Service held for America’s Unknown Child

In memoriam: Nicholas Kerschbaum, 17, organized a memorial service for America’s Unknown Child, a boy who was found dead by police in 1957. The investigation into his death remains open. TOM WARING / TIMES PHOTO

Boy Scout Nicholas Kerschbaum, of Delaware-based Troop 522, continued a tradition on Sunday, organizing a memorial service for a boy whose body was dumped unceremoniously in a JC Penney box on Susquehanna Road in Fox Chase way back in 1957.

Kerschbaum, a 17-year-old senior at Salesianum and son of a retired Philadelphia police officer, chose to pursue for his Eagle Scout project a memorial marker for a boy who has become known as America’s Unknown Child (formerly known as the Boy in the Box).

Sunday afternoon’s second annual ceremony took place on the 700 block of Susquehanna Road, a little west of Verree Road.

Kerschbaum petitioned the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission for erection of a historical marker near the location where the boy’s remains were found.

However, the commission rejected the application.

Undeterred, Kerschbaum decided to pursue a private marker, which was dedicated in November and on Sunday was decorated with teddy bears, flowers and a green Happy St. Patrick’s Day shamrock.

The Vidocq Society, a private organization of law enforcement and forensic professionals who try to crack tough cases, has assisted Kerschbaum along the way.

On Feb. 26, 1957, Philadelphia Police Officer Elmer Palmer was dispatched to then-rural Susquehanna Road, where he discovered the body of a boy believed to be about 4 years old. The boy was in a cardboard box that once contained a bassinet bought at the JCPenney at 69th and Chestnut streets in Upper Darby.

No one has ever come forward to identify the boy, and the police investigation into his murder has never been solved.

Olney’s Mann Funeral Home buried America’s Unknown Child in Potter’s Field along Dunks Ferry Road and assisted in his move to West Oak Lane’s Ivy Hill Cemetery. The reburial took place on Nov. 11, 1998.

Many years after the boy was found, the story was chronicled on America’s Most Wanted and dramatized on Cold Case.

Bill Fleisher, a retired FBI and U.S. Customs agent and commissioner of the Vidocq Society, attended Sunday’s service.

“Somebody knows this boy’s true identity,” he said.

Also offering remarks were Vidocq chaplain John Mullineaux, who said the boy is a symbol of child abuse that continues today, and David Crawford, chaplain for the 7th Police District.

Matthew Galanaugh, of St. Christopher Parish-based Boy Scout Troop 367, chronicled the history of America’s Unknown Child and Kerschbaum’s efforts. He was joined by fellow Troop 367 Scouts Jason Hiegl, Matt Scheidler and Stephen Galanaugh, his younger brother. Troop 367 will conduct a memorial service on or around Feb. 26 each year at the marker location.

Kerschbaum must submit all his information for the Eagle Scout project by May 10, his 18th birthday. He plans to enlist in the U.S. Air Force upon graduation. ••