Known also as “America’s Unknown Child”, the “Boy in the Box” murder has gone unsolved since the discovery of his body on 25 February 1957.
On that fateful day, an anxious college student, Frederick Benosis, reported finding the nude body of what appeared to be a young boy, 4 to 6 years old, wrapped in a flannel blanket inside a discarded baby’s bassinet cardboard box distributed by the JC Penny store.
This wasn’t the first discovery of the boy. Two days prior, a young man spotted the body when he was checking on his muskrat traps in this rural area. Knowing his muskrat traps were illegal, he decided against telling the police. It was only a few days later that Benosis came across the body. He waited an additional day before contacting the authorities because he was in the area spying on young women at the Good Shepherd School and was worried about telling the police why he was there.
Local media was fixated on this case. Pictures of the young boy were plastered everywhere, including flyers and gas bills for the Philadelphia customers.
The boy’s identity has never been determined and the case has yet to be solved. The boy was described as having blue eyes, fair complexion and medium to light brown, crudely cut hair. His nails were noted as being neatly trimmed. He had deep bruises covering much of the his body and face and experts speculate that due to the cold weather, the child may have been lying in that box between 2-3 days to 2 to 3 weeks.
Initial thoughts were promising, as police were sure that someone would report a missing child or that his photograph distributed throughout the area would lead to the identity of the child and the murderer. But this never occurred. Nobody reported a missing child that fit his description and the thousands of leads produced came to a dead end.
Investigators focused on the baby bassinet box that the boy was found in. It was one of 12 sold by a JC Penny store in Upper Darby. All but one were traced back to their owners. Even the boy’s fingerprints and footprints came up negative when they were compared to a national database and local hospital records.
- The boys hair was crudely cut and located throughout his body, indicating it was cut while he was deceased and naked or immediately before he died.
- His hands and feet were wrinkled indicating they were submerged in water for an extended time just before or after he died.
- The child may have had a chronic eye ailment
- He had not eaten 2-3 hours before death.
- The faded cheap flannel blanket he was wrapped in was made in either North Carolina or Quebec, Canada. It was also massed produced and shipped to multiple locations.
- His esophagus contained a dark, brown residue, possibly indicating he vomited shortly before death.
- He was severely malnourished.
- Cause of death was multiple blows to the head.
The boy was buried in a potters field next to Mechanicsville and Dunks Ferry Rd, the tombstone simply read “Heavenly Father, Bless This Unknown Boy”. Eventually, the boy’s body was exhumed in 1998 and mitochondrial DNA was extracted from his tooth. Efforts are currently underway to link this child to a relative by scanning it through a database. However, the mitochondrial DNA sequence is too small to produce a conclusive match with anyone.
On 11 November 1998, the boy was reburied in a donated coffin at the Ivy Hill cemetery and a website was launched to keep this boy’s memory alive and to help generate new leads. The website is America’s Unknown Child.
The possibility of this 53 year old crime being solved is quickly vanishing. The case remains open in name only. The police officers and investigators who tried to keep this case moving forward are passing away, or too old to continue pursuing the occasional lead that comes their way. Chances are that the individual or individuals who killed this young boy have since died and will never face justice for their crime.
Experts agree that if this case occurred 10 or 20 years ago, the crime most likely would have been solved. In 1957, police departments did not communicate or share information outside of their local areas. Media coverage was also limited to the Pennsylvania/Delaware area. In today’s age, this case would have been national news and the information pertaining to this case would have been available to all city and federal law enforcement agencies.
However, hope still remains as Court TV, 48 Hours and America’s Most Wanted have featured this case on recent episodes. Perhaps the lead everyone has been waiting for will present itself.
- Frederick Benosis who was spying on young wayward girls was initially thought of as a suspect, but he was questioned and cleared via a lie detector test.
- A foster home located about 1.5 miles from the crime scene was the first location police officers wanted to check. There were 8 foster children residing there at the time. All the children located at the foster home were checked out and the family was ruled out. Speculation still exists that Arthur Nicoletti, who ran this foster home, is somehow involved. He refused to take a lie detector test and a psychic hired to assist in this investigation led investigators directly to the foster home (without ever visiting the area first).
- The strongest lead occurred in May 2002, when a business woman (known as “M”) from Cincinnati, OH, claimed her mother purchased the boy from his parents in 1954. They named the boy Jonathan. He was regularly abused and housed in the basement. He was described as being handicapped and could not speak. “M” claimed her mother killed him in February, 1957 in a fit of rage by throwing him down on the floor after he vomited in the bathtub after eating baked beans. Investigators thought this was the lead they were looking for to finally solve the case. However, after six months of attempting to corroborate her story, it was determined that “M” had a history of mental problems and none of the information she passed could be proven.