I don’t want to take the show too far down but we have a bit of a downer for this week’s mystery. I thought to myself, “we’ve been having far too many romps in the proverbial hay. We need to go back to our roots. We need a tragic story that will inevitably lead to us making a horrendously offensive joke after which we’ll be sentenced to podcast prison and Zach you won’t do well in podcast prison. Roman Mars will hold you down while Terry Gross stabs you with a shiz made from the handle of an NPR coffee mug. I won’t do much better. Sure I’ll blend in with the “comedy podcast” crowd for a bit but at some point we’ll be having some kind of prison improv contest and I won’t be able to finish the hoedown we’re doing and the McElroy brothers will take turns pounding my face in with a haunted doll. And don’t get me started on what the gang from “My Dad Wrote a Porno” are going to do to us! (just bleep it out bro) With that in mind, let’s get started.
For this week’s mystery we’re taking it back in time to 1957. Good old 1957, Wham-O had just produced the first frisbee, Elvis’s “Jailhouse Rock” is broadcasting across the country, and the Ku Klux Klan is running rampant in the Jim Crow south. However, this week we’re not talking about the racist atrocities of the era (much like white America at the time) instead we’re discussing a tragic mystery that happened in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Philadelphia Pennsylvania.
It’s February 1956, average temperatures had been below freezing all month but the weather had remained mostly dry. No snow had accumulated in quite some time. Here in the rather secluded area a young man is checking his traps for muskrats. As he wanders along woods off Susquehanna Road he comes to a sunken cardboard box. It lying on the side and the boy has to tilt his head to read the words “up furniture” written on the side. He abandons his muskrat poaching for a second to inspect the box. He pokes his head inside and he immediately regrets it.
Inside the box is the naked body of a young boy between 3 and 7 years old. The young man who made the discovery runs away but doesn’t immediately report what he saw. Why you may ask? That’s all part of the mystery! (Just kidding his muskrat traps were illegal and he didn’t want to get in trouble). A few days pass before a college student is driving though the same area. While driving he spots a rabbit caught in the underbrush. He stops his car in hopes of trapping the animal but instead stumbles upon the same rectangular box. This time the discovery is reported to the police, but not until the following day.
When police arrived on the scene they found the body of a severely malnourished young boy. He was naked but wrapped in a plaid blanket. The blanket was produced either in Quebec or North Carolina but couldn’t be definitively traced. The boys hair had been recently cut and whoever had done it was quite messy with clumps of hair clinging to his body. This lead investigators to believe that the boy’s hair was cut either immediately before or immediately after his death. The boy had surgical scars on his ankle and groin as well as an L-shaped scar under his chin. There was a dark, brown residue which indicated the boy had vomited shortly before he died there were also indications that at least part of the boy had been submerged in water for quite some time before his death. The cause of death was determined to be blunt force trauma to the head which was evident in the multiple bruises he had sustained. Due to the relatively cold and dry weather the body was relatively well preserved and officials estimate the boy could have been there anywhere from 2 days to 3 weeks.
Police were initially very optimistic that the case would be resolved quickly. Obviously someone would report a missing boy but no such reports came in. The box he was found in was from J.C. Penney and originally contained a bassinet. Police were lucky enough to discover that the box was one of 12 sold from a J.C. Penney location in Darby, Pennsylvania but all of the bassinets were traced back to their owners with no suspects identified. The case quickly became a media sensation. Pictures of the boy’s face were widely published in an attempt to identify him. The crime scene was searched by over 270 police academy recruits who discovered a child’s blue corduroy cap, a child’s scarf, and a handkerchief, the Philadelphia Inquirer printed 400,000 flyers with the boy's face which were included in every gas bill in Philadelphia, the police even distributed pictures of the boy fully dressed and in a seated position in hopes that a more life like posture would help identify him. Despite these efforts, however, no one came forward to identify the body.
So, Zach, who is the boy in the box?
There are a couple theories that have surface throughout the years. The first is that the boy was from a local foster home located a mere 1.5 miles from where the body was found. A man named Remington Bristow was an employee of the examiners office that performed an autopsy on the boy. Remington desperately wanted to solve the case and what do you do when want to solve a case? Come one Zach, I know you know. I know you know that I’m not telling the truth…
That’s right! You hire a psychic and that’s exactly what Remington did. When the psychic was brought into the Philly she led Remington directly to this foster home. Now leaning as hard as possible into this Harriet the Spy fantasy of his, Remington went undercover at an estate sale at the foster home. There he discovered a bassinet similar to the one sold at J.C. Penney and blankets hanging on the clothesline that were similar to the one wrapped around the boys body. From this Remington came up with a theory. He decided the boy belonged to the stepdaughter of the man who ran the foster home and they must have disposed of the young boy after a tragic accident so the stepdaughter wouldn’t be revealed as an unwed mother.
Much like every child’s detective book when this evidence was brought to the police they weren’t able to find any definitive links between the boy and the foster family. So Remington had to take matters into his own hands. In the dead of night he grabbed his trusty slingshot and snuck into the house and poured chocolate syrup all over the residents while they slept. Justice served! Unfortunately this turned out to be another example of rampant vigilantism because a DNA test conducted in 1998 showed that the stepdaughter was not the boy’s mother but she was the new wife of her former step father...
Despite this mystery happening over 60 years ago there are still new developments (well relatively new). In February of 2002 a woman identified only as “M” came to the police. M claimed that the boy was named Jonathan and her mother had bought him from his birth parents in 1954. According to M Jonathan was physically and sexually abused for two and a half years until he was killed. According to M her mother flew into a fit of rage one day after Jonathan had vomited in the bathtub. She slammed Jonathan to the floor and killed him then forcibly cut his long hair.
M and her mother then went to dump Jonathan’s body but as they were pulling the body from the trunk of their car a man drove by and asked if they needed help. The man eventually drove off. This detail is important because it was corroborated with a confidential testimony given by a male witness in 1956 who said that the body had been placed in a box previously discarded at the scene. Mental illness
Forensic artist Frank Bender developed a theory that the victim may have been raised as a girl. The child's unprofessional haircut, which appeared to have been performed in haste, was the basis for the scenario, as well as the appearance of the eyebrows having been styled. Bender later released a sketch of the unidentified child with long hair, reflecting the strands found on the body.
Following the 59th anniversary of the discovery of the boy's body in 2016, two writers, one from Los Angeles, California (Jim Hoffmann) the other from New York, New York (Louis Romano) explained that they believed they had discovered a potential identity from Memphis, Tennessee and requested that DNA be compared between the family members and the child. The lead was originally discovered by a Philadelphia man (who introduced Romano and Hoffmann to each other) and then developed and presented, with the help of Hoffmann, to the Philadelphia Police Department and the Vidocq Society in early 2013. In December 2013, Romano became aware of the lead and agreed to help the man from Philadelphia and Hoffmann to personally obtain the DNA from this particular family member in January 2014 - which was sent quickly to the Philadelphia Police Department. Local authorities confirmed that they would investigate the lead, yet they stated that they would need to do more research on the circumstances surrounding the link to Memphis before comparing DNA.