Philadelphia Police

Philadelphia’s Oldest Unsolved Homicide Victim Finally Identified

The Philadelphia Police Department has finally identified the city’s oldest unsolved homicide victim. The 65-year-old murder of a 4-year-old we now know is Joseph Augustus Zarelli, of West Philadelphia.

“Without the hard work, dedication, and passion, the doggedness of the many, we would not be here today to give America’s formerly unknown child, Joseph Augustus Zarelli, a voice,” Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said.

The announcement was made by police officials on Thursday morning. The officers. who worked the case stood alongside forensic experts at the Philadelphia Public Services Building at the time of the press conference.

On February 25, 1957, the bruised body of the boy was found in a box on the side of Susquehanna Road in Northeast Philadelphia. For decades, police have searched to solve the identity of the fragile body and that of the perpetrators who beat the little boy to death. The case garnered both local and nationwide attention becoming known as the case of the “Boy in the box.”

For over six decades investigators have worked across agencies from the homicide unit to the city’s Medical Examiner’s Office to solve the case. Those involved even reached out for outside help from Identifiers International and the Vidocq Society.

“Sadly, many that worked on his case throughout the decades and put in countless hours of work into identifying him have passed on. But as you can see, his story was never forgotten,” Outlaw said.

With the help of modern DNA analysis, investigators finally had tools at their disposal to identify the child.

“Contemporary forensic applications and techniques, including genealogical DNA testing and inquiries, were made with the assistance of genetic genealogists. The DNA testing results were uploaded through DNA databases, and the results were interpreted by the genealogists involved in this investigation,” Police Captain Jason Smith said.

The DNA led Detectives to relatives on Joseph’s maternal side, using new leads from the genealogist, and eventually deciphered who both of the parents were.

At this point, police will not release the names of the parents as “several siblings on both the mother and father side who are living.”

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