“Boy in the Box”: How DNA helps investigators solve crimes

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — CBS3 Investigations has learned the Philadelphia Police Department has established the identity of the murder victim known only as “The Boy in the Box.” His remains were found in February 1957, discarded along Susquehanna Road.

Sources tell CBS3 Chief Investigative Reporter Joe Holden that even after all this time, there could still be arrests.

DNA helped investigators solve the boy’s identity. Here’s how DNA works.

Exclusive: Philadelphia police uncover name of “The Boy in the Box”


DNA is like a cellular fingerprint that identifies every cell in a person’s body and their family history. In medicine, it’s used to diagnose and treat a variety of conditions. For law enforcement, DNA is a high-tech tool that helps solves crimes.

“DNA is a huge factor nowadays,” Sgt. Dennis Convery said.

Convery, who’s in the major crimes unit with the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office, collects DNA from crime scenes that is everywhere in and on bodies. It can also be found on clothing or doorknobs.

DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid. It’s a little molecule with a huge influence.

“DNA is the genetic code,” Wendy Roth, associate professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, said. “It is encrypted in every cell of your body and it is inherited from your mother and your father.”

Roth says DNA determines everything from eye and hair color to what kind of diseases you’re predisposed to.

“Scientists can learn a lot of information about people’s backgrounds as well as some of their health proclivities or other characteristics,” Roth said.

DNA information on millions of people is stored and processed mainly by federal and state labs.

Here’s what a typical readout looks like.

“The phenotype is basically what tells me about the person’s ancestry,” Convery said.

“Boy in the box”: Philly police now have name for boy found dead, stuffed in box decades ago


DNA is also used by commercial organizations like Ancestry and 23andMe to provide family history and health information to people who pay for the service.

Unless people check a privacy box, the genetic information from these companies can also be accessed by law enforcement.

DNA from a variety of sources is now providing an abundance of information.

“It’s something that it’s given us more and more hope to keep on moving forward with the cases,” Convery said.

Law enforcement agencies say they’re using DNA more and more to solve cold cases. It’s become a very reliable, important tool for investigators.

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