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The 1958 death of an unknown six-year-old boy found in a field inside a cardboard box is reinvestigated after a small suitcase with the child's picture and his old cowboy hat is left in front of a church. The new investigation reveals that the rowdy boy lived at a Catholic-run orphanage and was adopted two days before his suspicious demise.


The episode opens on April 2, 1958. A group of boys and girls are playing in a field. There are two nuns taking care of them. Suddenly, a young boy appears, dressed as a cowboy. The kids greet him happily. In another flashback later on the same field, a young man chases a rabbit. As he walks, he finds a box. Curious, he decides to open it. What he sees inside is the body of a dead boy.

In the present, Lt. Stillman shows the detectives a suitcase that someone left in the stairs of St. Emilian’s Church. Inside, there are several things related to the ”Boy in the Box” murder that happened in 1958. A picture of a group of boys catches Lilly’s attention. She picks it up and reads on the back: ”His name was Arnold”. Stillman, Lilly and Scotty look for the records of the murder. The boy was dumped inside a box in Fox Chase. No one ever claimed his body and the cause of death is undetermined. The man who found the box comes into the homicide squad regularly to ask if there is any news. Stillman notices that in that picture of the boys, there’s something written on the bus behind them. Scotty reads: ”Fernwood Home for Orphans”. Scotty and Lilly go visit the nuns who were responsible for Fernwood at that time — Sisters Vivian and Grace.

They talk to Sister Vivian and learn that Sister Grace died recently. Lilly asks Sister Vivian if she recognizes the boys in the picture or remembers a boy named Arnold. She says no. She also says she never heard about the ”Boy in the Box” case. They ask about records from Fernwood. Sister Vivian says they’re in the basement and that they can look if they like. At the office, the detectives are now looking at everything they found in Fernwood’s records. They learn that in 1958, there was a six-year-old boy named Arnold Culliver in Fernwood. Arnold was adopted by a couple named Ruben and Lila Hanson two days before he was found in the box. Jeffries and Vera plan to track them down, while Lilly and Scotty go visit Arnold’s sister, Gretchen. She looks at the picture of the boy in the box and says that can’t be her brother, because Arnold had blond curls; the boy in the box had his head shaved. She says that the picture of the group of boys is the ”Science Club”. She says Arnold can’t be the murdered boy because he was adopted in 1958. In a flashback to 1958, Gretchen and Arnold are in Fernwood. Gretchen says that Sister Vivian said that there’s a family looking for a young boy, but not for a girl. Arnold says he won’t go, but Gretchen says he has to. They make a pact to meet at the Bryer’s Horse Fair on Arnold’s 18th birthday. Arnold promises Gretchen he’s not going to leave her. In the present, Gretchen remembers that Arnold was adopted one morning and she never had the chance to say goodbye. He never went to meet her at the fair. She remembers that before being adopted, two other families had taken him and brought him back to Fernwood, because he acted up a lot. They ask her for a DNA sample to compare to the boy’s, and she agrees.

Jeffries and Vera visit Roger, one of the boys from Fernwood in the picture with Arnold. Roger remembers that Arnold drove the sisters mad. In a flashback of 1958, we see Arnold and another two boys, trying to leave Fernwood to go play in the woods. Sister Vivian sees them. Arnold acts up to her and she takes him back upstairs. The present day Roger remembers that Arnold was the terror of Fernwood, and that everyone loved him. Jeffries and Vera tell Roger that they think Arnold might have been murdered. Roger looks at the picture of the boy in the box and is shocked. He says he’s not sure the boy is Arnold, but that he can’t say that it isn’t Arnold either. Jeffries asks Roger if he has kids. He tells them he has two adopted boys. At the office, Stillman says they can’t track down whoever bought the suitcase. There are no prints on it. They decide to exhume the boy’s body and compare the DNA to Gretchen’s. Lilly wonders what may have happened to Arnold. Perhaps he was adopted, and acted up on his new parents who got angry and beat him too hard? The man who found Arnold in the box, Walter Rafferty, comes in. Walter tells Lilly and Scotty how he found the body. He says that the body was wrapped in a blue blanket. Scotty asks Walter if he was involved with the death, and Walter says no. He says that he goes back to that place every year, and there’s a woman who does the same, she always brings a rose and wears a green coat. In a flashback, we see Walter going back to the place where he found the box and finds a blonde woman leaving a white rose at the site. Walter tries to talk to her, but she runs away. At the office, Scotty asks Walter why this murder is so important in his life. Walter says that for him, it isn’t normal to see a dead body and that this event affected his whole life.

They exhume the boy’s body. Jeffries and Vera explain that they found out why they couldn’t trace Ruben and Lila Hanson — they died in 1887. Arnold’s parents don’t exist. At the office, they wonder if Arnold died in the orphanage and someone covered it up. Scotty arrives to tell them that the boy is Arnold, but Arnold isn’t Gretchen’s biological brother—all of his records are fake. Scotty and Lilly break the news to Gretchen who is upset by the news. They ask her to think about who could have hurt Arnold in Fernwood. Gretchen says that once Arnold got beat up by another boy, Freddy Baker and that Arnold got disciplined a lot by Sister Vivian. In a flashback of 1958, we see the children playing on the field. The boy who comes back dressed up as a cowboy is Arnold. Gretchen asks him why he came back; he says he ran away because he had no one to play with. Sister Vivian gets angry with Arnold and takes him to her office to discipline him.

In the present, Gretchen explains that on that day, Arnold left Sister Vivian’s office with a lot of bruises. It was always Sister Vivian who punished the kids. She tells them to talk to Freddy Baker, who was always in Sister’s Vivian office too. Scotty talks to Freddy Baker who says that Arnold was the only kid who always wanted to go back to Fernwood. Scotty asks about Sister Vivian, and Freddy says she was really cruel, but he doubts she could be capable of murder. However, he admits he still has scars on his back from that time. Lilly goes to the convent to talk to Sister Vivian, who doesn’t feel like talking. Lilly bring up Arnold’s fake records and the fact that he and other boys got beat up all the time. Sister Vivian says that Arnold had a serious behavior problem. Lilly insinuates that Sister Vivian did something to Arnold. She denies it and says that Sister Grace was responsible for the paperwork, and that she only signed them. Lilly asks why Sister Grace would do that, and Sister Vivian says that she was unreliable and unable to discipline the children - that’s why she had to do it.

In a flashback of 1958, we see an adoption party at Fernwood. A couple tries to talk to Arnold. Arnold shoves the woman and runs away. Sister Vivian sees it and tells Sister Grace to pay attention to him. Sister Grace says she told Arnold to behave properly. Sister Vivian says they have to control Arnold, otherwise he will never have a home. Lilly asks Sister Vivian if Sister Grace could have hurt Arnold. Sister Vivian answers that some stories should not be told. At the office, Lilly is talking about how Sister Vivian was mysterious about Sister Grace. Jeffries and Vera arrive after talking to the last of Arnold’s friends, Paul Evans. They say that one thing caught their attention. Paul can’t have kids, and the other two men — Roger and Freddy Baker — also adopted their children. Stillman says that can’t be a coincidence. Lilly says they have to find out what the boys did at the Science Club. Gretchen is at the office talking to Lilly and Scotty. She says the boys went to Science Club on Fridays, and it was outside Fernwood. Sister Grace was the one who took them there. Gretchen also believes that the picture they have was taken were the Science Club was held.

Jeffries and Vera talk to Roger. He says the Science Club was a weekly field trip, to a place that looked like a hospital. He says that every time they did something different, and once they had breakfast in the middle of the afternoon. In a flashback of 1958, we see the boys arriving at the Science Club. A man, Dr. Thayer, greets them and says that on that day, they’re just going to eat cornflakes. The boys are surprised, since they just had lunch. The present day Roger says that the Science Club was fun, never scary. They ask Roger if he adopted kids because he couldn’t have them. Roger says yes. Stillman and Lilly talk about the fact that all three of Arnold’s friends are confirmed to be sterile. Lilly says they have to find out what else happened at the science club. Scotty has an enlarged version of the boys’ picture. The place they went to is the Hoover Institute.

The next morning, Lilly and Scotty meet in front of the Hoover Institute. In the 1950s, governmental research took place there. Volunteers were used in test groups, and Fernwood was paid a fee for every boy they brought in. They go inside to talk to Dr. Thayer, who still works there. Dr. Thayer says the Fernwood boys did radiation tests at the Hoover Institute. Dr. Thayer explains that at that time, they lived in fear of the Cold War, and they thought those tests would be good for them. At the office, Vera says that he found out that the Hoover Institute also conducted behavior research experiments — they tried to cure psychotics with insulin, isolation tanks, and electroshock therapy. Stillman says that would explain the wounds on Arnold’s head. Lilly and Scotty go to talk to a nurse who worked at the Hoover Institute at that time, Sally Thurber, who’s now at a retirement home. She says she remembers about the ”Boy in the Box”, but never put it together with Fernwood. She says that the Fernwood boys were really cute, but they never were a part of the behavior research. Sally also remembers that Sister Grace sometimes went to the institute to visit Clayton, a young man who worked as an assistant in the lab. Sally says Sister Grace and Clayton were really ”friendly”. In a flashback of 1958, we see Sister Grace talking to Clayton. She says Arnold has a serious behavior problem and that he needs help, or he’ll never have a family. She asks Clayton to help Arnold and give him one of the treatments they do there but Clayton says the treatments aren’t for children. Sister Grace says there’s going to be an adoption party the next day and begs Clayton to give Arnold the treatment. He reluctantly agrees.

In the present, Sally says that on that night she saw Sister Grace with the boy in tow, and she assumed that she was taking the boy to shock treatment. She remembers that Sister Grace was out of her habit. She was wearing a green coat, and she had blonde hair. At the office, Lilly, Scotty and Stillman talk about what Sally told them. Lilly notices that Grace was wearing a green coat, just like the woman that went every year to the place Arnold was found. She also points that they still don’t know who Arnold’s parents where. Lilly and Scotty go to visit Sister Vivian at the convent one more time. Sister Vivian says that Sister Grace had good intentions, but didn’t have self-control. She says Clayton was Grace’s ruin, and that Grace loved him till the day she died. When Sister Grace was 18 she got pregnant. Sister Vivian helped her to go away for some time, with the promise that Sister Grace would leave her child in an orphanage in Pittsburgh. However, Sister Grace couldn’t do that and brought the boy to Fernwood. Sister Vivian says that they never told Arnold that Sister Grace was his mother, but that somehow he knew that his home was in Fernwood with Grace. They ask what happened on April 4th. Sister Vivian says that before she tells them, they should know that Grace did all she did because she loved Arnold.

In Fernwood in 1958, Sister Grace comes looking for Sister Vivian. She says he’s sick. They go to the bedroom where Arnold is, and Sister Grace admits that she took Arnold to get a behavior treatment and now he has a high fever and is very ill. Sister Grace says she only did this because she wanted Arnold to have a family. In the present, Sister Vivian says that Sister Grace never thought the treatment would be harmful to Arnold, and that Arnold never made it to the adoption party. In another flashback, the adoption party is taking place, and Sister Vivian is nervous. She glances at her watch and goes to see Arnold and finds Sister Grace by his side. Arnold dies. Sister Grace is desperate. Sister Vivian wraps the boy’s body in a blanket and takes him to a car with Sister Grace following her. Sister Vivian picks up a cardboard box and they drive away from Fernwood.

Sister Vivian consoles a crying Gretchen. Walter leaves a white rose where he found Arnold. Arnold is being buried next to Grace, with Sister Vivian, Gretchen and all the detectives attending the funeral.

Gretchen imagines herself as a teenager, at the Bryer Horse Fair, 1958, waiting for Arnold and, this time, he appears; running towards her and smiling.

At the funeral, Lilly "sees" Arnold, who finally found the truth from her. The episode ends with a young Grace cheering Arnold on by riding a horse at the Horse Fair.


Main Cast[]

Guest Cast[]



  • Based on the real-life case of "Boy In The Box", a still-unsolved Philadelphia murder case. Like Arnold, the real-life unidentified boy was left in a cardboard box in the 1950s and later discovered by a college student who was following a rabbit. Posters extremely similar to the ones in this episode (including pictures of the boy propped up in clothes) were also circulated.
    • Unlike the case depicted in the episode, the real-life case occurred in February 1957 (not 1958 as shown in the episode). Over the years, there were a number of leads in regards to the identity of the boy and how he died.
      • One lead was the boy was the son of a young woman whose stepfather ran a foster home 1½ mile from where the box was dumped. The theory was that the boy had died by accident and was placed at the scene by the boy's mother and her stepfather to avoid the stigma of the woman being exposed as an unwed mother. This lead was dismissed as later DNA testing proved the woman's DNA did not match the boy.
    • Update: On December 8, 2022, more than 65 years after his body was found, the boy was publicly identified as Joseph Augustus Zarelli.
  • At six years old, Arnold Culliver is tied with Clayton Hathaway from "Offender" as the youngest male victim of the series.
  • Delaney Williams is actually a decade younger than his character.
  • It is never actually revealed who left the suitcase identifying Arnold on the steps of St. Emilian's Church, the only clue being that the suitcase was bought at a Wannamaker's in 1954.
    • It might have been Sister Grace, who passed away as the episode began.
  • The episode was remade as the 22nd episode of No Statute of Limitations, and the ninth episode of Cold Case - Door of Truth.


  • Johnny Cash "You're The Nearest Thing To Heaven"
  • Everly Brothers "All I Have To Do Is Dream (Dream, Dream, Dream)
  • Ricky Nelson "Stood Up"
  • Patsy Cline "Walkin' After Midnight"
  • Ricky Nelson "Poor Little Fool"
  • Perry Como "Catch A Falling Star"
  • Ricky Nelson "Lonesome Town"
  • Michael A. Levine "Sister Vivian's Flashback"
  • Closing Song: Ricky Nelson "Sweeter Than You"

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