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"The Boy in the Box" identified as Joseph Augustus Zarelli

Philadelphia police identify Joseph Augustus Zarelli as America's Unknown Child
Philadelphia police identify Joseph Augustus Zarelli as America's Unknown Child 47:09

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- "The Boy in the Box" has been identified as Joseph Augustus Zarelli, Philadelphia police said Thursday.

The police reveal of Zarelli's name Thursday answered decades-old questions about his identity, while also bringing new light to a mystery that has bewildered the nation and investigators for years.

Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said the case was Philadelphia's oldest unsolved homicide.

"No one ever came forward to claim the child," Outlaw said, noting that countless officers, detectives, geneticists and doctors worked the case that had "haunted" the city and the world.

"His entire identity and his rightful claim to own his existence was taken away," Outlaw said. She added that she hopes no one will never again have to wait this long for justice, and honored the detectives who worked the case and did not live to see this development.

"This announcement only closes one chapter in this little boy's story, while opening up a new one," said Outlaw.

DNA investigation brought police to discovering the boy's identity.

CBS3 has closely followed the investigation and kept the case on TV and online. Last week, CBS3 Investigations was first to break that police had finally identified the boy.

Details of the investigation

Police said they had suspicions as to who was responsible for Zarelli's death, but no information on suspects to release at this time.

Zarelli has surviving relatives, police say.

William Fleisher of the Vidocq Society, which helped investigate the case, noted that "many of these men and women aren't with us anymore," but said he felt their presence in the room.

How DNA helped ID "The Boy in the Box" 01:49

Police Capt. Jason Smith said investigators believe Zarelli was from West Philadelphia, in the area of 61st and Market streets, and was never reported missing.

He is hopeful that someone who knew Zarelli is out there and may have seen him. That could be a neighbor, Smith said.

New development in a long investigation

The body of Zarelli, a 4-year-old boy, was found along a Fox Chase roadside in February 1957. A bassinet box held the badly beaten remains.

Investigators were desperate early on to find his name.

Posters were distributed by the thousands across the city.

Despite exhaustive efforts, police were left empty-handed until now.

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