The Boy In The Box

Searching For Clues Since 1957

It was a strange funeral in Philadelphia. Nobody knew the boy they were burying, only that he was found dead more than 40 years ago.

Somebody loved this kid,” says detective Tom Augustine. “He did have a mother, had a father. Maybe he had brothers and sisters. I don’t know.”

The boy was being reburied after being dug up from an anonymous grave in a potter’s field.

On February 25, 1957, a foggy day, Sam Weinstein was one of the first policemen on the scene. Weinstein was responding to a call about a suspicious box. He found a boy’s beaten body, stuffed inside the box.

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“The boy was stripped of his identity,” says Weinstein, who is now retired. “He had no clothing. His hair was chopped off - bruises from head to foot.”

Forensics determined the boy was about 4 years old, and had died from head injuries.

When the medical examiner arrived, Weinstein lifted him out of the box. “As hard-hearted as I could be, it really got to me,” Weinstein says. It still get to him, he admits.

From the beginnin,g police had hundreds of leads about the child they called the boy in the box: a blanket cut in two pieces that he was wrapped in; the box itself, which was traced to a J.C. Penny store. They compared the boy’s footprints to thousands on file in hospitals throughout the area. But it led nowhere.

Had he lived, the boy in the box would be about 48 years old today. But in the years since his murder, potential police sources have either died or forgotten important information. With every passing day, this case was getting older, and colder. Four years ago another Philadelphia detective, Tom Augustine, asked to be assigned to this case.

Augustine became interested in this case when he was a child and saw pictures of the boy in the box on police posters all over town. He got a big break when a book about the case and a television show, America’s Most Wanted, suddenly brought in more than 200 new leads.

With so many leads, Augustine turned to Weinstein, who was now a member of the Vidocq Society - a group of retired investigators who work with police to solve old murder cases.

They got nowhere. But everyone who has wrked this case since the ’50s has been suspicious of a foster-care home that used to be in a building just about a mile from where the body was found.

“We didn’t get too much cooperation there when we did the original investigation,” says Weinstein.

The police heard the children there had the same haircuts as the boy in the box, and the same blankets as the one found covering his body. Someone came forward with old movies from inside the house. But the haircuts in the movies didn’t match.

In 1998, police dug up the boy’s body to obtain DNA samples. But they still need to find his family to make a match. Most of what the detectives do, says Augustine, is grunt work.

Health problems have sidelined Weinstein, but Joe McGillen and Kelly, two retired investigators who originally worked the case, have stepped up to continue the grunt work.

“We’d like to think, in our heart of hearts, that we’re not necessarily all that far away,” says McGillen.

This case has haunted two generations of detectives so far, each one hoping the next lead will be the real thing.

Augustine hopes the boy will be identified soon. “I would also get great pleasure out of locking up the person that beat this kid, that beat this kid to death,” he says.

When will the case be solved? “Maybe next week, maybe tomorrow,” says Augustine. “But you can’t give up. You have to hang in.”

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