MILO, Maine — It was sheer relief that Dorothy Holmes Brown of Milo felt Monday when she learned that her DNA had not matched the DNA samples taken from a boy whose beaten body was found in a box in 1957 in Philadelphia.
Brown had thought the boy, who was dubbed by the press as the “Boy in the Box,” might have been her little brother Freddie Holmes, who disappeared from his family’s secluded home on Denman Mountain in Grahamsville, N.Y., on May 25, 1955.
“The chances are better that he’s alive,” Brown said Tuesday, referring to the DNA results. “That makes me feel better.”
Brown said the DNA samples taken from her and her sister Janet Haiss of Grahamsville in late October were profiled and uploaded into the national DNA database for missing persons. They have learned that to date their DNA has not matched any unidentified remains of children in the coding system, according to Brown.
“That gives us hope to keep looking, and he could be looking for us,” Brown said.
B.J. Spamer, a forensic case manager for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, advised Brown in an e-mail Monday that her profiles also will be available in the database to compare against any living adults who might have been abduction victims in the past or who otherwise would be a match to her brother.
Brown said she was surprised at how quickly she had been notified. “I really and truly expected it wouldn’t be this soon because they have such a backlog [of cases],” she said.
On the morning her 22-month-old brother disappeared, Brown recalled that she had dressed him for the day and then left for school with her brothers and sisters. Her father, Roderick Holmes, had left for his job at the town highway department.
Brown’s stay-at-home mother, Gertrude Holmes, had taken Freddie outside to play while she worked in the garden, according to Brown. Gertrude Holmes told police, after reporting her son’s disappearance, that when she last checked on Freddie, he had been talking with the landlord.
The landlord, a cobbler in his 50s who had immigrated from Italy to Brooklyn, N.Y., owned the farmhouse and occasionally would stop in to work in a shed he kept locked on the property, according to Brown. “He would come and go, check on us and then return home,” she recalled.
When police searched the landlord’s garage, they found stolen items — from chain saws to tools that had been hidden beneath the floorboards, Brown recalled. They also found communist literature, which incited some of the searchers, who wanted to lynch him on the spot, she said. The landlord, who was questioned about the missing child and the stolen items, was taken to jail, according to Brown. While family members believe he had something to do with Freddie’s disappearance, she said she never learned what happened to the landlord afterward.
Thousands turned out to search for Freddie and the search continued for weeks. Police first thought an animal might have taken the boy, but no clothing was found. Even though the family lived in a remote area, Brown said the only animal she recalled seeing was a woodchuck.
Although through the years the case went cold and was shelved, Brown, who retired from the nursing field, never gave up looking for her sibling.
Brown first learned about the “Boy in the Box” last summer from a newspaper article. Her inquiries about the boy, whose physical characteristics were similar to her brother’s, caught the attention of Todd Matthews, a representative of NamUs, a national missing persons organization. Matthews connected Brown and Haiss to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.