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Paranormal articles by our fellow paranormal investigators

America's Unknown Child, Unsolved Mysteries - by Ashley Hall - January 4, 2013


Late February, in 1957, a young man was checking his traps in the wooded area along Susquehana Road, Fox Chase, Philadelphia. During his routine he stumbled upon a box. Looking inside the box, he found a body.

He did not report the body, as he feared the police would take away his traps. Instead, he left the area.

A few days later, on February 24th, another young man headed into the wooded area. He had spotted a rabbit entering the underbrush, and knowing that there were traps in the area he decided to investigate.

It did not take him too long to find the box containing the body. He too, was set on not contacting the police, but the following day he changed his mind.

Investigators arrived on the scene. The box was positioned in thick underbrush, a popular dumping ground for rubbish, and had the body not been discovered at that time, it may have gone unfound for weeks, if not months.

The box was had originally contained a baby's bassinet, but now it held the body of a young boy, aged between four and six. He was naked, wrapped only in a cheap, flannel blanket.

His finger and toenails had been trimmed shortly before he had died, but his hair appeared to have been cut shortly after, small clumps of medium to light brown hair clung to his body. The hair cutting had been hurried, and close to the scalp.

He had blue eyes and pale skin. Due to the cool weather investigators found it hard to determine exactly how long the child had been dead, somewhere between 2-3 days and a few weeks.

He had died from blunt force trauma, and he had numerous bruises over his body, but particularly the head and face. No bones were broken.

Investigators expected the case to be solved quite quickly with the boy’s parents making a positive identification. However, this never happened.

Many methods were used to ensure the image of the boy would get into as many homes as possible.
Newspapers ran stories, hundreds of thousands of posters were placed all over the city, and eventually, utility bills contained a photo of the boy, ensuring better exposure.

Unfortunately, all leads turned to dead ends.

On July 24th, 1957, the boy was taken to the Philadelphia City Cemetery, and interred into the ground. His pallbearers were staff and investigators of the medical examiner’s office. His original headstone read: 'Heavenly Father Bless This Unknown Child'.

Yearly anniversary observances took place at the Unknown Child's grave, but slowly hope diminished of ever identifying him, and finally adding a name to his headstone.

Since the burial many leads came and went. However there were two leads that saw much interest by police and the media (both sourced, copied and pasted from online):

The first involves a foster home that was located approximately 1.5 miles from the discovery site. In 1960, Remington Bristow, an employee of the medical examiner's office who doggedly pursued the case until his death in 1993, contacted a New Jersey psychic, who told him to look for a house which seemed to match the foster home. 

When the psychic was brought to the Philadelphia discovery site, she led Bristow straight to the foster home. Upon attending an estate sale at the foster home, Bristow discovered a bassinet similar to the one sold at J.C. Penney. He also discovered blankets hanging on the clothesline similar to that in which the boy's body had been wrapped. 

Bristow believed that the child belonged to the stepdaughter of the man who ran the foster home; they disposed of the boy's body so that she wouldn't be exposed as an unwed mother, as there was still in 1957 a significant social stigma associated with single motherhood. Bristow theorized that the boy's death was accidental. 

Despite this circumstantial evidence, the police were unable to find any concrete links between the Boy in the Box and the foster family. 

In 1998, Philadelphia police lieutenant Tom Augustine, who is in charge of the investigation, and several members of the Vidocq Society, a group of retired policemen and profilers investigating the crime, interviewed the foster father and the daughter, whom he had married.

The interview seemed to confirm to them that the family was not involved in the case, and the foster home investigation is considered closed.

The second major theory is one brought forward in February 2002 by a woman identified only as "M". She claimed that her abusive mother purchased the unknown boy, named "Jonathan", from his birth parents in the summer of 1954. 

Subsequently, the youngster was subjected to extreme physical and sexual abuse for two and a half years, then killed in a fit of rage by slamming him to the floor after he vomited in the bathtub. 

"M"'s mother then cut the boy's long hair (accounting for the unprofessional haircut that police noted upon their initial observations of the crime scene and bruises around the victim's hairline), and dumped the boy's body in the then-secluded Fox Chase area. 

"M" went on to say that as they were preparing to remove the boy's body from the trunk a passing male motorist pulled alongside to inquire whether they needed assistance. As the pair ignored the would-be samaritan, while being careful to obstruct their own car's license plate from his view, the man eventually drove off.

This story corroborated confidential testimony given by a male witness in 1957, which alleged the body was placed in a box previously discarded at the scene. Police considered the story quite plausible, but were troubled by "M"'s testimony, as she had a history of mental illness. 

When interviewed, neighbors who had access to the house denied that there had been a young boy living in the house, and said that "M"'s claims were "ridiculous."

-----------

In 1998 the boy’s remains were exhumed. There was no technology in 1957 to forensically examine and compare DNA, but 41 years later there was. Mitochondrial DNA was extracted from the boys teeth, and the task to compare him to profiles of past, current and future suspects began.

Unfortunately, as yet he still remains unidentified however some DNA matches have removed some suspects from the case.

The Unknown Child's body was buried at his final resting place in Ivy Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia on Nov 11 1998. Members from the Vidocq Society (a group whose members, forensic professionals, take on unsolved crimes) and the Philadelphia Police Officers carried the small white coffin from the hearse to the grave.

The new headstone reads "America's Unknown Child... Dedicated November 11, 1998", with the original headstone located at the foot of his grave.

Today you will find many toys, teddy bears and flowers on his headstone. Although this child died with nothing, not even a name, there are those who will not forget him.


The information here is just a very small part. For more information including how you can help investigators with this case visit, www.americasunknownchild.net

.

The America's Unknown Child website contains just about every piece of information that has been made available to the public. If you have any information about this 60 year old unsolved case, visit the website and contact them. The smallest piece of information could present a breakthrough.


Ashley Hall 2012

 

The Winchester Mystery House, Strange Places - by Ashley Hall - November 23, 2012

Here is one fantastic and rather confusing building. This 160 room home, built seemingly without rhyme or reason, is regarded as one of the wonders of the world. For a brief history of the building we shall let the 8th February, 1932 edition of the 'Rockhampton Morning Bulletin' fill us in:

"In the last century Sarah Winchester was the happy wife of a wealthy man [William Wirt Winchester of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company]. Winchester died, and his widow's grief was overwhelming. She took to fortune tellers in an attempt to communicate with her husband.

Finally, so goes the story, she was told by a crystal gazer that she was destined to build a beautiful palace, and that she would die when it was completed. She went to California and began building her ‘palace’ near San Jose. She determined that it would never be finished, and she would live forever. That, in brief, is the history of the extraordinary building that still stands in its grove of trees near San Jose.

Mrs. Winchester hired carpenters and other artisans by the year. Day and night the sound of their hammers and saws was never stilled. They built new wings. They tore down old ones. They constructed elaborate staircases which led from nowhere to nowhere. Day in and day out, summer and winter, they worked. The house is still incomplete, despite its 160 rooms."

That is one version of the events that inspired Sarah Winchester to build the erratic building. 

Other stories all concern fortune tellers, but with differing small details are added ie that the Winchester family was cursed for creating a weapon that has killed millions, and that if Sarah was to survive, a never ending house was to be built to host the spirits.

So we have slightly conflicting stories, one saying she was to house the spirits, the other that she was to fool the spirits (maybe she was to house and fool them?).

In 1884 Sarah moved to California and purchased a large block of land with a pre-existing farmhouse. It is this small home which would grow into the Winchester Mystery House.

Sarah hired many carpenters and artisans and with her $20million dollar fortune (and the daily income from the Winchester Repeating Arms Company being the equivalent of $30,000 a day). With no set budget, ceilings and work was commenced.

She hired a man named John Hansen as the construction foreman, and every morning she would convey new building plans and would make changes to old ones. There were no blueprints, and if Hansen was lucky, Sarah would have a brief sketch of what she wanted - but other than that, it was word of mouth that conveyed the ideas that would be turned into a sprawling mass of rooms and corridors.

Day by day and night by night work continued, never ceasing. It is estimated that up to 600 rooms were constructed over a 38 year period.

However, rooms were constantly being demolished to make way for new ones.

The house was filled with nonsense architecture, including doors and staircases that led to nowhere, windows in the floors, seventeen chimneys, forty-seven fireplaces, thousands upon thousands of windows, a double basement and several elevators. And of course, the 160 rooms.

Many of the hallways and staircases double backed onto themselves, and there were numerous secret entrances and rooms. These were built so that Sarah Winchester could quickly move from room to room, double back, hide and fool the ghosts who were apparently following her.

Much of the home was built from expensive redwood, being the material Sarah preferred, but she did not like the look of it so had it all covered up with paint!

Every room, upon completion, was decked out with the best furnishings money could buy. The house was filled with millions of dollars worth of furniture and other assortments, and when Sarah died in her sleep on 5th September 1922, she left everything to her niece and personal secretary... everything but the house itself.

It took six trucks working all day for six weeks to empty the house of its belongings.

In 1906, a massive earthquake hit San Francisco damaging much of the mansion, which went from seven stories to just four. The house was not mentioned in Sarah Winchesters will and was considered worthless. A local investor purchased the estate for $135,000 and it was soon opened to the public.

What of Sarah Winchesters’ fear of the vengeful spirits haunting her and the family name?

The mansions caretaker has reported hearing footsteps and breathing on many occasions. He has also heard the sounds of screws being turned in the walls, followed by it falling to the floor... however no screw was to be found.

One of the more mischievous pranks played by the spirits concerns the doors. At the end of a long day seeing tourists through the house the doors would be locked, (how many there are I do not know but there must be heaps!) and the alarms would be set. However, at times after the setting of the alarm, the caretakers would find all of the doors unlocked again.

Sometimes, during the night, all of the lights on a single floor would mysteriously turn on.

It is said the ghosts of some of the construction workers, and Sarah Winchester herself still take up residence within the 'mystery house'. And then there is, of course, the vengeful spirits who watched the construction of the house in the first place.

Ashley Hall 2012. All reference material can be made available on request.