Recap: E40 Boy in The Box

Laying naked in a cardboard box, the body of a young boy is discovered by a muskrat trapper and college student passing separately through the Fox Chase section of Philadelphia in February of 1957. No one comes forward to claim the boy or provide information about who he was or where he came from. To this day, his identity remains a mystery. He is still only known as “The Boy in the Box” and “America’s Unknown Child.”  

Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories show hosts Carter Roy and Wenndy Mackenzie explore several theories on why the boy was never identified – that he was raised as a girl, was a Hungarian refugee or the unwanted son of an unwed mother.  

But regardless of the one you think is the most likely, experts speculate that if his murder investigation made the national news and the police departments of the late 1950s shared information across jurisdictions, the boy might have been identified by someone who knew him – a relative, a school teacher or a doctor.

But it still doesn’t explain why no one has ever come forward to identify the boy in the sixty years since his murder.

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A college student named Frederick Benosis pulls off to the side of the road to rescue a rabbit hopping near a trap laden field when he finds a naked dead boy in a cardboard box amongst the grass. Apparently reluctant to have any contact with the authorities, he waits a day before reporting his discovery. But he’s not the only one to find the body without immediately notifying the police.

Just days before, another young man stumbles across the dead body while checking his muskrat traps. Afraid that the police will confiscate his equipment, he also keeps quiet.

When the police are finally made aware of the dead boy, they take his fingerprints in hopes of identifying him. Unfortunately, the prints do not match any of the missing child reports and no one comes forward to claim the boy. Even hospital records do not supply any answers.

Naturally, the mysteriousness of the case attracts intense local media interest. The Philadelphia Inquirer prints 400 thousand copies of a flyer bearing the boy’s likeness and distributes them throughout the city. Two hundred seventy police academy cadets comb the crime scene for clues but all they turn up is a blue corduroy cap, a child’s scarf, a handkerchief and more dead ends.

Approximately four to six years old, the boy appears to have been malnourished but recently had his hair and nails trimmed. He died from blunt force trauma to the head. X-rays reveal no broken bones or previous fractures, but the bruises on his body may indicate a history of abuse.

He also has seven scars – three of which could have been surgical. The medical examiner also finds that he had been treated for a chronic eye ailment. Yet, despite all the evidence that the boy received medical care on numerous occasions, months pass without anyone coming forward.

Some Philadelphians believe the boy was raised as a girl and the haircut he received right before or after his death was meant to conceal his identity.

Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories show hosts Carter and Wenndy favor of the theory that the boy in the box was a Hungarian refugee recently relocated to the Philly area. It certainly explains the lack of birth and hospital records.

The theory arises when Billy Kelly, the supervisor of the Philadelphia Police Department Identification Unit, finds a picture of a child who looks exactly like the boy in an old newspaper story about Hungarian refugees arriving in the U.S. in October of 1956. He contacts the Immigration and Naturalization Service, requesting passport photos of people entering the country from Hungary in 1956. After looking through over 11 thousand photos, Billy finds the boy.

He tracks the family down to where they settled in North Carolina but quickly learns that he didn’t solve the mystery. When state troopers arrive on the scene, the boy from the picture is still alive and playing in a nearby field.

Investigators then shift their focus to the cardboard box the boy was found in. Originally holding a white baby’s bassinet from J.C. Penney, it leads the police to the exact store it was bought. Police track down all but two of the bassinets sold from that store – but even with the FBI’s help, they cannot turn up more. The cheap flannel blanket the boy was wrapped in leads nowhere as well.

The police bring Frederick Benosis in for another round of questioning. He admits to lying about the rabbit and confesses that he was spying on girls at the Good Shepherd School instead. Police are skeptical but Frederick volunteers to take a polygraph and passes.

Remington Bristow, a dedicated investigator who spends a total of 36 years on the case, chases a hunch that the boy’s murder had something to do with the foster home near the crime scene. Arthur, the man residing there, refuses to take a polygraph and his unwed stepdaughter’s DNA is tested to see if she was the boy’s mother. It comes back negative.

Desperate for a break in the case and unwilling to let go of his hunch, Remington turns to Florence Sternfeld, an elderly New Jersey psychic. In a vision, she describes a log cabin near a pond like the one not far from the foster home. Years later, a J.C. Penney bassinet is sold in an estate sale at the foster home. None of these coincidences lead to anything but torture an old cop who can’t let go of the case. Remington dies in 1993 without solving the mystery.

On the 40th anniversary of the boy’s death, the Vidocq Society, an international non-profit organization based in Philadelphia, reopens the case and is granted permission to exhume the boy’s body for DNA testing. No new leads are revealed.

Next, a patient with mental health issues sends the police on a two year long wild goose chase. She claims her mother bought the boy as an infant and then abused and eventually murdered him. Police are unable to verify her story.

A reburial service is held for the boy and a website is created to ensure he is remembered and loved. Carter and Wenndy have mixed opinions on whether new technology and growing criminal databases will one day allow police to close the case.

But let us know what you think. Will we ever learn the identity of the boy in the box or will it remain a mystery forever? Or maybe there’s a theory we haven’t considered. Join the conversation on the Parcast Facebook page. Or you tweet us @ParcastNetwork.