If the “Boy in the Box” were still alive today, he would be around 70 years old. The world will never know how his life would have unfolded, whether it would have been an ordinary life filled with family, work, and community — or perhaps an extraordinary one marked by significant contributions to society.
Instead, the slain boy remains a longstanding mystery decades after his still-unidentified body was discovered in a cardboard box in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The child, whose age was determined to be 3 to 7 years old, was discovered in February 1957 naked, battered and alone.
No one came forward to provide his name. He was never reported missing. He was referred to as “the Boy in the Box” and today he is also known as “the America’s Unknown Child.” And despite the so many years, however, the case remains open with the hope that one day someone will figure out the identity of the young victim and what happened to him.
The Boy in the Box
It was a Monday February 25, 1957 when this boy was found dead, clothed only in a threadbare sheet and stuffed in a large cardboard box. The box had been shoved in the undergrowth beside Susquehanna Street in the Fox Chase part of town. In those days, Susquehanna Street was a weed-ridden semi-rural street, and a popular dumping ground. The box would have aroused no suspicion there, and the boy might have stayed there undiscovered for weeks, except that a student out for a walk became curious and opened the box.
Inside the box
Inside he found a bruised and frail-looking boy no older than seven. His hair had been hacked clumsily off after his death in an effort to make him harder to recognize. Except for the box and blanket, there was no other evidence at the site. By following a path trodden through the undergrowth from the box, investigators found a blue corduroy cap, but it did nothing to help the investigation. Other odds and ends dumped by the roadside, including a child’s pair shoes, turned out to be unconnected with the case.
The cause of death of the Boy in the Box
Postmortem examinations on the boy revealed that he had died of blunt force trauma, and was bruised in many places, but none of his bones had been broken. As previously mentioned, the boy was nude, but there were no signs that the boy had been raped or sexually assaulted in any way.
The boy had a healed hernia operation scar on his groin, and intravenous cut-down scar on his ankle, both of which showed he had received professional medical care.
Over the next few months, photographs of the dead boy appeared on newspapers and posters throughout the area. Doctors were asked about young male patients treated for hernias and blood transfusions. But despite intensive investigation, no solid leads appeared.
Does this blue corduroy cap fit the crime?
Also discovered near the body of the Boy in the Box was a man’s blue corduroy cap. A label inside the cap read Robbins Bald Eagle Hot Company located at 2603 South Seventh street.
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The owner Hannah Robbins told detectives that she remembered the man who bought this particular cap because he requested a unique leather strap on the back. Robbins also told police that the man who purchased the hat looked similar to the Boy in the Box and he had no accent. However, because the cap was so generic, detectives could not know for sure if it had any significance in the Boy in the Box case.
There have been numerous suspects in this case, the most probable being Arthur and Catherine Nicoletti and their 20-year-old daughter, Anna Marie Nagie. This family lived 1.5 miles away from the discovery site and they constantly take in many children to foster.
Many detectives believe that the Boy in the Box was once a resident of the Nicoletti’s home. However, this has never been proved. Today, more than 64 years later, the boy’s identity and his killer(s) are still a mystery. But the investigation continues.
The boy was later exhumed
The Boy in the Box was exhumed in 1998 for DNA testing, and around that time, the case appeared on America’s Most Wanted. This turned up more leads, some of which didn’t pan out, some of which are still under investigation.
America’s Unknown Child
Around the time the story appeared on television, the Boy in the Box got his new name and burial ground at Ivy Hill Cemetery in Cedarbrook, Philadelphia, while the cost of the funeral service, as well as the coffin and headstone ― which read “America’s Unknown Child,” beneath a picture of a lamb ― were paid for by Craig Mann, the son of the individual who had first buried the boy back in 1957.
Until 1998, the boy was buried in a potter’s field under a plain stone with the simple inscription “Heavenly Father, Bless This Unknown Boy,” followed by the date his body was found. This stone now sits at the front of the plot where the boy now lies.