His blonde hair was hacked off in haste, right before or after he died. It was shaved to the skull in spots, trimmed with scissors in others. Clumps of hair stuck to his naked body. Some speculated it was to make him unrecognizable, but the deep bruises that covered him, mostly his face and head, already made that so.
His killer wrapped the 30 lbs. of lifeless remains in a cheaply made rust, green, and white Navaho cotton flannel blanket, which was considerably faded and ripped into two pieces. One of the two pieces of fabric had an additional swatch ripped or crudely cut out of it, possibly another deliberate decision to thwart identification.
A look of pain and sadness was etched on his face, his mouth gaped open as he cried till the very end. His arms were wrapped around his midsection. Whoever witnessed his last moments, didn’t even have the decency to close his eyelids over his slightly sunken blue eyes after he took his last breath.
In the last days of February 1957, this young boy was shoved into a cardboard box and discarded a few yards off of Susquehanna Road in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Philadelphia. The area was mostly open fields and small patches of trees, which was frequented by small game hunters in the area; but was also known for dumping the trash. The underbrush where the box was located was thick and covered in litter and debris.
Police discovered the crime scene on February 25th, 1957, and quickly discerned they weren’t the first to have stumbled upon the scene.
On the afternoon of February 24th, 18-year-old high school student John Powroznik was riding his bike when he happened upon the badly beaten body. He had stopped to check his muskrat traps in the brush, before heading to the church gymnasium for basketball. He failed to report it to anyone, let alone the police. A recent immigrant from the USSR, he claimed he feared the police would confiscate his traps.
The following day, the body was found and not reported for the second time, by a La Salle College student Frederick J Benonis, who was known as a peeping tom in the area, frequently caught peering in the windows of the all-girls’ school a half a mile down the street from the crime scene. He initially told the police he had seen a rabbit run under the brush, and he parked his car to go look for it. He later admitted to parking his car alongside the brush, where he had planned to walk the rest of the way to The Sisters of the Good Shepherd, a home for troubled girls, presumably to spy on the young women. The 26-year-old took and passed a lie detector test.
Detectives who processed the scene were confident the boy would be identified. Surely someone would notice a young boy missing. He had been cared for. His body was clean, fingernails recently trimmed. Detectives did the best they could extracting finger and footprints. His fingers and feet were wrinkled, likely from spending an extended period of time in water immediately before or after his death. Even if no one came forward to identify him, they had a trove of evidence: the box, blanket, identifying scars, fingerprints, and footprints to compare to hospital records, some clothing found near the scene including a unique blue corduroy hat.
A witness came forward saying he saw a woman and child on the side of Susquehanna Road on the day police believe the body was dumped. The woman and child were fumbling with something in the trunk, and the man, thinking they were experiencing car trouble, stopped to offer assistance. The woman waved him off.
The boy was dressed in black overalls and propped up in a chair for photographs that would be plastered around the town in hopes someone would recognize him. After months passed, the police department decided to pay for burial for the boy with no name. In July of 1957, he was buried in a potter’s field until his body was eventually exhumed in 1998 and reburied in Philadelphia’s Ivy Hill Cemetery. His tombstone read, “Heavenly Father, Bless this unknown boy, February 25th, 1957”.
THE AUTOPSY: Performed by Dr. Joseph Spelman, the autopsy estimated he was between the ages of four and six, but it was impossible at the time to determine, due to malnourishment. He had a total of seven scars, mostly from surgical procedures. A scar on the left ankle from an incision used to expose veins for a blood transfusion, a scar on his left elbow, an L-shaped scar on his chin, a one-inch scar on the left side of his chest, and what appeared to be a hernia surgery on his groin. Detectives theorized he had not been enrolled in public school since no signs of vaccination were found. He did not show signs of sexual assault. His death was determined to be caused by severe beating, more specifically, a blow to the head. His throat and esophagus were coated with a black substance, which was believed to be vomit. The boy had not eaten 2-3 hours before his death. He had no broken bones, or healed fractures. His left eye glowed a bright yellow color when an ultraviolet light shone on it, which doctors speculate was because he had a chronic eye disease.
THE BOX: The box was found damp on the outside, dry on the inside, with white chips of paint scattered throughout. The box originally held a white baby’s bassinet that sold for $7.50, which came from a nearby JCPenney store in upper Darby. Only twelve bassinets were bought from that store. Eleven of the twelve buyers came forward. Red letters measuring 15” x 19” x 35” read “Furniture, Fragile, do not open with a knife.” The store was cash only at the time and had no records of customers or video surveillance. No fingerprints were located on the box.
THE BLANKET: The blanket had been recently washed. It was mass-produced and was unable to further the case. The missing chunk of the blanket could have been embroidered with a name, or perhaps an orphanage, or some other identifying marker.
HOSPITAL EVIDENCE: It was assumed the boy had been born in a hospital. He had been circumcised. He had surgical scars. Despite comparing his foot and fingerprints to hospital records, no matches were identified. There were also no nearby hospitals that had surgical records on a boy fitting his description.
THE BLUE CORDORUY HAT: The hat found at the crime scene was one of the most telling pieces of evidence. It was hand made by Robbins Bald Eagle Hat & Cap Company located 2603 South Seventh St. in South Philadelphia. The owner of the shop, Hannah Robbins, says she only made twelve of these corduroy hats. There was only one made with the leather strap on the back, and it was a special request from a customer. She remembered what he looked like, and when asked if she thought the unidentified boy looked like he could be the customer’s son, she said yes. Unfortunately, she did not know his name and could provide no further information as to his whereabouts.
UPDATES: In 1998, his body was exhumed, and maternal DNA was extracted from a tooth. It was submitted to the University of North Texas and entered into a national familial database but has yet to produce any results. It is possible the DNA is far too degraded for proper analysis. The majority of DNA databases use a mouth swab, which wasn’t possible in this case when the body was exhumed, his body had mostly deteriorated.
In 2002, a psychiatrist from Ohio came to the police with a captivating story. A patient known only as “Martha” claimed it was her parents who had killed the boy in the box. They had bought him in Kensington to be used as a sex toy. He was kept in the basement of their home. The boy had vomited baked beans, and the mother attempted to give him a bath. She beat him to death in the bathtub.
Who was this boy? Who was he before his killer stripped him of everything? Who is responsible for the reckless cruelty towards this child? Who callously took everything from an innocent child, his happiness, his dignity, his life, even his name?
The nation is still looking for the person who lost control and savagely beat this boy to death, before throwing him in a box, labeled: FRAGILE HANDLE WITH CARE.