On the bitterly cold morning of February 26, 1957, officers from the Philadelphia Police Department found the body of a small boy, which was dumped on the outskirts of the city in a J.C. Penney bassinet box. Although partially covered with a blanket, the four-year-old's body was found badly beaten, bruised and nude. Nearly 50 years later, the heinous murder remains unsolved and the boy's identity a mystery. According to Detective Tom Augustine (present Assigned Investigator of the famous "Boy In The Box" case), it has become the "most worked case in history."
Though Jim Hoffmann wasn't even born when the "Boy In The Box" case began, he has been so intrigued by the particulars that he began his own kind of investigation into the case. He decided to write a book and shine a light on the heroes — the investigators who have given so much of themselves to solve the case. His book, The Boy In The Box: America's Unknown Child, is a fictional account of the events of this famous case, and interestingly enough, is a book written using ScriptBuddy software!
Besides being an author, Hoffmann is a schoolteacher who likes to make things simple for his students. In fact, he chose ScriptBuddy specifically because it was so simple to use. "I Googled 'screenwriting' and ScriptBuddy came up. I went through the software and couldn't believe it was that simple," he said, "but it was! It was exactly what I needed. Screenplays are like puzzles: everything must go in its place. ScriptBuddy gives you a running tally of your characters and scenes," remarked Hoffmann. "From the minute I started using ScriptBuddy, I went to town.
"ScriptBuddy has the unique feature of teaching you through its simplicity," said Hoffmann. "If you need to edit you go right back to it. When you're done, there's a feature that lets you convert your manuscript to a PDF," he said. "ScriptBuddy is a good program, and I would recommend it to anyone who doesn't know screenwriting format. They've done the format work already."
Hoffmann wanted to write a book, but ScriptBuddy is screenwriting software. Suddenly he had an epiphany: he would write a book that wasn't quite screenplay and not quite a novel. Thus, a new writing genre was borne, and Hoffmann coined the genre "Simple Fiction." According to Hoffmann, Simple Fiction is "a story distilled into a concise novel, more visual, with certain words highlighted for impact and clarity."
Hoffman grew up reading classic novels by authors like Steinbeck and Hemingway. "I like Hemingway, but his descriptions are so full of physical description and time was spent on things that were not important to the story — like cigarettes," Hoffmann said with a laugh. "I like getting to the story. I wanted to tell the story in a simple, linear, pleasing way."
Though the story is told simply in Hoffmann's book, the premise is as complex and haunting as any tale. "My commitment to this book was to tell the story and praise the investigators," said Hoffmann. "They have worked for all these years to solve the case and follow every lead." In fact, Hoffmann tells of one such lead from a woman in the early '90s.
"This woman came forward, who we will call 'M'," said Hoffmann, "who had been suffering emotional problems. She told the detectives a story of her mother who years ago bought a young boy. She sexually and emotionally abused him in the basement of their home," he said. "According to 'M', one night the boy vomited in the bathroom and the mother beat him and held him down with her left hand to his forehead and cut his hair," Hoffmann said. "Then with his hair still all over the body, they put him in the trunk of their car and drove and dumped the body into some trash on a desolate road in the suburbs."
Hoffmann said "M" continued the story. "Supposedly while they were dumping the body, a car pulled up and asked if they needed help. 'M' said they tried to block their license plate as best they could." According to Hoffmann, all these years couldn't erode her memory of that night, and "M" has never gotten over it. He believes that she really could have been there that night.
"Where there's smoke, there's fire," said Hoffmann. "There is nothing for her to gain from this story." But there is no evidence that can thoroughly corroborate the woman's story, and Hoffmann does admit that much of the evidence was released to the press at the time.
Hoffmann's main motivation for writing this story comes from the lifelong, heroic effort of investigators from the Philadelphia Police Department (and others) who have been working for nearly 50 years to solve the crime. He fully believes that the investigators should receive Congressional Medals Of Honor for their actions concerning the case.
Hoffman mentions Detective Tom Augustine, who is the Assigned Investigator; Remington Bristow, who was an investigator for the Coroner's Office and was present the night of the autopsy on the boy; Bill Kelly, who spent countless hours as an I.D. expert for the Philadelphia homicide department and took footprints of the boy around to hospitals and warehouses to see if he could get a match; and Frank Bender who is connected to the investigation of the case through the VIDOCQ Society. This society comprises many retired investigators and others committed to solving cold cases.
The "Boy In The Box" case most recently came to the attention of the American people through the show America's Most Wanted, starring John Walsh, whose own son was murdered by decapitation. That episode of America's Most Wanted followed the exhumation of the body to examine his teeth and DNA, but led the investigators nowhere. There was no DNA match, but it renewed interest in the case, and as a result, a tombstone was set to mark the grave of America's Unknown Child in the Mt. Airy Cemetery in Philadelphia.
The American people, Hoffmann, and all the investigators have high hopes for a resolution to the case, but none more than Det. Tom Augustine. "I heard about the case growing up in Philadelphia, and saw flyers all around my neighborhood," said Augustine. "We've taken DNA from people and have numerous cases where family members come out to identify missing children," he said. "We get tips all the time."
Augustine says he has read Hoffmann's book and is very impressed. "I hope that it will help bring attention and, in the end, solves the case — anything will help," he said. "The day we exhumed his body to check his DNA was a difficult day," said Augustine. When asked if he thinks the case will be solved, he's hopeful. "I hope that someone calls in the next 10 minutes and that tip solves the case."
Hoffmann says that the ScriptBuddy Web site has contributed greatly to his writing and the publication of his book. "I wouldn't go anywhere else to write. ScriptBuddy is free and I would highly recommend it to anybody in terms of screenplay format," he said. "The simplicity of the software made me know I could stick with this, and it made writing the book so much easier. ScriptBuddy was a Godsend!"
Hoffmann hopes to build an "America's Unknown Child West" Virtual Gravesite in Southern California. The location will be along Interstate 15 in the High Desert and will allow people to stop, reflect and pay their respects to the boy and all abused and abandoned children in the world.
Since the 50th Anniversary of the case comes in February 2007, Hoffmann also hopes to start working this spring on a low-budget film about the case. His book is available at www.Authorhouse.com, or any local or Internet bookseller (ISBN #1425946690). Proceeds of the book will go to the America's Unknown Child memorial.
To quote a line from Hoffmann's press release: "Will you help solve this mystery? We're running out of time!"