Joseph Augustus Zarelli, age 4, was found dead in a box in Philadelphia 65 years ago. He was the victim of one of the oldest unsolved killings in the city, according to police, and was recognized officially by police on Thursday.
The child was found wrapped in a blanket inside a cardboard box in late February 1957, showing signs of “recent and past trauma,” according to Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw.
The identification, made through DNA analysis, represents the biggest breakthrough in the long-running cold case for investigators.
Outlaw told reporters on Thursday that there was “immense” public interest in the case. But no one ever came forward to claim Joseph as their child, and despite countless attempts to identify him over the years, his identity remained a mystery.
That changed this week when police revealed they had successfully identified the child through investigation and with the aid of genetic genealogists, a field that has recently produced numerous breakthroughs in cold cases, including that of the infamous Golden State Killer, and brought families together with missing loved ones.
“The boy in the box” is Joseph Augustus Zarelli… only 4 years old. Absolutely heart breaking thinking of what this poor kid went though.
Philadelphia police reveal identity of child found dead inside a box 65 years ago. https://t.co/tHZS4QTh4P
— Kendall Rae (@KendallRaeOnYT) December 8, 2022
Outlaw began Thursday’s news conference by praising the generations of police officers who worked the case, some of whom are no longer with us. “For sixty-five years, the story of America’s Unknown Child has haunted this community, the Philadelphia Police Department, our country, and the world,” Outlaw said.
Despite the fact that his entire identity and legitimate claim to his own life were taken away, Joseph Augustus Zarelli was never forgotten.
The procedures used to finally identify Joseph after so many years are hoped to help authorities in other ongoing investigations and future cold cases. According to Outlaw, the discovery “brings optimism that there will never again be an unidentified victim of homicide in the City of Philadelphia.”
However, even though authorities are celebrating this week that Joseph has been identified, the probe into what caused his death is still underway.
Capt. Jason Smith of the Philadelphia Police homicide section said, “We have our suspicions as to who may be involved, but it would be inappropriate of me to reveal these suspicions as this remains an active and ongoing criminal investigation.”
He recognized that the case’s age makes it an “uphill struggle” for detectives but expressed hope that learning of the ID would spark an “avalanche of tips from the public.”
Smith remarked, “We might not make an arrest.” “We might never identify anything (of the killer). However, we’re going to try our hardest.