(CNN) — “The boy in the box” finally has a name. Philadelphia investigators have identified the unknown child found dead in a box in February 1957, the longest-running cold case in the city’s history.
City officials identified the boy, whose tombstone at Ivy Hill Cemetery reads “Unknown Child of the United States,” as 4-year-old Joseph Augustus Zarelli.
The identification, made through advanced DNA technology, represents the greatest confirmation in the cold case, giving investigators a lead not only in finding relatives, but also in finding the person responsible for the murder, if they still exist. She is alive.
In what has become known as the “Boy in the Box” case, his body was discovered wrapped in a blanket inside a cardboard box on February 25, 1957, in a wooded area of Northeast Philadelphia, according to the National Center for of Missing and Exploited Children.
“We still need the public’s help to complete this child’s life story,” Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said Thursday.
Authorities said, however, that they have a theory about who may be responsible for the slaying, though they admit they “may never make an identification” or make an arrest.
“We have our suspicions about who may be responsible, but it would be irresponsible of me to share these suspicions as this remains an active and ongoing criminal investigation,” Capt. Jason Smith, commanding officer of the Homicide Division, said Thursday. of the Philadelphia Police.
He then said that because of the age of the case, it would be “an uphill battle to definitively determine who caused the death of this child.”
“We may not make an arrest, we may never make an ID, but we will do everything we can to try,” Smith said.
The boy’s body remained intact in the Ivy Hill Cemetery until it was exhumed in 1998, when DNA technology was still relatively new. Parts of the remains were retained, but DNA testing turned up no new leads, Smith said. So the boy’s body was reburied, she said.
Since then, there have been several attempts to take new samples and try to use DNA technology again. The last attempt in 2019, when the body was exhumed again with the help of a court order, according to Smith.
Contemporary forensic apps and techniques were used, including genealogical DNA testing, and as a result, law enforcement was able to locate and contact potential family relatives of the child on the maternal side, Smith said.
Investigators identified the biological mother and obtained birth records, which included the father. Paternal relatives and eventually the father were also identified by researchers and genetic genealogists.
Authorities are not releasing the names of his parents, but added that Joseph has “several siblings” on both his mother’s and father’s sides who are still living.