Case Gone Cold, the Case of the Boy in the Box

Everyone eagerly awaits the time where they can tear through the wrapping paper and ribbons on Christmas, but what if there was a person in there?

Austyn Mizgorski, Author

I: Introduction


Happy holidays, Hampton, and welcome back to Tea Time with a Side of Crime! I can’t believe we’ve made it to Episode 3 already, and hoo boy, do I got a good episode for you. “Why is this one a good one?” I hear you asking. Well, dear reader, we’re doing a holiday special! Hooray! This season’s all about the giving, after all, so I’m here to give you a gift! (I know, I know, I’m so generous.) Tear open that wrapping paper, because in today’s episode, we’re looking at the case of “The Boy in the Box.”


Dubbed “America’s Unknown Child,” the origins of this case spanning sixty-four years begins with the titular boy in the box. Just who was this kid, and why was he in a box? That’s the thing; nobody knew who this kid was. While everyone knew about the discovery of this boy, nobody knew who he was. Even now, in 2021, there’s still speculation afloat about the origins and identity of this boy.


II: The Discovery


The discovery of the boy in the box dates back to late February of 1957 in Philadelphia. A young hunter went out to go check his traps near the Fox Chase neighbourhood of Philly, when he noticed a peculiar package. When he opened it, he was surprised to find the deceased body of an unknown boy. Rather than inform this to the authorities, like any sensible person would do, he didn’t report it. Why? He didn’t want his traps confiscated. Way to go, guy. 


Jump forward to 3:45 p.m on February 25th, a few days after the hunter found the boy, a junior in college by the name of Frederick J. Benonis claimed to see a rabbit dash into a thicket whilst he was driving, which led him to his discovery of the boy in the box. Mistaking the boy for a doll, he only reported it to authorities a full day later because he overheard a missing report of a missing girl over the radio.


Student Tea Spill, pt. I:


These episodes, for the most part, are just me telling you a story. However, I wanted to change things up a little bit, and how better to do that than to introduce a new segment? Which is why, dear view, I’d like to introduce you to the Student Tea Spill, where I talk to my peers about the case in order to gage their understanding and knowledge. Our very first guest for this new segment is my peer in the true crime and investigation field, Aaron Peng ’24.


Q: If you discovered the Boy in the Box, what would be your first reaction?


A: “Well, it’s a dead child in a box. I’d leave the scene as soon as possible and call the police, just as any rational person would in that scenario.”


III: State of Being


The boy in question appeared to be wrapped in a blanket before being placed into a cardboard box, which once housed a J.C Penny bassinet. They believed he was between the ages of three and six as a result of severe malnourishment, and he was covered in strange scars. Despite his grizzly appearance, they discovered his nails were recently trimmed, and his hands and feet were wrinkly as if he was submerged within water within recent time. Nearby, they also discovered a tan scarf, a flannel shirt, shoes that didn’t fit the boy, and one of the few major hints they had; a hat. 


Blue in colour, corduroy in material, and with a leather strap attached, this cap led authorities to a shop in southern Philly. All the details they caught in regards to who asked for the hat to be modified was that the person was a man, and appeared to be between the ages of twenty-six and thirty; he was never found.


IV: The Discrepancies


There’s numerous theories, even now, in regards to the origins and story of the boy within the box. One of the weirdest parts of the investigation came in February of 2002, alongside a woman by the name of Martha. Martha claimed to know the identity of the boy, stating that her mother had bought the boy, named Johnathan, in 1954. Due to unfortunate circumstances which I’d rather not get into, the boy passed away in their care. Martha’s mother forced her to help her hide the boy, cutting his hair short and putting him in the cardboard box to be hidden away within the woods. She claimed that her mother gave him a bath, which is where he died, which could explain the wrinkles found on “Johnathan’s” hands and feet. That’s all that could be gathered, however, Martha’s medical records show she suffers from a history of mental illness. We can’t be sure just how much of Martha’s account was true, if any at all.


Student Tea Spill, pt. II:


Q: Do you believe in the “Martha’s Account Theory?”


A: “It doesn’t matter if it’s trustworthy or not, we just have to investigate it as much as we can. I would reluctantly trust her, but any piece of evidence from the crime scene is more critical than her testimony.”


Generally, the case of the boy and his box is really convoluted, with a lot of details that I had to leave out for the purpose of not turning this into a college essay styled lengthened piece. For example, I had to cut out the fact that for a good while, he was mistaken for being a girl, rather than a boy. So hypothetically speaking, this could’ve been called “The Case of the Girl in the Box” instead. There were some DNA tests performed in 2016-2017, but it yielded no leads, making the identity of the box a persisting mystery.


Q: What do you think happened to the Boy in the Box?

A: “It seems (to me) to either be a case of murder via the scars and begrudgingly including Martha’s testimony, or that he died of illness/malnourishment via the unkept state of his body upon initial investigation.”

V: Conclusion


Even now, we can’t really be sure as to what happened to the boy, let alone who he is. He’s been merely reduced to the poster child (no pun intended) of unnamed children in cold cases. Regardless, the story of the investigation is one to behold, as unlike the last two episodes, we don’t get a conclusion. There’s no big hurray, we can’t slap the cuffs on anybody yet. It leaves so many doors unopened, which may be for the better. So, dear viewer, are you willing to take the plunge?


This has been Tea Time with a Side of Crime, where Pennsylvania’s most gruesome tales are served with a complementary cup of tea. Thanks for reading.