PHILADELPHIA — Patty Braxton grimaced as a priest led a few dozen mourners in prayer on a gray, drizzly Friday beside the grave of a small boy found dead in 1957 and long dubbed “America’s Unknown Child” or the “Boy in the Box.”
Her father, retired Philadelphia Detective Thomas Joseph Augustine, worked the high-profile cold case most of his career. The family lived down the street from the potter’s field where the boy was first buried, and placed flowers there on holidays.
But Augustine died in October, just six weeks before advances in DNA and online genealogy records would yield the child’s name. So Braxton, her sister and their families stood in his place Friday at Ivy Hill Cemetery as investigators who spent decades on the case unveiled a new gravestone bearing the boy’s name — Joseph Augustus Zarelli — on what would have been the battered child’s 70th birthday.
“In his heart, he knew he would never live to see the boy identified, and he didn’t, which is just crushing. But we’re so thankful to everybody who had a hand in bringing this to fruition, bringing it to an end,” said Braxton, 53, of San Jose, California.
With the mystery of the boy’s identity solved, police now hope to learn how he died, even if it’s too late to make an arrest. Both of the boy’s parents are dead, although he has living siblings, police said in announcing the slender 4-year-old’s identity last month.
The breakthrough joins a string of cold cases