REVEALED: Parents of Philly’s ‘boy in the box’ were ‘beautiful’ woman, 21, who’d given up previous baby for adoption and local man who became construction magnate: Friends say boy was likely put up for adoption shortly after his birth
- The parents of Philly’s ‘Boy in the Box’ have finally been revealed
- He was born to unwed parents in a Catholic section of the city in 1953
- His mother’s family believe he was put up for adoption shortly after his birth
- The boy’s father went on to become a Philadelphia construction magnate
- The murder Joseph Augustus Zarelli, 4, in 1957 remains an open investigation
The parents of Philadelphia’s ‘Boy in the Box’ have finally been revealed, 65 years after he was found murdered, as a Pennsylvania construction magnate and a ‘beautiful, kind and quiet’ woman.
Earlier this month, the slain Philadelphia child known as ‘Boy in the Box’ was finally has a headstone with his name on after his identity was uncovered in December.
A DNA breakthrough revealed the child victim of a brutal 1957 cold case murder in the City of Brotherly Love was Joseph Augustus Zarelli, 4.
His parents, who never married, have been revealed as Augustus Zarelli and Mary Abel, who went by Betty, reports The Philadelphia Inquirer. Family members believe that the boy was put up for adoption through a Catholic organization shortly after his birth.
Speaking to the Inquirer, a relative of Abel’s described her as a ‘real beauty.’
According to the newspaper’s reporting, Zarelli was the son of Italian immigrants who grew up in West Philadelphia.
Construction magnate Augustus Zarelli passed away in 2014 at the age of 87. It’s unclear if he ever knew about his son
Relatives referred to Mary ‘Betsy’ Abel, pictured here in her high school yearbook photo as ‘beautiful,’ ‘kind’ and ‘quiet’
Police composites show the likeness of Zarelli, who was found beaten and stuffed in a box on the side of the road in Philadelphia in 1957
Their son, Joseph Augustus Zarelli, was conceived in the spring of 1952. He was born on January 13, when his mother was 21 years old.
The relative who spoke to the Inquirer suggest that Abel put her son up for adoption, as she had done that before with a previous child she gave birth to, a daughter.
The Inquirer goes on to report that Abel was a graduate of Murrell Dobbins Career & Technical Education High School in North Philadelphia in 1949. A year later, she had a daughter who she put up for adoption.
Her relative suggested that a ‘Catholic organization’ was behind the adoption. The family member rejected to the suggestion that Abel could have any connection to Joseph’s death.
They said: ‘Betsy? No way in the world. There was no cruelty, no meanness or cruelty that swelled within her heart and soul.’
Abel went on to marry her manager at the movie theater where she worked, Joseph Plunkett. The couple had four children together.
Through their lawyer, Gus Zarelli’s family said that the family had been ‘attacked in every possible social media outlet, suggesting the most awful of things, all of which are baseless.’
Mary Plunkett nee Abel’s obituary, she passed away in 1991 after a battle with lung cancer
Joseph Augustus Zarelli, previously only known as Philadelphia’s ‘Boy in the Box’ received a proper headstone on Friday, on what would have been his 70th birthday
Augusts Zarelli pictured with his second wife, who passed away in 2018
Gus Zarelli’s construction business was prominent through Chester County. When he died in 2014, his obituary paid tribute to his ‘strength and character’
Their lawyer, Dan Bush, continued: ‘Each of his children is extraordinarily sympathetic to the death of this young boy, and horrified by the events that are being discussed. However, until recently, they had never heard of any of this. They have never been shown anything that links their father or any member of their family to this.’
Neither family could shed any light on how Zarelli and Abel met or what the exact nature of their relationship was.
Abel’s relative said that it was possible that the child’s mother lived in West Philadelphia, where Zarelli lived, for a period in the 1950s.
Gus Zarelli’s construction business was prominent through Chester County. When he died in 2014, his obituary paid tribute to his ‘strength and character.’
The tribute mentions that he was survived by his wife of 55 years, who passed away in 2018, as well as four children and nine grandchildren.
Pictured: A flyer published by the Philadelphia Police Department appealing for help following Zarelli’s death.
The city held a ceremony for the boy at the Ivy Hill Cemetery in Mount Airy
A 1998 wedding notice for Gus Zarelli’s son, also named Augustus, was a graduate of Drexel and Penn State University. He also worked in construction.
While Abel passed away in 1991 after a battle with lung cancer caused by asbestos exposure. Her obituary described it as a ‘prolonged illness.’ She was survived by her children, grandchildren, as well as four sisters and one brother.
The obituary says that she was pre-deceased by her husband.
Members of the Zarelli family earlier told CBS, anonymously, they were blindsided when investigators told them they were related to the ‘Boy in the Box.’
They said they will keep pushing for more clues as police seek to uncover how Zarelli – whose body was found beaten and stuffed in a carboard box in the city’s Fox Chase neighborhood – met his grisly end.
On January 13, a headstone dedication was held at the Ivy Hill Cemetery in Mount Airy, where a grave marker was installed in 1998 for Zarelli.
Zarelli’s funeral service is seen above. The Philadelphia Police Department chased many leads throughout the decades before DNA tests revealed his identity
Mourners gather for the 1957 funeral by a gravestone reading ‘Heavenly Father Bless This Unknown Boy’
City officials and residents were present at the ceremony, offering cards, flowers and balloons in memory of the murdered four-year-old.
The killing shook the city on February 25, 1957, when his body was found naked in the box, showing signs of severe malnutrition, along with bruising all over and fatal head trauma.
The box had originally contained a bassinet, purchased from a JC Penney store in Upper Darby for $7.50.
Near the body was found a man’s newsboy cap in royal blue corduroy, which police believe may have been tied to the killer. A flannel blanket, recently washed and mended, also covered the body and offered another clue.
As the case gripped Philadelphia and the nation, investigators made extensive appeals to the public for information, but through the years the boy’s identity remained a mystery.
Detectives pursued and discarded thousands of leads – including that he was a Hungarian refugee, a boy who’d been kidnapped outside a Long Island supermarket in 1955, or that he was a variety of other missing children.
They investigated a pair of traveling carnival workers and a family who operated a nearby foster home, but ruled them out as suspects.
An Ohio woman claimed her mother bought the boy from his birth parents in 1954, kept him in the basement of their suburban Philadelphia home, and killed him in a rage.
Authorities found her credible but couldn’t corroborate her story – another blind alley.
Police are believed to have used genealogical DNA research to identify the boy, by searching for distant relatives in public databases and reconstructing the family tree.
Officials have said they had suspicions about who was responsible for Zarelli’s death but said it would be ‘irresponsible’ to release the information – or to give out the names of his biological parents because of their surviving relatives.
The child’s body has been exhumed twice, and DNA was extracted in both cases.
Following DNA tests, a birth certificate finally revealed his age at the time of his death – he had turned four just a month before his body was found. It also named his biological father.
The boy’s remains had been transferred from Philadelphia’s Potter’s Field to the Ivy Hill cemetery in 1998.
Last month, workers at Ivy Hill spoke out expressing gratitude that the victim’s gravestone will soon carry the boy’s real name.
‘I think it’s wonderful,’ Dave Drysdale, Ivy Hill’s cemetery secretary and treasurer, told KYW-TV.
‘Some day, there will be a name on there and it will be great,’ Drysdale said. ‘It will be great.’
‘I just wish that the police officers and all the people involved who long passed away were still here to see it because that was one of their goals, and a couple of them said “I hope they live long enough to see a name put on there.”‘