'Give him some dignity': Bucks police chief remembers working on 'Boy in the Box' case

Police have identified the boy, but what happened to Joseph Zarelli is still unsolved.

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Friday, December 9, 2022
Bucks police chief remembers working on 'Boy in the Box' case
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"It's a great feeling because that was our goal originally, to put a name to this little boy, to give him some dignity," said Lower Makefield Township Police Chief Ken Coluzzi.

LOWER MAKEFIELD TWP., Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- As "Americas Unknown Child" was named by investigators on Thursday, those who worked on the case listened intently, including Lower Makefield Township Police Chief Ken Coluzzi.

"It's a great feeling because that was our goal originally, to put a name to this little boy, to give him some dignity," said Coluzzi. "'Boy in a box' was awful, terrible to be called. So 'America's Unknown Child' was a step up. But this is the ultimate. This is fantastic to have a name."

We now know that boy was 4-year-old Joseph Augustus Zarelli.

RELATED: Philadelphia police identify child known as the 'Boy in the Box' as Joseph Augustus Zarelli

"Through additional testing, the genealogists were able to establish the birth father of the unidentified child," said Philadelphia Police Chief Capt. Jason Smith during a press conference Thursday at police headquarters.

Coluzzi worked for the Philadelphia Police Homicide unit in the 80s and 90s and was there in 1998 when the boy's body was exhumed in an attempt to retrieve DNA evidence.

"It was obviously a somber mood. We were up at Potters Field, it was a chilly day," he said. "It was uncertain whether or not we were going to get any decent DNA sample. So, we were fortunate to get the mitochondrial DNA sample that we did receive."

He remembers the discussions over what to put on the boy's gravestone when he was reburied in Ivy Hill Cemetery.

"You know, it was a high-profile case at the time, so 'Americas Unknown Child' was pretty fitting," he said.

RELATED: Genealogist who helped identify 'Boy in the Box' visits grave, seeks justice for child

Zarelli was exhumed one more time in 2019 to retrieve more DNA.

Genealogists and investigators linked the DNA to relatives and then the boy's parents.

Police say his parents are both deceased but he has other living relatives.

What happened to Joseph Zarelli is still unsolved.

"But now there's at least an avenue to investigate and follow up on past leads that were maybe developed over the years," said Coluzzi.

On Thursday, police said with this update they hope someone out there remembers Joseph Zarelli, possibly a former neighbor in their 70s or 80s, and will come forward with information.