpensive flannel blanket.
The child's body was covered in bruises, and a medical examiner later concluded the boy had died after he sustained multiple blows to the head. Detectives unsuccessfully tried to identify the child - who the media eventually named the "Boy in the Box."
A Woman May Have Bought, Abused, And Killed Him
Over the course of their investigation, detectives received many tips from people who claimed to know the true identity of the Boy in the Box and how he died. One of these tips came from a woman known only as "Martha" who said when she was a girl, her mother (who worked as a librarian) purchased the child and brought him to their home in Philadelphia. According to Martha, her mother told her the boy's name was Jonathan and made him sleep in their dank and dirty basement.
Martha alleges her mother - who had subjected her to sexual abuse - bought Jonathan for the express purpose of doing the same to him. She also claims Jonathan vomited in the bathtub, and her incensed mother smashed the boy against the floor, killing him. After the child died, Martha said she accompanied her mother to get rid of the boy's body somewhere in Philadelphia.
While detectives investigated Martha's claims - which came decades after the discovery of the boy - they were unable to find evidence that proved the information she provided was either true or false.
He May Have Died Accidentally In A Foster Home
One of the most popular theories about the Boy in the Box is that he was an orphan who lived at a foster home when he died accidentally, either by falling out of a window or drowning in a lake. This particular theory came from Remington Bristow, a Philadelphia medical examiner. A psychic told him she thought the child had died while he was living in an old mansion that a couple had turned into a foster home.
Bristow had already interviewed a husband and wife who ran a children's home out of a mansion, and when he attended an estate sale at the home in 1961 after the family moved away, he said he discovered a bassinet in the house similar to the sort that would have been packaged in a cardboard box like the one the police found the child's body in. Bristow believed the boy may have been the secret son of the couple's young daughter, and when he died in some sort of accident, they dumped his body because they didn't want to be suspected of murder or have anyone find out about the existence of their illegitimate grandchild.
Decades later, a detective followed up this lead and interviewed the woman Bristow thought was the boy's mother, only to find out that she did have a son who died in an accident in 1957. However, morgue records proved the Boy in the Box couldn't have been her child.
Someone May Have Tried To Drown Him
Bristow thought the Boy in the Box could have drowned after falling in a lake - despite having multiple head injuries - because the bottoms of the child's feet and the palm of one of his hands were wrinkled as if they had been in water for an extended period of time. Investigators were unable to determine if the boy had been submerged in water before or after his death, but they ruled the cause of death as blunt force trauma to the head, not drowning.
In addition to his wrinkled soles and palm, a medical examiner found the child had small clumps of hair from his head stuck to his body, reinforcing the doctor's belief the boy had been wet around the time of his death.