America’s Unknown Child: The Boy in the Box

On February 25, 1957, the body of a young boy was found at the side of Susquehanna Road in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania by a college student, Frederick Benosis. Two days prior to this discovery, a young man had been checking his muskrat traps in the area. He discovered a baby bassinet box, distributed from JC Penney stores, lying abandoned. With further investigation, he discovered the naked body of a young boy, age 3-7, wrapped in plaid blankets. Knowing his traps were illegal, he left the body and did not alert the police.

The location the boy in the box was found

The boy had been laying in that location for a length of a couple days to a couple weeks, difficult to time with the cold weather. The boy was malnourished and very dirty, clearly not properly cared for. Due to his malnourishment, it was difficult to pinpoint his age. His hair had recently been poorly cut, with clumps and patches unevenly spotted around his head. His nails were neatly trimmed. He weighed only 30 pounds. It was suspected that his body had been immersed in water shortly before or after his death, due to the wrinkled state of his hands and feet. The body was covered in scars and bruises. He had multiple fractures on his head, leading to the suspected cause of death. Police had no leads in the investigation. Even after fingerprinting the child, they were not able to identify him. Despite forensic facial reconstruction and hundreds of thousands of flyers going out to the surrounding Pennsylvania areas, no one came forward with information. Several pieces of clothing including a cap and a pair of shoes (not fitting the boy) were scattered around the area, but they revealed no further leads.

A facial reconstruction of the boy

Theories

In 2002, a woman known simply as “M,” came forward with an explanation of the Boy in the Box. She claimed that her mother purchased the child from his parents in 1954, bringing him to their home. She claimed that her mother had beaten him to death in a rage while bathing him after he vomited up his dinner of baked beans. Police could confirm that bile was in his throat as if he had thrown up just before his death and that his stomach was empty, having not eaten at least two to three hours before death (or the stomach was emptied). The woman claimed that his name had been Jonathan, and he had been forced to live in the basement of their home. Despite the promise this lead seemed to hold, the police could not confirm most of “M’s” information. A history of mental illness was revealed to exist for “M,” so the police no longer followed her information.

The box the boy was found in

Frederick Benosis, the college student who discovered the body, was briefly a suspect. He was suspected of being a “peeping tom” searching the area for a local home for wayward girls, and that the tale he had told the police had been a lie. When he contacted the police, he claimed to have been chasing a rabbit, to ensure it didn’t get caught in a hunters’ trap. Upon interrogation and a lie detector test, he was dismissed as a suspect.

A large theory at the time came from none other than a psychic. Remington Bristow, an employee for the medical examiner’s office, visited a psychic who told him to look for a certain house, which happened to look like the foster home near the location the body was found. Bristow followed his “leads” on his own, which led him to an estate sale at the foster home. In this sale, he saw a bassinet just like the one that came from the box the boy was found in. Of the 12 sold from the local J.C. Penney, investigators located 9 purchasers, but no leads arose. At the same estate sale, Bristow saw blankets hanging on the clothesline he claimed were like the ones the boy was wrapped in. Despite his circumstantial evidence, no suspects were identified.

This case has remained unsolved for over 65 years.

Susquehanna Road in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania