The Unsolved Case of the Boy in the Box

Photo Source: National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

Photo Source: National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

Karaline Baldini

The body of a boy between ages four and five was found in a cardboard box in the woods. The body was discovered on February 25, 1957 off the Susquehanna Road in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The identity of the boy has remained unknown for sixty five years. 


An autopsy was performed by Philadelphia’s chief medical examiner, Dr. Joseph Spelman. The cold weather preserved the body, making it hard to give an exact time of death, but it was estimated to be between several days to a couple of weeks prior to the body being found.


The cause of death was trauma to the head. The unknown boy’s body was malnourished and covered in bruises. The boy had blue eyes and blond hair, which had been roughly cut. The stray strands of hair still clinging to his body suggested it was cut post mortem. 


Days and then weeks passed without anyone coming forward to identify the young boy. Desperate for answers, 270 recruits from the police academy searched the woods where the body was found. The Philadelphia Inquirer printed 400,000 flyers on their own accord with a picture of the boy and details of the crime scene. Police went so far as to dress and pose the body in order to get more realistic photos to show the public.


Police determined the box the boy was found in originally housed a white bassinet from JCPenney. In 1960, Remington Bristow, who was an employee at the medical examiner’s office when the body was found, attended an estate sale at a foster home about a mile and a half from where the boy was found. At the house, Bristow saw a bassinet like the one that came in the box. He also spotted blankets which seemed to match the one the boy’s body was wrapped in.


The foster home was owned by Arthur and Catherine Nicoletti. Catherine’s daughter, Anna Marie Nagle, from a previous marriage also lived there. Anywhere from five to twenty foster children lived in the home at a time. 


Anna Nagle was twenty years old and already had four children, one of which died in 1955 at the age of three from electrocution. Bristow believed that the unknown boy had been another one of Anna Nagle’s children. Years later when Catherine Nicoletti died, Arthur and Anna got married leading to speculation that the boy in the box may have been Arthur and Anna’s secret child. Bristow was not able to collect firm enough evidence to confirm his theory.


Police received another lead from a motorist. On February 24, 1957, about forty hours before the body was found, the man said he was driving on the Susquehanna Road when he saw a woman and boy unloading something from the trunk of their car. He stopped because he wanted to make sure they weren’t dumping trash. The woman appeared to be around forty or fifty and the boy was between twelve and fourteen. 


The man reported that when he asked them if they needed help the woman responded with a silent shake of the head. The boy also seemed to purposefully shift to conceal their license plate number. Unfortunately, this information didn’t provide police with any answers, only more questions. 


The boy was originally buried in a potter’s field, a burial ground for unidentified people, in Philadelphia. In 1998, the body was exhumed so DNA from his teeth could be extracted and he was reburied in Ivy Hill Cemetery. His DNA was submitted to the University of North Texas and entered into a national familial DNA database. The DNA sample investigators were able to collect was partially damaged from time and the coffin falling in.


The boy’s grave is marked with a head stone which reads, “America’s Unknown Child.” People often leave toys and flowers at the grave. As time passes, it becomes less and less likely that the boy’s identity will ever be known.