40 years of faulty wiring

Solving the Murder of the Boy in the Box: America’s Unknown Child
















The abuse and murder case of the nameless boy who was stuffed inside a J C Penney bassinet box and left in a small garbage dump on Susquehannah Road in Philadelphia in 1957 is widely known for many reasons but perhaps none more perplexing than the mystery of his identity. He was covered with fresh bruises most of them in the face and head area. He had 7 scars, 3 of which were for medical reasons. The beating was not sudden or out of the ordinary. The boy was also covered with faded bruises and the scars too spoke to his continued abuse. He was severely malnourished, an obvious symptom of neglect.

The Vidoq Society, comprised of volunteers, have created a website with the intention of acquiring tips about the boy’s identity or that of his killer. There are several photographs of the boy, the crime scene, and information about the child. Visit The Vidoq Society http://www.vidocq.org/links.html.

There is something devastating about finding a dead child without a name and whom no one claims after he is found. For 53 years the Unknown Child has waited for someone to claim him. And for 53 years his silent plea has been ignored.

Surely someone is still alive who has knowledge of the boy and his short, tragic life. That no one came forward 53 years ago to:

  • confess to the crime and thereby alleviate her/his conscience
  • contact police anonymously and offer helpful information
  • give a dead child his identity

….is understandable. Perhaps the only person or people at the time who knew about his suffering and who knew his identity were too frightened to come forward. Another child living in the same house, also abused perhaps? An elderly person who relied upon the abuser to care for him or her? A neighbour who simply felt it was “none of her business”? A family member who worries that they would be unfairly accused of the murder?

Except for the possibility of an uncaring neighbour, these are all valid reasons for maintaining secrecy at the time of the boy’s discovery.  They may not seem valid to everyone reading this blog but consider that if a child knew of the horrific murder, how how realistic is it to expect the child to approach authorities? Likely another child who lived with the boy was fearful of the boy’s abuser. An elderly person in the 1950s with no recourse for personal care except the abusive parent or guardian who killed the child would be left utterly alone and bereft should s/he speak up. Or worse.

I believe I have solved the mystery of the Unknown Child’s murderer.  Well, not her name of course but I do know that she was his mother and that she was a young, single mother who lived in poverty and was without a support system. I also know how she committed the murder and why she engaged in the odd ritual of cutting his hair and fingernails before disposing of him. Consider the following:

  • The disposal of his body was distinctly female in nature.The child was found clean with his fingernails and hair cut, freshly bathed, wrapped in a blanket and placed inside a box that used to hold a bassinet for a baby. Bathing and wrapping a child in a blanket and placing him in a “bassinet” is female behaviour. Why? It is a nurturing act and it displays remorse for the killing. It is almost as though his mother managed to provide the dead boy with the love and care she withheld from him while he lived. Also the box, the water and the blanket are suggestive of a womblike state.
  • The child’s death may have been an accidental drowning although police refused to state the actual cause of death. Clearly they discovered it after the autopsy.  I believe the cause of death was purposefully concealed from the public in order to “weed out” attention-seekers claiming to have been at the crime scene or have knowledge of the crime, when they do not.
  • The reason I believe his death was an accident is this: picture a scenario wherein the boy’s mother beats him mercilessly, rendering him unconscious and  expecting him to rouse again as per usual, then placing him into the shallow bathtub and leaving the room for some time. This may have been routine. The unconscious child would sink beneath the water’s surface and drown. There is evidence of him having been submerged in water for a length of time due to the wrinkled fingertips on one of his hands.
  • If however the boy was beaten to death his mother then bathed him before disposing of his body displaying her sole act of maternal care for her deceased son.
  • Statistically speaking women are more likely to drown or suffocate their young children than to use a more violent means of infanticide.
  • The crime was disorganized and unplanned. The disposal of the body was made in haste. This was no pre-meditated crime.
  • The boy’s bizarre haircut is suspect. The haircut may have appeared crude and clumsy due to her emotional angst at discovering him drowned. She was also obliged to cut most of his hair in what would turn out to be an apt attempt to rob him of his identity.
  • Her rage and hatred towards her child was not because she was evil. It stemmed from the abandonment by the child’s father when he learned of her pregnancy, the ensuing shame and ostracization by her community when she was revealed as a pregnant, single teenager (remember this was the 1950s), her family’s disowning of her, a future bleak with poverty and little hope in finding a way out. Perhaps unconsciously, murdering her child provided her the escape she needed to reclaim her own life and identity.
  • The child’s mother was not mentally ill or she would have been unable to dispose of him and cover up her crime as successfully as she did.
  • The child’s mother did not move from her neighbourhood immediately after the killing. Neighbours would scarcely have noticed that the boy wasn’t seen around her residence anymore since he would have been kept inside and away from scrutiny due to his many injuries while he lived. Her sudden disappearance after a murdered boy was discovered locally would have been quite suspicious.
  • The boy’s mother may have found a new boyfriend who did not approve of her having a child, hence she became even more abusive towards the boy until her actions culminated in his accidental drowning. her boyfriend may also have abused the child.
  • The boy was sexually abused although not necessarily by his mother. Children who are horribly abused physically are usually abused sexually.
  • The boy’s mother occasionally prostituted herself to buy food and clothing.

Which leads us to another valid reason why she did not come forward to identify her dead child. She inadvertently found a tragic means to put a lonely, traumatic existence behind her and start her life anew. She may have felt remorse for her actions as evidenced by the manner in which she disposed of the body, but clearly she was no fool and would not risk her newfound freedom.
I estimate the boy’s mother to have been in her late teens, possibly younger than 19, when she gave birth to him. She was already abandoned by her family at this point and would have been “sent away” to have him. The police estimated the boy’s age to be between 4 and 6 years but because he suffered from severe malnourishment they could not be certain of an exact age. I will split the difference and consider him to be 5 when his body was discovered. In that case the boy’s mother would have been approximately 21 when she killed him and today she could be 75 if she is still living. That’s a long time to carry a grisly murder on her conscience. Perhaps if she knew there were people who sympathized with her as much as people who judged her she might be inclined to confess to the infanticide.

It is tempting to suggest this was a murder-suicide and that after the disposal of her child, the boy’s mother took her own life except that no suicides by young, single mothers were reported in that area around the time of the child’s discovery. Perhaps plagued by her guilt or for other unrelated reasons, many years later the boy’s mother did commit suicide, and if that is the case no one will ever know what became of her. There is still hope that a person with knowledge of the boy and his mother may come forward. Over many decades witnesses often lose their fear of a perpetrator, or they lose loyalty towards him or her and are quite willing to talk to police. 53 years have passed since the boy died. It is likely that anyone connected to or knowledgeable about the boy’s murder is no longer vulnerable, nor frightened of his mother.  If the witness was another child within the same age range, that person would be approximately 58 – 60 today. Such a person might one day start talking about this horrid secret.

One woeful irony of this story is that in denying the child his identity, his mother reclaimed her own. The day the child died was a release for them both; he from his suffering and she from her isolation from society. Another irony is that upon his discovery the boy was taken from one box and placed into another where he will remain forever.

People have puzzled over the little boy’s death since 1957. I guarantee they will still be puzzling over it in 2057.


January 31, 2011 - Posted by | Crime and Punishment, Human psychology, Relationships | , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. The story give a good description of the mother. Indeed maybe the mother had commited suicide. Which individual can live with a secret like this. That I was thinking when a read the other stories. I hope that one day someone, somewhere can give information about the boy. Maybe the father of the child, other families or relatives of the mother. Somebody must know something. Or the mother had moved to USA with a boyfriend who abandoned her. After the dead of the boy the mother moved to another country. Or maybe the mother was sick herself and die of a dease?
    The blue cap. Which people used in those days a blue cap?
    Which people bought at JC penny those days?
    Where they used those types of blanket?

    Comment by Mila | July 17, 2011 | Reply

    • Thank you for responding to my post. Certainly somebody had information about that poor child during his abuse and after the death but they chose not to come forward. Often when people do that they are usually afraid of the murderer or in a position of inferiority to that person. Possibly the mother had other children in her care and of course they wouldn’t know they even had the right to go to the police. Llikely she would have been abusing them too. That would have been a horrible life for all of them. The whole thing is just so sad. You know I think it still goes on today all over the world. For some reason this one just caught the headlines.

      Comment by teacher | July 17, 2011 | Reply

  2. I remember this case when I grew up in Philly. They showed a picture and a drawing in the local paper, The Enquirer. It scared me and I also remember a circus or some type of carnival was in town during that time. Could the mother have been a worker from the carnival?

    Comment by Gerald | July 5, 2014 | Reply

    • I think anything is possible. It would certainly account for her ability to move on and not get tracked to the little boy. Of course the child would have grown up as an abused child with the circus and his bruises and neglect would have been very obvious. That being the case, the circus crew certainly would have some culpability.

      Comment by marilyn4ever | July 6, 2014 | Reply

  3. They should run a DNA test through the system.

    Comment by MJ | August 2, 2014 | Reply

  4. thats a good point of view but someone actually really solved it though not bad

    heres the real link theory 🙂


    Comment by isabella josephine | September 30, 2014 | Reply

    • This isn’t really solving the case. Detectives from the original investigation were satisfied that this family had nothing to do with the boy. Then years later, new detectives went to investigate this family in their new home and location. They did indeed discover that Arthur and Anna were married but after extensive questioning they had no reason to believe that the foster family had any involvement with the boy. I tend to believe the police rather than an amateur theory.

      Comment by marilyn4ever | October 1, 2014 | Reply

  5. Wow…I thought I was the only one thinking he has a young, unwed teenage mother. But I don’t think that she was without family: I think he may have suffered at the hands of his grandfather. <- grandfather hating the product of his daughter's teenage pregnancy

    Comment by Rochelle | December 3, 2014 | Reply

  6. Hi my name is Ed, I had an idea about “the boy in the box” I knew someone who lived in Fox Chase at the time. It’s kinda a long shot but possible. I’m not ready to call authorities on my hunch. I can share more, any input would be great. I think about this boy a lot, he truly deserves justice.

    Comment by Edward | February 20, 2015 | Reply

    • The best people to contact are The Vidoq Society. THey are a group of volunteers who are retired policemen, detectives, etc. They have had a site about the little boy for at least 2 decades and they will follow up on any lead, no matter how small.

      Comment by helthnut | February 23, 2015 | Reply

  7. I read a comment a couple of years ago on another site from someone who thought they possibly knew who this little boy was, I hope they contacted someone…even if it turns out to be wrong its still narrowing down the field.
    I’ve often wondered if the boy’s family could have been transients, so they left him and moved on, or if they were possibly immigrants who didn’t report anything as they came from a country with a mistrust of the authorities… I’ve also wondered if he was murdered in an other state and left where he was to throw the police off as the “wrong” police force would’ve been investigating. Obviously this is all conjecture and based on a very limited knowledge of this little boy’s death.
    I know this is going to make me sound like a crazy lady but every time I read about this little boy I get the name “Michael” pop in to my head and a little scene of a man telling a distraught woman that they can’t go to the police as they’ll never understand. I’m not a medium nor do I have any psychic gifts that I know of so these things can very easily just be my imagination.

    Comment by Hanna | March 23, 2015 | Reply

    • I don’t think you sound crazy at all. Have you reported your concerns to the Vidoq Society? I’m sure every piece of information they get is helpful.

      Comment by helthnut | April 19, 2015 | Reply

  8. What if the mother wasn’t even from Philadelphia? What if she drove him hours away and dumped him? Is that possible?

    Comment by Monica | September 15, 2015 | Reply

    • I think anything is possible in this sad case.

      Comment by helthnut | September 17, 2015 | Reply

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