Joseph Augustus Zarelli’s parents: The tragic story of the ‘Boy in the Box’
For more than six decades, the identity of a young boy who was found brutally murdered in a cardboard box in Philadelphia remained a mystery.
He was known as the ‘Boy in the Box’, ‘America’s Unknown Child’, or simply ‘the Boy’.
But on December 8, 2022, the Philadelphia Police Department announced that they had finally solved the case and gave the boy a name: Joseph Augustus Zarelli.
Who were his parents and what happened to him? Here is what we know so far.
Joseph Augustus Zarelli’s family tree
According to the police, Joseph was born on January 13, 1953, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
His biological parents were Augustus John Zarelli and Mary Elizabeth Abel, both of Italian descent.
Augustus, or Gus, was a concrete-and-stone mason, while Mary, or Betsy, was a young woman who liked skating and dancing.
They conceived Joseph in the spring of 1952, but they never married or raised him together.
Betsy had a history of giving up her children for adoption.
She had done that before with a daughter, and she may have done the same with Joseph.
The police have not confirmed whether Joseph was adopted or not, but they have found his birth certificate, which was issued under his father’s surname.
Joseph also had several siblings and relatives from both sides of his family, some of whom are still alive today.
Joseph Augustus Zarelli’s adopted parents
One of the theories that emerged over the years was that Joseph was adopted by a woman named Martha, who was mentally ill and abusive.
She allegedly tortured and starved Joseph, and eventually killed him with a blow to the head.
This theory was based on the testimony of a man named M, who claimed to be Martha’s stepson.
He said he witnessed the abuse and helped Martha dispose of the body.
However, the police have never been able to verify M’s story or find any evidence of Martha’s existence.
They have also ruled out M as a suspect or a relative of Joseph.
Therefore, the identity and fate of Joseph’s adoptive parents, if he had any, remain unknown.
Joseph Augustus Zarelli’s birth certificate
Joseph’s birth certificate was one of the key pieces of evidence that led to his identification.
The police obtained it after they uploaded Joseph’s DNA to genealogical databases and traced his maternal relatives.
They then searched for records of children born to the woman they believed was Joseph’s mother, and found his birth certificate among them.
The birth certificate confirmed that Joseph was born on January 13, 1953, in Philadelphia, and that his father was Augustus John Zarelli.
It also showed that Joseph had a middle name, Augustus, which was probably a tribute to his father.
The police said they would amend the birth certificate to reflect Joseph’s name and identity.
Joseph Augustus Zarelli’s sibling’s names
Joseph had at least one half-sibling from his mother’s side, a sister who was born before him and given up for adoption.
Her name and whereabouts are not publicly known, but she may have been contacted by the police or the genealogists who worked on the case.
Joseph also had several half-siblings from his father’s side, who shared the Zarelli surname.
One of them was Michael Zarelli, who was born in 1956 and died in 2014.
Joseph also had many cousins, aunts, uncles, and other relatives from both sides of his family.
Some of them were unaware of his existence until the police revealed his identity.
Others had heard rumours or stories about him but did not know his name or what happened to him.
Some of them have expressed their relief and gratitude that Joseph has finally been recognized and remembered.
Joseph Augustus Zarelli’s cause of death
Joseph died from blunt force trauma to the head, according to the police.
He also suffered from malnutrition, dehydration, and multiple injuries and scars all over his body.
Joseph had signs of recent and past trauma, indicating that he had been abused for a long time.
He also had surgical scars on his ankle, groin, and chin, which suggested that he had some medical procedures done on him.
Joseph’s body was found on February 25, 1957, in a wooded area off Susquehanna Road in Fox Chase, Philadelphia.
He was wrapped in a plaid blanket and placed inside a cardboard box that had once contained a bassinet sold by J.C. Penney.
His hair had been recently cut, possibly after his death, and his fingernails had been trimmed.
His body had been cleaned and groomed as if someone had tried to make him look presentable.
Joseph Augustus Zarelli’s mother’s name
Joseph’s biological mother was Mary Elizabeth Abel, also known as Betsy.
She was born in 1931 and died in 1991.
Betsy was of Italian descent and grew up in the Tioga neighbourhood of Philadelphia.
She was described by a family member as a “real beauty” who liked skating, dancing, and listening to Frank Sinatra.
She also had a fondness for Italian boys and had several relationships with them.
One of her boyfriends was Augustus John Zarelli, Joseph’s father.
They met in the early 1950s and had a brief affair, which resulted in Joseph’s conception.
They never married or lived together, and Betsy may have hidden her pregnancy from him.
Betsy had a habit of giving up her children for adoption, and she may have done the same with Joseph.
She later married another man and had more children with him.
Joseph Augustus Zarelli’s Reddit
Joseph’s case has attracted a lot of attention and interest from the public, especially from online communities and forums.
One of the most popular platforms where people have discussed and shared information and theories about Joseph is Reddit, a social media website where users can create and join various topics and subreddits.
One of the subreddits dedicated to Joseph is r/JosephZarelli, which was created in January 2023, shortly after his identity was revealed.
The subreddit has over 400 members and dozens of posts and comments.
It describes itself as “a place to discuss and share information and news about Joseph Zarelli, formerly known as ‘the Boy in the Box’ and ‘America’s Unknown Child’.”
The subreddit welcomes all opinions and thoughts and asks users to refrain from doxing or revealing personal information.
What happened to Joseph Augustus Zarelli
Joseph Augustus Zarelli was a 4-year-old boy who was brutally murdered and abandoned in a cardboard box in Philadelphia in 1957.
His identity remained unknown for 65 years until the police announced that they had solved the case and named him Joseph Augustus Zarelli in December 2022.
Joseph was the son of Augustus John Zarelli and Mary Elizabeth Abel, who never raised him together and may have given him up for adoption.
Joseph had several siblings and relatives from both sides of his family, some of whom are still alive today.
Joseph’s killer has never been caught or identified, and the exact circumstances of his death are still unclear.
The police have their suspicions, but they admit that it will be difficult to prove who was responsible for Joseph’s death after so many years.
They hope that by revealing Joseph’s name and identity, they will receive more tips and leads from the public that could help them solve the case.
They also hope that by giving Joseph a name, they will honour his memory and give him some justice and dignity.
Joseph Augustus Zarelli was a young boy who suffered a tragic and horrific fate.
He was killed and discarded in a cardboard box, and his name and identity were unknown for decades.
But thanks to the advances in DNA technology and genealogy, the police were able to finally identify him and give him a name.
Joseph was the son of Augustus John Zarelli and Mary Elizabeth Abel.
Joseph’s case is still an open homicide investigation, and the police are still looking for his killer.
Joseph’s story is one of the most notorious and heartbreaking cold cases in American history.
Joseph deserves to be remembered and honoured, not as an unknown child, but as Joseph Augustus Zarelli.
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