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Notes For True Crime: The Mysterious Death Of The Boy In The Box

Research notes for True Crime, Season 2 Episode 2

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** Research compiled for Ryan & Shane on March 30, 2017 by Adriana Gomez.

Ivy Hill Cemetery (where boy is buried)/David Drysdale (Manager of Ivy Hill Cemetery)

1201 Easton Road
P.O. Box 27307
Philadelphia, PA 19150

The Boy

  • The boy was discovered by a man who was walking through an abandoned lot.
  • The boy became known as “the boy in the box.”
  • It was estimated that he was around 4-6 years old, weighed 30 pounds, and stood 3’3”.
  • He had small scars in several places including his chin, groin, and left ankle.
  • Some of these scars suggested he underwent a medical procedure.
  • The boy was found off of Susquehanna in an illegal dumping ground near Verree Road.
  • The boy was discovered by the police February 25, 1957. He was naked, but wrapped in a blanket.
  • He was found in the Fox Chase neighborhood in Philadelphia.
  • A call was made about a suspicious box. Inside was boy whose body was beaten. Sam Weinstein was one of the first police officers on the scene. He lifted the boy out of the box.
  • Weinstein reported that he “saw so much hurt and fear in his face, as if his eyes were talking to someone.”
  • The boy’s hair was cut, he had no clothes and he was bruised from head to toe.
  • Forensics believe the boy was around four years old. Head injuries were his cause of death.

The police had some leads:

  • The boy was found in a blanket.
  • The box the boy was found in was traced back to a JCPenney store.
  • The boy was Caucasian. He was found at an illegal dumping ground along Susquehanna Road.
  • The boy’s body was recently washed.
  • His grave is marked “America’s Unknown Child” at the Ivy Hill Cemetery.
  • The man who tipped off the police had waited a full day before reporting what he found; it turned out that before that, another man had found the boy’s body but had not contacted the police because he claimed he didn’t want to get involved.
  • After five months of few and unsuccessful leads, the homicide squad working on the case began to raise funds for a funeral.

The Box

  • The box the boy was found in contained a serial number which allowed investigators to pinpoint the shipment.
  • As it turned out, the box had been shipped by a JCPenney store that was 15 miles away.
  • The store had shipped the box in a shipment of 12.
  • However, all of the purchasers had paid in cash, and there was no record of who had bought the bassinets.
  • Eight purchasers ended up contacting the police when they read about the story in newspapers to go on record that they either still had the boxes, or had put the boxes out for trash collection.
  • The JCPenney that the box came from had a cash policy so there were no further records.
  • The police found that the box the boy was found in used to hold a baby bassinet that was shipped to Upper Darby, Pennsylvania.

The Blanket

  • The blanket was cut into two pieces.
  • It was made of cheap cotton flannel and had a design reminiscent of Native American art.
  • The Philadelphia Textile Institute believed the blanket was made either in Granby, Quebec, in Canada or Swannanoa, North Carolina but there was no was to tell where this particular blanket was purchased since thousands were made and sold.
  • The blanket also didn’t lead anywhere. There were no marks on the blanket to help identify where it came from.

The Hat

  • Near the scene a cap was found. It was a blue corduroy Ivy League-style cap, size 7 ⅛.
  • It was 15 feet near the box, near the footpath off the road.
  • It was labeled Eagle Hat & Cap Company and made by the small company owner Mrs. Hannah Robbins, located at 2603 South Seventh Street in South Philadelphia.
  • She remembered the man who purchased the hat because she had customized it for him. The man, who was described as blond and between the ages 26 and 30, requested that a leather strap and buckle be added to the hat. He paid in cash and she never saw him again. She didn’t have any further record of him.
  • A cap was found near the site of the boy. It lead to a store in South Philadelphia.
  • Hannah Robbins said that hat was one of 12 similar corduroy hats and the blond man in his late twenties had returned months later to have the leather strap added.

The Hair

  • Forensic artist Frank Bender (who as of 2008 had an 85% clearance rate helping authorities with homicides) believes that the boy was possibly raised as a girl.
  • The hair was possible cut hastily, and there were strands of hair found on the boy’s torso.
  • Bender also believes the boy’s eyebrows appeared to be plucked.
  • Bill Kelly, an original investigator of the case, believes that Bender’s theory is not out of the question.
  • Kelly also recounted that in 1957 and 1958, a West Coast artist did circulate a rendition of the child as a girl but it never produced any leads.
  • The main suspect of the case was a foster home within a mile of the scene.
  • Police had heard that the children at the foster home were given the same blanket and haircuts.
  • However, Philadelphia Detective Tom Augustine, who was assigned the case in 1997, was given access to old movies from the foster home and found that the children did not have haircuts similar to the boy.
  • Police also wondered if the boy’s freshly cut hair indicated that a barbershop may have been where the boy met his end.

Other Investigations/Details

  • For years, photos of the child were distributed nationwide.
  • Detectives visited over 100 stores within the area but no one recognized the hat or the boy.
  • Fingerprints were taken of the boy, but no match was found.
  • Police sent out 400,000 flyers of images of the boy to police stations, post offices, and courthouses all over the country. Even the American Medical Association sent out a description of the boy but it lead nowhere.
  • There were no witnesses.
  • No record was found to prove the boy ever existed.
  • With the cold weather at that time of year and the delayed phone call from the person who found the body, it wasn’t possible to accurately estimate when the boy had passed away.
  • The police compared the child’s footprints to hospital records in the area. Nothing conclusive was found.
  • In hopes of finding his identity, the police kept the boy at the morgue while visitors from over 10 different states tried to identify the boy by looking for any significant marks.
  • Scars on the boy’s body seemed to indicate that the boy was hospitalized soon before his death. Police searched hospital records.
  • It is difficult for investigators to take the time to look further into the case since current cases are priority, and this incident occurred 60 years ago.
  • Police exhumed the boy’s body to extract DNA from a tooth in 1998.
  • During his second funeral, after being exhumed in 1998, investigators paid attention to those in attendance.
  • (I think they had a large funeral for this boy because he was known as “America’s Unknown Child.” The owner of the cemetery, David Drysdale, also noted that his father felt a moral obligation to take the boy in at Ivy Hill Cemetery for his initial burial. This is just my theory.)
  • Investigators say a name stood out in the attendance guestbook but did not divulge further.
  • (It seems this again, did not lead anywhere since I cannot find any further information about the guest.)

The Theories

  • Some thought he was the child of a resident in Camden, New Jersey. The boy in the box was not.
  • A marine with 17 siblings claimed the abandoned boy was one of his siblings. His claim turned out to be false.
  • It was also theorized that he was a missing child from Long Island, New York called Steven Damman. Steven reportedly had the same L-shaped scar under his chin. This theory turned out to be false. Steven Damman’s sister provided DNA for comparison to the unknown child. The samples did not indicate the boy was Steven Damman.
  • Leads from the case included carnival workers, Hungarian refugees and foster homes.
  • Authors Lou Romano and Jim Hoffman believe that the boy’s family may have lived in Memphis, Tennessee.
  • Two of their leads include a woman who said her mother bought the boy and killed him. The other lead being a man from Philadelphia who said his family rented a place to a man who sold his son.
  • (I believe this is linked to Martha’s story, which is explained further down. I couldn’t confirm if Martha is from Tennessee though.)
  • A DNA sample was taken from the man they believed to be the boy’s brother. A forensic pathologist looked at photos of the boy’s potential father and brother and agreed that similarities would warrant further laboratory testing. He found similarities in the facial structure, the helix of the right ear, and the nose.
  • Philadelphia Police Sergeant Bob Kuhlmeier is part of the third generation of police officers trying to solve the case. Investigators did not say whether they would test DNA to compare the potential brother and father. They only said they would “investigate further” by fact-checking the theory of these two authors.
  • People couldn’t help wondering how the boy died and why no one had come to claim him.
  • Medical examiner Remington Bristow continued his investigation into the boy’s identity for over 36 years.
  • Bristow gathered newspaper clippings of the boy and spent thousands of dollars of his own money and countless hours trying to identify the boy. He traveled all the way to Arizona and Texas for leads. Bristow even consulted with a psychic who held staples from the bassinet box, hoping he or she could gather some clues. Bristow went as far as carrying a mask of the boy’s face in his briefcase.
  • Bristow theorized that the boy died accidentally. His freshly cut hair and nails indicated that he was well taken care of. Perhaps the boy’s family never came forward because they did not want to be charged with murder.
  • Based off of a psychic’s clue, Bristow looked into a foster family that lived nearby where the boy was found. They had already been interviewed by the police. At a 1961 estate sale, Bristow found a bassinet that he believed could have previously been stowed in the box the boy was found in.
  • Bristow then began to theorize that the boy was an illegitimate child of the daughter of the foster family. The daughter may have abandoned the boy to avoid being exposed as a single mother.
  • Bristow passed away in1993 but left behind lots of material for other to continue the investigation.
  • Philadelphia Detective Tom Augustine then took up the case. He was assigned to continue Bristow’s theory that the boy was related to the nearby foster family.
  • On February 23, 1998, Augustine went to the home of Arthur Nicoletti, the man who led the former foster care home.
  • Nicoletti’s wife was also his step daughter Anna Marie—the woman Bristow suspected to be the mother of the boy.
  • Anna Marie told Augustine that she did have a boy who passed away. His cause of death was electrocution from a nickel ride outside of a store. Morgue records supported her statement.
  • In 1998, a coverage of the case in America’s Most Wanted brought in dead end clues.
  • Eventually, a psychiatrist from Cincinnati contacted Augustine and said one of her patients insisted on speaking to the police.
  • The patient, who went by the name of Martha, said that when she was 11 years old her mother took Martha to a house where she handed an envelope over for a boy. Martha said that she was sexually abused by her mother and wanted to do the same to the boy. She went on to detail that the boy lived in the basement with a drain for a toilet. The mother beat the boy after he vomited in the tub and she drove Martha and the boy to Philadelphia to abandon the boy.
  • Even with Martha’s lead, the police were not able to verify if the boy was who Martha claimed he was.
  • Also, due to Martha’s history of mental illness, it is unsure whether she fabricated the whole story.
  • The killer of the boy is likely dead.
  • The psychiatric patient Martha said her mother beat the boy to death after struggling to bathe him.
  • According to Bill Fleischer, a retired FBI agent, details of Martha’s story adds up: the testimonies, addresses, and descriptions. It is a strong theory.
  • In defense of Martha, Fleischer states that if she were not mentally ill before the incident, surely the events with the unknown boy would be a traumatic instigator.
  • Martha spoke with investigators Tom Augustine, Joseph McGillen, and William Kelly. McGillen and Kelly were one of the first on the scene that day. All three were allegedly convinced.
  • Reportedly, Martha’s true identity was leaked and so chose to not to speak any further and left the country.