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The Boy In The Box

September 2003

This story I am about to tell is completely true. It is documented throughout history and I will give you a web address where you can find the actual events on the web. I am from Philadelphia and this happen about 4 blocks from my house.

In February 1957, a man walking through an abandoned lot in Philadelphia stumbled upon the naked body of a boy wedged inside a corrugated J.C. Penney's carton marked "Fragile, Handle with Care." The bruised and battered child, covered with a cheap flannel blanket, soon became known as "The Boy in the Box."

The coroner determined that the child, about 4 years old, had been beaten to death and died from massive head wounds, but could not answer the question that swept the city. Why was he killed? And who had dumped him in the lot? Hoping to identify the boy as a missing child, officials kept his body in the morgue as visitors from more than 10 states filed through, scanning his small, bruised body for familiar markings.

The carton the boy was found in once held a baby's bassinet and was one of only 12 units shipped to a store in Upper Darby, PA. A blue corduroy "Ivy League" cap found in the debris-strewn field near the boy was traced to a store in South Philadelphia. Scars on the boy's body suggested he had been hospitalized before his death, so investigators canvassed local hospitals to see if any had treated the boy in recent months. They even singled out his freshly cut hair, theorizing that he may have met his end at a barber shop. Five months after he was found, the Boy in the Box was buried in a potter's field. His tombstone read "Heavenly Father, Bless This Unknown Boy.

There has been many leads and the detective's reopened the case in 1998. But then they got a phone call from a psychiatrist in Cincinnati. The night before, one of her patients had phoned the doctor at 2 a.m. demanding she contact Philadelphia homicide. She wanted to talk about the Boy in the Box. So Augustine, accompanied by two retired investigators close to the case, Joseph McGillen and William Kelly, flew to Cincinnati to track down the lead of a lifetime.

The men met the woman, whom Augustine would only identify as "Martha," at the psychiatrist's office, a converted house. Over three hours, the woman opened up gradually, painting a grim portrait of the little boy's life.

In 1955, when Martha was 11, she told the investigators, her librarian mother drove her to a home, where she picked the boy up in exchange for an envelope which she assumed contained money. The child, called Jonathan, then came to live with them in their Philadelphia home. There, he was raised in squalor in the basement, with a drain for a bathroom and a makeshift bed amid coal bins and discarded cardboard cartons. Martha claimed that her mother regularly sexually abused her and had purchased the child to do the same to him.

The boy's death, Martha claimed, eventually came when her mother, in a fit of rage, slammed him down on the floor after he vomited in the tub. That day, her mother drove her into Philadelphia to dump the child.

At issue is whether Martha, who has a history of mental problems, could have fabricated the story. Her psychiatrist claimed to have first heard the tale in 1989, but protected her client's privacy until she chose to come forward. No notes of that original discussion exist, says Augustine. "If we had notes, that would be a different story," he said. "If we could just prove one thing about it, we'd have it solved. And if we could just disprove one thing, we'd throw her tip in the garbage."

To corroborate her story, Augustine is arranging to search the Philadelphia house where she used to live. Was the drain in the basement where she said it was, for example, and did houses in that area have coal bins as she described? But these minor details will not seal a case that, for Augustine, has become a life's work. "I want to get this case to be sown up as if the mother was still alive and we got an arrest warrant and a conviction in court," he said. And he plans to continue speaking with Martha, hoping she'll provide more details that can be corroborated.

Until then, the real story will remain buried with the boy, they moved his grave under a new headstone inscribed "America's Unknown Child" in Philadelphia's Ivy Hill cemetery.

Now here is where I am involved. The place where the boy was found is now a huge beautiful place with a playground and woods for long walks called Susquehanna. They say if you go there at night you will see the spirit of the boy because his murder has not be solved. My younger brother and his friends are obsessed with this place and go there on a regular basis.

One night they decided to camp out there (even though you aren't allowed). Well in the middle of the night him and all of his friends got what they deserved. They said they were just getting into their tents when they heard moaning noises. My brother being the brave one got out of the tent and he said he saw a figure from a distance. He thought it was an animal but as it came closer he recognized who it was. He tried to talk to the boy but he vanished and all they heard were noises like someone watching them. Eventually it got to be too much so they chickened out.

It is known in the town I live in that he haunts the woods but no one is really scared because of the way the boy died. I still pray that they will someday find out who the boy in the box is and give him a proper burial.

If you would like to look up the website on the boy go to and go to the hidden traces section on the site map.

I hope you enjoyed my true story and please say a prayer that someday this boy will be laid to rest.

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